Void Masquerading As Matter: The Return of Thantifaxath
Sacred White Noise, the debut full-length by anonymous Canadian black metal trio Thantifaxath, was far and away my favorite album of the year in 2014. The cold and harshly detached nature of the album fit perfectly with the band’s mysterious non-identity, and after its release they slunk back into the shadows, occasionally resurfacing for a handful of live appearances but never with an update on new material. The band finally reared their ugly, cloaked heads with a new track on a Dark Descent sampler earlier this year, and are set to release Void Masquerading As Matter, a four song, 35-minute EP on November 24th.
And there are no surprises here; the new EP absolutely kills. I was admittedly skeptical when I saw they were just releasing an EP, but 35 minutes is a formidable run time for just four songs. The main weight of the album is carried in the first three tracks, coming in at over nine minutes each, which collectively gape before the listener like a frozen, hellish maw of contempt. I mentioned the “cold and harshly detached nature” of Thantifaxath earlier, and fans will certainly recognize their signature riffing style and the sense of icy, nihilistic discomfort it creates. Nothing matters. Everything will fail. The void giveth nothing, and the void taketh what it will.
That signature style is, to my ear, a result of the band’s creative and careful use of chromaticism. Functioning within a strict harmonic framework can certainly be limiting, but using that framework as a jumping off point before twisting and bending it to your will can ignite a creative wildfire. Thantifaxath masterfully exploit the opportunity to do so, creating riffs that have the feeling of unraveling in an unsettling way. The opening four minutes of the EP slowly but violently lash out from the opening riff in the same way an icy wind whips off the side of a mountain. You’re on that side of the mountain, and despite the vast expanse of open air around you, you still somehow feel claustrophobic. Bad news: you’re probably not going to make it.
As much as Thantifaxath has a knack for spinning outward, the band also showcases a talent for spiraling downward. Simpler moments of descending chromatic lines abound through the EP, jerking and twisting down shifting time signatures that aren’t entirely unlike breaking a few bones on protruding rocks during a free fall down the mountain. Like I said, I don’t think you’re going to make it. Those spiraling moments are given a nearly theatrical boost by the layering wizardry that I’ve come to associate with Thantifaxath. There aren’t really any moments in their brief discography of flashy or technical guitar playing, but this new EP continues their highly skillful use of layering guitar work to create dramatic moments of effect. Contrasting motion, octave displacement/interval manipulation, and staggering entrances are all simple and routine writing techniques, but in the right hands, those simple tools can create a truly menacing soundscape.
I mentioned earlier that the main bulk of the EP is in the first three tracks. But let me say in no uncertain terms that the fourth track is NOT (NOT) filler material. If any of you dweebs say it is when you can finally behold its cold and dismal majesty, I will hunt you down, invade the sanctity of your home, and let you know that I strongly disagree with you before I apologize for barging in and then leaving. “Void Masquerading As Matter” is an experience. More of a standalone choral piece than a song, the crystal clear voices of the ensemble echo through what sounds like an abandoned cathedral. The style is absolutely perfect, devoid of any vibrato and allowing overtones to dance through the reverberant performance space. More parts layer in, the balance ebbs and an antiphonal effect envelopes the listener. After a small moment to breathe, the voices slowly develop into absolute mania of shrieks, screams, and anguished howls like an all-consuming void. The title of the EP itself becomes a living, breathing thing right next to you, and soon all around you. The void, once an idea only, becomes a horrifying reality.