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Album Review: POLEMICIST Zarathrustrian Impressions

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Black metal and the works of Friedrich Nietzche share a profound sense of awe and grandeur at the natural world, and a refusal to shirk from the dark and terrifying side that is inextricable from it. I won’t pretend to know enough about Nietzche to go into much more detail with this comparison, though “pretending to know Nietzche” brings up another similarity: Both are wildly misunderstood and misinterpreted by certain sectors. Nietzche is the thinker of choice for people who want to do whatever they want to whomever they want and are looking for retroactive inspiration. It’s easier to pretend that Nietzche’s thousands of pages are an extremely long-winded “Go ahead, be an asshole” than to actually read or attempt to understand them.

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Polemicist seem to have done their reading. The Philadelphia-based black metal band pours electric intensity and mazey introspection into Zarathustrian Impressions. This is a relentless album, its pacing one of its strongest qualities. Every move and tempo shift seems purposeful, and the more expansive parts never cross the tricky line between wandering and meandering. Opener “Zarathustra’s Theme” is a moody, gently solemn piece of strings and distant voices. It won’t sell you on the concept of the intro track if you’re not already bought in, but it’s a solid specimen of a maligned species. Once it rolls into track two, grab hold of something.

Zarathustrian Impressions has a healthy mix of classic second wave ice, sharpened USBM aggression, and moments of innovative flourish. Second track “Concerning the Rabble” sends echoes of Dark Medieval Times down the black stone corridors of metal memory. Elsewhere you’ll find more gothic, almost organ-like tones, showcased in “On Redemption” and “The Convalescent” especially. This ominous spookiness offers moments of relief from the fury and frenzy that dominate the soundscape on Impressions. They even snuck a power metal riff into the album by welding it to a black metal substrate. Seriously. Closer “Return to Solitude” has a hybrid power/black metal riff the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

The production on the album is surprisingly clear coming from a genre that often takes pains to sound like a cloud of fog filled with bees. Jacob Nunn’s drums are especially present and forward, and his performance is crucial to the album’s ever-moving drive. The dual guitars of Josiah Domico and Lydia Giordano are gripping and use highly contrasting tones to good effect. The only real production problem is Sam Zettell’s bass, which was discernible at maybe two or three spots, even listening with good headphones and a headphone amp. The overall sound of the album is very mid-treble dominant, which is fine, but not having a solid bass undercurrent does hurt it.

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Polemicist have delivered a powerful work in Zarathustrian Impressions. There are some areas where the style shifts could’ve been more fully committed to – those organ-like spooky passages would’ve been amazing with some actual Hammond added—but they still work well. Domico’s vocals are perfectly decent black metal croaks, but an album this heady would’ve benefited from a more intelligible delivery. The bass sounds like it wasn’t plugged in for most of the album, but the sharp drumming helps pick up the slack. Take a sprint through the dark forests of the psyche with Polemicist. You might learn a few things.

Score: 7.5/10

Polemicist's Zarathrustrian Impressions is out 8/30 on Fólkvangr Records.

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