Review Summary: A sci-fi adventure through time and space, inspired by technical death metal oldies like Death and Atheist.
Contrarian is a technical death metal band from New York who has been quickly building themselves a neat discography of cool sci-fi album artwork and 90s tech death revival. Since they released their 2015 debut album Polemic, their technical ability as musicians has been getting sharper with each consecutive album; the same could also be said for the increasingly clean audio mixing. Many people, myself included, started following the band during the success of their 3rd album Their Worm Never Dies as it was able to take that old style of 90s progressive tech death, and refurbish it with memorable hooks, developed songwriting, and crisp production. Coming off of a career high, fans closely anticipated whether Contrarian could top their previous work. And depending on who you ask, maybe they have.
Fast forward just one year after the release of their 3rd album, Contrarian diligently produces their most polished album to date with Only Time Will Tell. This album is most similar from their discography to Their Worm Never Dies but has some key differences that could potentially make or break the album.
To start, the band had undergone somewhat of a lineup change between their 2019 album and Only Time Will Tell, and from listening to both albums back-to-back the difference is very noticeable. George Kollias, the drummer of the technical death metal band Nile had also been the drummer for Contrarian for their first 3 albums. Additionally, George had also provided the vocals (shrieks and growls) for their 2nd and 3rd albums, and for what its worth, for someone whose first profession is as a drummer, his vocals were very good. Contrarians former bassist, Ed Paulsen, for whatever reason departed from the band after their 3rd album as well.
Losing their bassist as well as their drummer, the most experienced member of the band, Contrarian is in a vital time in their career as they must replace old members with new ones and continue on. Up until this point the band has maintained a fairly consistent band lineup, which could not necessarily be said for the majority of the 90s tech death bands that they inspire from: Atheist, Death, and Cynic all had massive lineup changes. This alludes to a common trend, where the members that continue on through the band’s career become the ones who really define the band’s identity. Imagine a band is like a ship that is constantly changing out its respective parts until one day its composition is mostly different than when the ship first set sail. Which brings up the question: how will this lineup change impact Contrarian’s identity?
For one, the band has maintained its main guitarists, Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason, whose signature riffs make up the forefront of every Contrarian song. In a sense, they are the members that existentially connect Contrarian’s sound to their past albums. The same could also partially could be said for their new, but not so new, vocalist Cody McConnell who provided the mostly low growls on their debut: Polemic but not on their 2nd and 3rd albums. Personally, I prefer George Kollias’ higher pitched vocal style to McConnell’s gutturals; even though Kollias is primarily a drummer, his harshes sound a lot denser and experienced than McConnell’s. There are though a lot of people who have a general preference for deeper vocals, so for those people, this would be a plus.
This album feels a bit underdeveloped in terms of songwriting and general hooks, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s the fact that the band went through a big lineup change between albums, or that they only took a year to write, record, mix and produce it. Their Worm Never Dies, for instance, had considerably more catchy hooks and more interesting progressive moments on it. I do miss the occasional bass solos from their past album since in contrast Only Time Will Tell has much more straight forward usage of their new bassist who usually backs the notes from their rhythm guitarist. In this genre of progressive tech death revival, having a creative bassist is an important ingredient for a standout album.
In total, this album amounts to something not entirely different from what one would get from past Contrarian, but instead of keeping on their increasingly progressive trajectory, they take a step back and indulge Only Time Will Tell in a more conventional spacey-style tech death album. This will appeal more to fans of tech death than it would for fans of prog death; their 2019 album could be better suited for fans of the latter. Considering all of this, Only Time Will Tell is a relatively spotless album that is definitely good for a few spins if you are a fan of either prog or tech death. It’s well produced, technical, riffy, dynamic, and brief (at only 34 minutes in length). If this sounds interesting, definitely check them out.