When it comes to bands flagged as avant-garde in metal, very few fully break the mold. It isn’t uncommon for artists with this tag to have a weird or off-key section here and there with the rest of their music falling into traditional genre tropes. But then there are bands like Australia’s Plasmodium, who seem to thrive on being as horrific and unpredictable as possible. Their sophomore effort Towers of Silence may pull from some of the same tonality and pummeling instrumentation as typical black and death metal, but it adds in a free-flowing psychedelic and stream of consciousness approach that will make listeners think they’ve taken one pill or bong hit too many. It’s sometimes a bit too obtuse for its own good and the deliberate production choices hinder some of the impact, but this is still a wild ride for those willing to dive in.
The first two songs kick things off with much shorter bursts of tense and unrelenting blasting mixed with spacey and psychedelic atmosphere, with the remaining three opting for much longer spans of time in which to constantly change the narrative. Initially you’re met with a flurry of blasting drums and guitars that seem to flow in and out of the recording with an almost formless sound. The foundations of the more extreme and dissonant branches of black and death metal are there, but everything sounds like its been run through a meat grinder and blasted into space. Compared to 2016’s Entheognosis, Plasmodium has made a noticeable effort to make their music even grittier and horrifying, with everything coming through more compressed and as a wall of sound that feels like it’s daring you to stick your hand into a pit filled with rusty nails to find out what’s beneath the surface. As the songs get longer the structures become looser, with sound clips on “Pseudocidal” that bring some body horror and science fiction nightmares coming in between the onslaught of metal riffs. The best way I can think to describe it as a mixture of flesh being gnawed on and rats trying to eat each other, with maybe a little Aliens int here for good measure. It’s like a genuine descent into madness that from a compositional perspective comes across like free jazz and psychedelic rock run through the most nihilistic and depraved black/death metal out there.
For the right type of listener, the previous paragraph probably sounds like the exact type of unique and mind-bending experience one could possibly want, while others will probably immediately dismiss this as pure noise and move on with their life. That holds true throughout Towers of Silence, though there are some deliberate production choices that dampen the impact even for those that are open to what Plasmodium has to offer. Compared to its predecessor, this album is much denser and more claustrophobic with the drums and vocals dominating the mix, with the rest of the band merging together into a ball of chaotic noise. While this isn’t bad in theory, considering what it sounds like the guitars are doing on certain tracks giving them a bit more space to expand would’ve allowed for even scarier levels of psychedelic freak-outs and genuine discomfort. With how compressed things are, I think they’re doing themselves a disservice even if I’ve still found myself drawn back to the material as is.
Speaking of the vocals, they remain consistently over the top for the entirety of Towers of Silence. Early on the screams and growls aren’t that different from the usual distorted and inhuman tones that have defined the more extreme variants of metal for decades. But the further in you get, the weirder the performance gets. Starting with “Pseudocidal” the pitch varies significantly, with some creepy whispered passages and echoes that sounds like ghosts have invaded the recording. “Vertexginous” takes this further with distortion on the vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place on a power electronics or death industrial release. It’s a genuinely wild ride and while you’re not always sure what you’re hearing, there’s always something different.
Like the most recent Furia album, Plasmodium’s sophomore release is a tough one to score. On the one hand, it’s unlike anything else out there, reminding me of bands like Teitanblood and Portal mixed with the freeform experimentation of artists like Magma or Koenji Hyakkei. The audience is likely to be very narrow, and even those who are open to the psychedelic horror may find the production stifles the details. Yet the sense of dread and sheer level of mind fuck as had me wanting to come back for another go, which still makes this effort worthy of a B range for me. With a few tweaks this could reach a whole other level, but it’s guaranteed you won’t hear another album quite like this for a bit. Towers of Silence is available from Transcending Obscurity Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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