Polemicist – Zarathustrian Impressions (Fólkvangr, 2019)

In the past, metal journalism used to function mainly as a filtering device; weeding out the bad so that the good stuff would rise to the top. Nowadays, it’s more likely the other way around. We’re now searching for potential in a seemingly endless flow of “interesting” or pleasant-sounding junk. This task often requires time and patience, because those rare and far between releases will often sound similar to their lesser peers on a surface level. One illuminating example would be the Pennsylvanian epic death/black metal act Polemicist and their debut album Zarathustrian Impressions. Their music may not appear spectacular on casual listen, but repeated and concentrated exposure reveal unexpected qualities.

While still a relatively new entity, Polemicist display a well-formed and disciplined style, drawing upon the musical vocabulary established by melodically-inclined, 1990s death and black metal. Rather than achieving (or succumbing to) an oil-on-water effect, Polemicist effectively integrates the technicality and structuralist approach of death metal with black metal’s predisposition towards long,arching melodies and atmospherics. A more recent source of inspiration could be later-era Sorcier Des Glaces, but primarily in how guitar-leads are shaped and exploited at key points.

As far as technicalities goes, Zarathustrian Impressions doesn’t stand out as particularly novel. Guitars take the helm, driven forward by blasting, somewhat sterile-sounding drums over which the vocalist dwells upon crucial passages from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Even though this reviewer lacks a deeper understanding of the literary work in question, there’s no doubt that Polemicist’s aim has been to shape the music in accordance with the philosophical implications of the lyrical concept. Thankfully, this is done in a tasteful manner and never becomes overbearing or obvious. The music effectively segues between passages of mournful, desolate, triumphant and
contemplative moods.

While there is much to praise in Polemicist’s debut proposal, it’s the songwriting together with the dual guitar work of Josiah Domico and Lydia Giordano that stands out as the band’s strongest assets. The interplay between the murky, lower-end guitar and bright, lyrical leads is thoroughly exquisite and must count as the Polemicist’s signature mark. Songs tend towards a narrative mode of presentation, without resorting to long-form compositions. Although the music can hardly be described as “catchy” in a conventional sense, it is definitely melody-driven. But instead of hooks, the band employ melody as an integrated compositional tool. Naturally, this approach isn’t as immediately gratifying, but allows Polemicist to create subtle, yet resonatingly powerful material.

With Zarathustrian Impressions, Polemicist have created a work that stands strong against the bland and surface-obsessed tendencies of the current metal scene. For those who wish to support Polemicist’s noble quest and find themselves within the vicinities of Philadelphia, be sure to catch the band at their official release show on August 31.

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30 thoughts on “Polemicist – Zarathustrian Impressions (Fólkvangr, 2019)”

  1. retard jesus says:

    there are really cool melodies going on here which give me a JRPG final boss fight vibe, but why do metal bands keep trying to make their records sound like imagine dragons or some equivalent shit where every fucking instrument is roaring at top fucking volume through its own artificially separated channel? and why are the vocals and drums so overbearing? do they not realize we have to strain to focus on the buried melody in order to get any sense of the structure and movement of the the music? there is a lot of cool music that I’ll never give a second chance to just because it sounds like what some twitch streamer who never watched a band perform live thinks is ideal mixing because all they’ve ever heard are movie scores and soundcloud edm >>artists

    it’s fucking metal of death not ashlee simpson, nobody is playing your shit on a busted ass factory car stereo all the time, they’re listening through head phones and home sound systems so just mix it right for fucks sake

    at least PHANTOM gets it!

    1. Flying Kites says:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r2lX7sWrqg

      Hi, yes, you listen to this. Thank you.

      1. retard jesus says:

        hi, yes, I do listen to this, it’s the 5th best death metal album of all time, thanks for noticing

        1. maelstrrom says:

          What are the other four? For me it’s Onward to Golgotha, The Red in the Sky is Ours, Blessed are the Sick, Ritual of Infinity, and Nespithe

          1. retard jesus says:

            these aren’t in any order they just occupy the top position and there are 4 of them

            onward to golgotha
            nespithe
            to the depths in degradation
            altars of madness (but blessed could take this spot too)

            never really understood why rituals is ranked so highly by some. it’s cool but basically a groovy suffocation-light, little bit too new yowk hahd cohw, and moorcock references are the property of space rock bands anyway <_<

            1. Bogdan Dragos says:

              To The Depths In Degradation has the spirit Nespite lost for the the sake of being obvious in their intentions and the effect is that the logistics are surpassing the artistic message. But it’s just a personal preference. Nespite being in my top 5 also. Onwards To Golgotha constantly won the best place in my list and also the most re-spins trough the passing of time.

              1. retard jesus says:

                sorry but I got confused by that first part. are you saying that nespithe’s message was diminished by the insistent logistic demands that the composer implemented for the sake of clarity? I’m not sure if I’d go that far but nespithe is certainly more effective if approached from a detached cerebral angle that allows you to suspend your disbelief so as to get the full effect of the horror-fantasy tales that are the songs

                meanwhile to the depths surely puts message and dare I say “atmosphere” (as in a field of emotion and feeling that encompasses your imagination) foremost making the songs seem a bit janky if considered from a purely logistical perspective. but unlike demilich infester don’t care where you approach the music from cuz that shit is COMING FOR YOU whether you’re ready or not and is so much more enveloping and powerful in that way

                if demilich is a brilliantly descriptive physics formula then infester is gravity itself

                1. Does Contemplating The Implications Of The Fact Fact That Joey DeMaio's Moon Is In Aries And David DeFeis' Moon Is In Leo Make You Enlightened, Gay Or Both? says:

                  “if demilich is a brilliantly descriptive physics formula then infester is gravity itself”

                  poetry my nigga. you should write for DMU

                  1. soothe us with your beautiful poetry.

                    1. retard jesus says:

                      I’ll submit a PHANTOM review if you’ll post it B]

                    2. if it’s any album other than Epilogue to Sanity then that’s ok.

                2. Bogdan Dragos says:

                  You’re right, couldn’t said it more clearly. Nespite is creating atmosphere but it also requires a lot of it. Being so it depends on the listener’s state of mind (not always the best). But that’s the beauty of it. It’s definitely a singularity.

            2. maelstrrom says:

              The hardcore elements are woven into death metal structure in a way that creates more impact. The album is more than the sum of its parts.

              1. retard jesus says:

                sure, don’t get me wrong ritual is a good album. but it’s not top 5. it doesn’t have high peaks, it’s flat and solid, like a better version of baphomet and gutted. definitely the best of the grooving knuckledragger style. the hardcore meshes well but creates an alloy rather than pure metal

                1. S.C. says:

                  But alloys are stronger and harder

                  1. retard jesus says:

                    you’re right I should have said impure metal rather than alloy. an alloy would be something like whatever is played by sammath and phantom

                    1. S.C. says:

                      even Black Sabbath was an “alloy”. They reforged various influences into a longer lasting stronger music, greater than the sum of its parts.

                    2. retard jesus says:

                      yes but let’s not allow the metaphor to run away on us. sabbath were the first metal band but they weren’t pure metal because they were just trying to play spooky hard rock. metal didn’t get purified til the blues influence and rock n roll spirit were exorcised which couldn’t happen until other bands expanded on sabbath’s technique. sabbath’s strength did not come from fusing existing elements so much as applying the soundtrack atmosphere to rock music, which is not what modern bands are doing when they try to hybridize genres within the rock family tree. then you just get incestual mutant music like papa roach (grunge emo rap)

                      music (and just talking of the music from the rock root still) is at a point now where trying to reinfuse other threads of rock music back into metal weakens the formula. this is because all those other threads have come into their own long ago and don’t share much similarity any longer due to so many bands taking them toward to their respective logical extremes. that’s my argument against morpheus descends; they’re working backward by incorporating nyhc beatdown shit into otherwise pure death metal which was in full swing by the 90s, having broken free of the hardcore influences which were holding speed metal back from fully developing into an independent entity like black and death metal

            3. Billy Foss says:

              I still don’t understand the preference of Blessed over Altars. Those drums sound like shit, many of the tracks are clearly written with the vocals as a priority, and the lyrics give the impression of David Vincent’s cringey diary entries. I can’t effectively articulate it, but the riffs are absolutely stale and tired; failing to ebb and flow as they did on Altars. I’d be interested to hear a thoughtful appreciation of this album, if anyone can find the time.

              Enlighten us to your ways…

              1. idgaf about post-altars morbid angel says:

                me neither

              2. please name a track with vocals written as a priority?

                1. Billy Foss says:

                  Most of the tracks that aren’t the filler instrumentals, excluding Thy Kingdom Come, Unholy Blasphemies, and Abominations. Perhaps priority was a poor choice of words, but when the riffs are this sterile; and the blasts and snare sound as if they are coming from a toy; and the vocals are louder in the mix while a deepened clarity supplants the obscure rasp from Altars; what do you have left? Some interesting leads that feel undeserved because when they arrive they are undermined by an overall stagnant structure. I’d like to say I enjoy the album; I just can’t because it’s all heaps of unearned aggrandizement.

                  1. The production is definitely very bizarre overall but I don’t see how that affects the songs themselves. They lack the catchy drive of Abominations/Altars but are overall great. The band opted for much simpler arrangements this time round but the songs still have an incredible sense of progress.

    2. Misty Mountains says:

      “and why are the … drums so overbearing?”
      “at least phantom gets it”

      You have, I’m quite sure, listened to Divine Necromancy. How are the drums NOT overbearing on that album?

      1. retard jesus says:

        the drums are quieter than the guitars, and are playing a polka beat like 99% of the time, so idk how they are overbearing unless you can’t get around the weird tone

  2. Flying Kites says:

    https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/n/nietzsche/friedrich/n67a/chapter42.html

    — But at this point in his discourse it chanced that Zarathustra suddenly paused, and looked like a person in the greatest alarm. With terror in his eyes did he gaze on his disciples; his glances pierced as with arrows their thoughts and arrear-thoughts. But after a brief space he again laughed, and said soothedly:

    “It is difficult to live amongst men, because silence is so difficult—especially for a babbler.”—

    Thus spake Zarathustra. The hunchback, however, had listened to the conversation and had covered his face during the time; but when he heard Zarathustra laugh, he looked up with curiosity, and said slowly:

    “But why doth Zarathustra speak otherwise unto us than unto his disciples?”

    Zarathustra answered: “What is there to be wondered at! With hunchbacks one may well speak in a hunchbacked way!”

    “Very good,” said the hunchback; “and with pupils one may well tell tales out of school.

    But why doth Zarathustra speak otherwise unto his pupils—than unto himself?”—

    1. Can you explain what this is supposed to mean, especially in the context of replying to this article?

      Why does Zarathustra speak otherwise to himself than to his pupils? Is this yet another ironic and coy “I’m SUCH a genius!” moment from Nietzsche, by extension of the analogy of the difference between (his pupils:the hunchback) to (himself:his pupils)?

  3. I appreciate Nietzsche and he seems to me the logical ideologue for Metal: anti-Christian, anti-authoritarian, anti-egalitarian, moral non-realist, pro-art, etc. It is a shame that the majority of metalheads are just post-Christians with an even more scriptural view of morality than practicing Christians: in fact, that is the reason for their distaste for the church, that they don’t live up to the ideal of Christ–“You don’t think gays are equal! SHAME!”. In this way most metalheads never actually detach from mainstream thought; they simply live in a holier/edgier than thou space. The guys who really “get it” are guys like Gaahl and Arghoslent.

    1. “…are just post-Christians with an even more scriptural view of morality than practicing Christians: in fact, that is the reason for their distaste for the church, that they don’t live up to the ideal of Christ”

      A simple fact so obvious it should be axiomatic, but yet still seemingly impossible for many to truly grasp.

    2. Billy Foss says:

      Please elaborate with another example, I’m not sure I follow the gay equality line of thought. And what is it that Gaahl and Arghoslent are getting?

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