Album: Hive Mind Narcosis (Single: Solar Witch)
Label: Dark Descent Records
Release Date: June 2nd, 2023
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Written by Christian Voltaggio
Solar Witch is not for the casual listener, and this review is not for the casual Cave-Dweller! This is the first single off of Thantifaxath’s upcoming release Hivemind Narcosis and it’s a bit of a mold-breaker. As an especially fascinating piece of music from a theoretical perspective, I decided it could be an interesting way to honor their break from conventional forms by breaking my own conventional form in this review. Instead of a more general impression and description, I will highlight some of the unique theoretical aspects of the music. Be forewarned, if nerding out over chromaticism isn’t your vibe, skip ahead to the end for more general impressions.
I was introduced to Thantifaxath as a peer of modern black metal line-blurrers such as Imperial Triumphant and Krallice, however, with this release, I think that subgenre label no longer fits. The press blurb under the description for the Youtube upload of this tune reflects my feeling on this notion as well, albeit with PR hyperbole included:
“From its very first notes, there is a feeling of transcendence beyond genre… beyond its scene and peers. Previously dubbed avant-garde black metal, Thantifaxath surpasses such mundane press-tags, instead conjuring forth an expansive, discordant, and mind-altering brew that’s never just black, thrash, death, or doom metal psychedelia.”
Well, certainly confident.
From the outset, the tone of Solar Witch is, surprisingly, more doom than black, as low-tuned, buzzing guitar and bass drone, sounding more like fuzz than traditional distortion. Nevertheless, the effect is massive and imposing. The drums sit in a fairly cavernous space while maintaining their gravity and punch. An aspect of this genre I’ve always appreciated as a listener is the tendency for vocals to be dialed back in the mix as compared to more traditional rock or pop mixes as this allows all elements of the instrumentation to be peers, as opposed to subservient support mechanisms for the vocals. Thankfully, this is present on the track and so every piece of this carefully crafted tune can have its space to be heard.
Overall, the mix and tone of Solar Witch is dark as hell, balanced, and generally does a good job getting out of the way of the composition.
Solar Witch is a highly experimental piece of music that bears a more detailed analysis, as there are some fascinatingly weird concepts at work here. The six minute tune breaks down into an A section with variation and a subsequent B section. There appears to be little in the way of structure in the A section, as the tempo, which is molasses-drip slow initially, gains pace over time. Time signature is obscure here, if not fully non-existent.
“Free atonality”, as a music theory concept, was pioneered beginning in the 17th century and describes a conscious effort to avoid referring to a tonal center or key, as 99% of western music does. As one might suspect, the lack of a center in anything generally suggests confusion, disorientation, and chaos, all of which are delivered in spades here. Without a strict knowledge of Thantifaxath’s actual intentions on Solar Witch, we can’t know for certain whether this was done with intent or was a curious outcome of happenstance, but it’s frankly pretty cool to see this concept present in this genre. While there are other examples of free atonality or 12-tone serialism in metal music, it’s still a brave move to compose in this manner and that brand artistic risk-taking bears applause. Also worth noting is how well the album art matches the tune, reminiscent of Dutch “Golden Era’ paintings, which coincidentally (or perhaps not?) is also a product of the 17th century.
As the variation of the A section draws to a close, the tempo and general activity levels have increased dramatically as compared to the sloth-like pace of the introduction. This trend is broken however, as the B section begins: the last notes of the prior part fade out as a new section in quintuple meter begins to evolve. This chromatic, angular, guitar riff repeats, conjuring feelings of vertigo, evoking Chtonic madness, visions of Penrose Stairs, all shifting and evolving in subtle ways. If this riff appeared once and then disappeared, it might sound like a jumbled mess, but Thantifaxath know that repetition legitimizes, and effectively turns the pile of notes into something that can stick in your head for days if given the chance.
This is truly interesting experimental music, absolutely not something to listen to casually in the car or leave hanging about the air while making breakfast. A dark room, headphones, late at night, alone. That’s where this piece lives, and in that territory, Solar Witch is a thrillingly dark hallucination. For those looking for a more structured, headbanging time, search elsewhere because this tune is all about a specific vision that disregards convention. I am loath to imagine the difficulty Thantifaxath faces if and when they attempt this song in a live setting, and truly, I don’t think that is an effective way to convey this kind of experimentation to begin with. However I am definitely intrigued as to what is yet to come on Hivemind Narcosis, due out June 2nd on Dark Descent records.
Listen to the album: