Album Title: Liminal Rite
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 10 June 2022
When was the last time you sat down and listened to an artist about which you previously knew nothing and had your world turned upside down? Well, it has happened to me here. Deathgaze – I didn’t even realise the subgenre existed, but I do now. Equally, I didn’t even realise a band by the name of Kardashev existed until a week or two ago. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t anyone shout their name to me at any point over the last decade since their inception back in 2012? It’s too late to go back in time and put right this massive faux pas, but at least I am here now, and have seen the light.
For those of you who are still in the dark, Kardashev are a quartet from Arizona who play a style of music that’s referred to as deathgaze amongst other things. Progressive death metal, atmospheric, post-metal; these are all descriptions with merit as well, but for me, deathgaze resonates best. Two original founding members remain in place, in the form of vocalist Mark Garrett and guitarist Nico Mirolla, with bassist Alex Rieth and drummer Sean Lang both joining the ranks in 2019. In their decade of existence thus far, Kardashev have released a demo, three EPs and one full-length album, ‘Peripety’ in 2015. That’s a lot of music that I’ve missed, but I’ll track it down and devour it, of that make no mistake.
The reason why I like the term ‘deathgaze’ so much is because, when you distil Kardashev’s music down to fundamentals, you’re left with adjectives like ‘crushing’ and ‘monumentally heavy’ sitting alongside ‘fragile’, ‘poignant’, and ‘achingly beautiful’. In much the same way as blackgaze goes about its business, Kardashev merge the delicate beauty of shoegaze with an uncompromisingly ferocious and weighty brand of death metal. And it works. No, that’s not doing the music justice. The music on ‘Liminal Rite’ has floored me. It isn’t overstating things to say that the discovery of this band and this album has been profound, a game changer if you will. I have literally no qualms in likening this discovery to those heady days as a teenager in a pre-Internet world when I’d take a blind punt on a record based on the cover art or record label alone, only to find that I’d found a gem. Dimmu Borgir, Anathema, and My Dying Bride are three that immediately spring to mind. Remember that rush of giddy excitement? I have that here in spades.
In terms of negative comments, I only have two. Firstly, at a full hour in length, ‘Liminal Rite’ is a little on the long side. Mind you, I’m only saying this because I feel that I have to for reasons of consistency, because in reality, I don’t really mind at all. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing, but not on this occasion. Secondly, the final song on the album, the gargantuan ‘Beyond The Passage Of Embers’ features a guest musician, Christoph Clöser, the saxophonist from ambient/jazz band Bohren & Der Club Of Gore. You all know ad nauseum what I think of this wretched instrument, and yet it doesn’t ruin the final offering. In fact, through gritted teeth and with bile rising in my throat, I must concede that the song is enhanced thanks to Clöser’s inclusion.
So, in reality, I don’t have anything truly negative to say, and what’s more, everything else about this album is approaching perfection. Unnecessary hyperbole, I hear you cry. No, not a bit of it. It now falls upon me to back this up, so I shall take my best shot…
Argh, I don’t know where to start. Normally, I tend to go track-by-track, but to a certain extent it’s a fruitless exercise here because the whole album is wonderful and should be enjoyed as such. To skip a song is to risk missing a slice of magic, and to shuffle this album is akin to adding a mixer or ice to a glass of neat 18-year-old single malt whisky. It shouldn’t be done. Ever. And that’s because ‘Liminal Rite’ has been carefully and lovingly crafted by the quartet to flow in a certain way and flow it does. If you listen from start to finish as I have done on countless occasions, you realise that everything fits together perfectly. Nothing is out of place, it just feels right as you listen to it, quite the feat when you consider just how different and contradictory some of the passages are to each other. It should sound clunky or jarring. Instead, it sounds smooth and completely natural.
As early as the first 20 seconds of opening piece, ‘The Approaching Of Atonement’, I get a tingling because of the delicate, atmospheric feel, accented by an equally delicate melody from the synths whilst Mark Garrett, I assume, delivers a melancholy spoken-word monologue. From there, ‘Silver Shadows’ takes over and it’s like being hit by a truck carrying several tonnes of feathers. Frantic blastbeats and fast-picked riffs assault the senses, but the onslaught is softened somewhat by a sublime, elegance and melodic intensity, whilst the bass playfully frolics within the song’s framework. I don’t mind admitting that the sheer power and beauty has moved me near to tears on more than one occasion. When the vocals emerge alongside chunky death metal riffs, they are clean and ethereal, adding to the overall impact. It isn’t until a minute or more has passed before we get to hear Garrett’s higher-pitched rasping delivery, and then his guttural growl hits and it’s incredible – it’s so low and bestial, it’s fantastic. As the song progresses, Kardashev demonstrate that they are not afraid to strip everything back to minimal ambience one minute, only to raze the tranquillity down to the ground with a truly thunderous death metal attack. But those melodic guitar leads from Nico Mirolla which remind me a little of MØL return alongside the soaring clean vocals to ensure that as heavy as the music gets, it is laced liberally with an air of grandiose majesty combined with heartbreaking poignancy. Apparently, this song falls just shy of eight minutes but feels like two, ending with a dramatic, cinematic soundscape that’s eerie and dystopian in tone.
‘Apparitions In Candlelight’ follows and it begins with an explosion of death metal fury, with a hint of deathcore around the edges. The multi-layered vocals create a menacing presence before, out of nowhere, one of the most heartrending melodies I’ve heard in a while appears. I love the way in which Garrett’s various vocal styles are cleverly interwoven to provide numerous emotions to accompany the music. Within the quieter, more reflective and insular mid-section of the song, the sound of clean guitars is accompanied by some reserved drumming and truly resonant bass work to offer something different once again. Towards the end, the blastbeats continue unabated whilst Garrett returns to his stunning clean approach, joined to devastating effect by a whimsical yet melancholy lead guitar line. The sheer emotion and feeling that comes across is almost too much to bear, but in a good way.
I’m beginning to run out of superlatives and yet I’ve barely scratched the surface of this album. Tracks like the captivating ‘Lavender Calligraphy’ defy words…well, my pathetically inarticulate words anyway. Whatever I write will not be enough to convey the brilliance of the song. Suffice to say that I adore the way in which the music is both insanely heavy and melodic at the same time – the deep, guttural vocals sound inspired against the unashamedly glorious melodies, ensuring that the whole listening experience is simply magnetic and utterly irresistible.
If you’re looking for some chugging death metal groove, I urge you to listen to the bulldozing ‘Compost Grave-Song’. If you are hankering for something more heavily inspired by the machinations of the death/doom sound, then the aforementioned closer ‘Beyond The Pale Embers’ is where you’ll have your craving sufficiently sated.
In between, you’ll find the trio of ‘Cellar Of Ghosts’, ‘Glass Phantoms’, and ‘A Vagabond’s Lament’. All three songs have their own identities and are bathed in genius. The first features some killer melodies and soaring clean vocals from Garrett, whilst ‘Glass Phantoms’ has to be one of the most abrasive tracks whilst also managing to be one of the most emotional and angst fuelled. It is a heady combination, but these gents have made it seem so easy and effortless, complimenting an all-out black/death attack with resonant melodies and a mesmeric performance from Garrett as he literally pleads to the heavens as he sings.
‘A Vagabond’s Lament’ is the perfect antidote to the bruising predecessor in that it spends the first half or more of the song exploring much more ambient soundscapes. Delicate yet striking drumming, and whimsical bass playing join ethereal, dreamlike surroundings bathed in synth-led melodies, although over the ensuing minutes, there’s an ebb and flow that builds in intensity, hinting at something else to come. And that something else is a controlled and measured eruption of heaviness overlaid by clean vocals predominantly whilst the central melodic sensibilities very much remain intact.
I could continue to wax lyrical about this stunning album, but I hope by now that I have made my point forcefully enough. With ‘Liminal Rite’, American quartet Kardashev have pulled the rug out from under me and sent me reeling. I said earlier that I feel like this record is a game changer for me, and I truly mean it. I love heavy music and I also adore strong melody; Kardashev have managed to combine the two in a way that I’ve never really heard before and I am left stunned and in awe of this album. All of a sudden, the usual suspects have a fight on their hands for the number one spot in my end-of-year ‘best of’ list, and I couldn’t be happier about it because I feel like a teenager again, full of that wide-eyed wonder at a new, very special discovery.
The Score of Much Metal: 99%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: