Cue Staind’s iconic “It’s Been Awhile”, as it truly has felt like quite a while since Robert and I have joined forces for a conversational review. Perhaps our dormancy was because we’ve been waiting for just the right record to fully dissect apart, and the time has finally come in which such a release has wiggled its way into our undeserving ears and out into the world. WFA alumnus Kardashev have gracefully achieved legendary status with their newest record and official debut on Metal Blade Records, Liminal Rite. Let’s dig in!
JP: Yo Rob! I hope you got your fingers warmed up and nimble, as I feel today is going to be a thick conversation.
Robert: Hahaha, it’s been long overdue since we’ve done one of these, so this is ample time to give the fingers a proper workout with a proper review.
JP: So, were you expecting Kardashev to go as hard as they did on this new album of theirs, Liminal Rite?
R: Absolutely not. I liked The Baring of Shadows when it came out, as was obvious from the review I wrote, but that was no indication that anything even close to this level was in store for the future. I am honestly really blown away. Liminal Rite is simply orders of magnitude above its predecessor. It’s like I’m listening to an entirely different band.
JP: That basically sums up how I feel as well. I was already head over heels for the band upon discovering them with The Almanac, and The Baring of Shadows only further cemented that glowing endearment for sure. But now here we are with Liminal Rite, which is something else entirely as you said.
They didn’t have to pull all the stops on this record, but they went ahead and did that anyways; didn’t pull any punches, either. Completely random thought here, but I honestly think Kardashev went harder on this album than Phil Collins did on the Tarzan soundtrack, and that is basically undoable.
R: Hahaha, I don’t really follow with the parallel, but somehow I’m feeling it. Kardashev did something I’ve seen virtually no band in metal does. They did this, like, hyperspace jump between records on literally every level. When I was listening to The Baring of Shadows for the first few times, I was really hoping that the power and detail that would be found on Liminal Rite would actually be a point for them to reach, but I could’ve never hoped for them to achieve it so quickly and coherently, with little to no error.
JP: Looks like someone didn’t have a proper childhood; sarcasm of course. And yeah, the massive jump going from The Baring of Shadows to Liminal Rite is insane, especially considering how the former was already awesome in its own rite (heh). With their long, underappreciated, and highly promising track record thus far, it truly feels like Liminal Rite was the album that Kardashev were destined to make. These guys are now hitting their stride, and they’re doing so with boundless grace. Given how they just signed to Metal Blade Records and this being their debut release on said label, just imagine what they’re going to achieve moving forward.
R: Yes to all of that, and I am quite confident that this is their legit breakthrough record. It’s a show of world class musicianship and composition, ‘competing’ with the current greats in progressive death metal. Also, and I hope I’m right, all of this will legitimize their concept of deathgaze and others will follow suit. It’s all too good to go unnoticed – it would be an absolute crime if so.
JP: Absolutely! This is definitely going to spread the holy name of Kardashev into the ears of metal listeners all around the world like a wildfire. I fully expect (and hope) for the same kind of breakthrough, if not more, with Liminal Rite as Rivers of Nihil received with Where Owls Know My Name. Although the difference here is that Kardashev are doubling down on creating a new musical style entirely here, that being deathgaze, which will ideally legitimize it as you said; the posers that talk crap about these ‘unnecessarily random subgenres’ be damned. All the genres and subgenres that exist had to start somewhere and all those pioneering artists got flack for it at first, but look what it has done for music today. Kardashev is definitely broadening the musical horizon, and the masterful Liminal Rite is the album that will allow for this ‘movement’ to finally make way.
So, what are some of your favorite tracks on the record? You tell me first and then I’ll share mine.
R: Indeed, haters can get the fuck out. I can agree that the labeling system is kind of dated, and some people can insist on ‘appropriate’ categorization more than is necessary, but at the end of the day, Kardashev are making a potent mix with a name that’s more than fitting. I can definitely already see this as pushing the boundaries of metal forward, and I’m probably too eager to see how it will all unfold in the grand scheme of things.
I don’t even know where to begin, man. The entire album is just sterling. There are incredible moments scattered everywhere. And it’s not just that, but also the fact that as you move on into the record, your perspective changes on the previous songs based on what you hear next and so on. Then, at the end, you finally get the whole picture, and it immediately becomes obvious that each track is a perfect piece in a beautifully intricate mechanism that runs without as much as a hitch.
Although, to give some kind of an answer to that question, here are some of the most hair-raising, dopamine-rushing, spine-shivering moments I found. Firstly, I think, right after the two-minute mark in “Compost Grave-song”, that epic double vocal delivery on top of the gloriously orchestrated instrumental. That’s some of the most epic and poetic stuff I’ve ever heard. It teleported me to a realm of wonder and awe, and I don’t want to leave it. There’s a similar, although not quite as highly strung moment in “Cellar of Ghosts” through the middle and towards the end of the track, which I also like a lot. This one is definitely leaning more on a melodic delivery than on a huge and atmospheric one. “Glass Phantoms” is peppered throughout with such moments as well, and they’re definitely going for a much more visceral overall delivery. I love these too, although, if I’m at gunpoint (because I can’t make a decision otherwise), I’d probably say “Beyond the Passage of Embers” is the hardest of the hitters. It just hits home on so many levels, and it’s literally everything I want from my death metal experience in a tight and dense twelve minutes. Having Bohren & der Club of Gore featured on the track is also like all the cherries on top of the amazingness cake.
JP: Truly, there is zero shortage of stellar moments and tracks on this record as a whole. You could have said literally any track as being your favorite and I wouldn’t have disagreed in the slightest; that’s a testament to the powerfully gripping nature of each and every single song here on Liminal Rite. For me, I’d say the final stretch of four tracks (“Cellar of Ghosts”, “Glass Phantoms”, “A Vagabond’s Lament”, and “Beyond the Passage Of Embers”) is the high point of this record. That isn’t to say the first half isn’t monstrously gorgeous, as it most definitely is (refer to “Silvered Shadows” and “Apparitions in Candlelight”), but it feels as if all the earlier songs set the stage and build up to the earth-shattering wombo-combo of those final few songs.
“A Vagabond’s Lament” and “Beyond The Passage of Embers” trade being my favorite track back and forth, though. I love how the former dials it back to allow for several minutes of the most serene ambience, putting the ‘gaze’ in deathgaze of course. These heavenly soundscapes drenched in reverb make for some of the most relaxing things I’ve heard, which is wild coming from a death metal (deathgaze) record, but here we are. On this track particularly, I am drawn to it thanks to Mark Garrett’s poignant, drawn-out vocalizations that instill such an overwhelming feeling of sorrow and longing within me. Although I’ve thumbed through the lyrics, I feel that even without this supplement and context, I am able to gather a solid understanding of the story being told through the emotionally vivid vocal performance, and thus can go vicariously through all these emotions that the protagonist is feeling himself, especially that feeling of longing. The closing track is an entirely different beast that I’ll try not to spoil too much of, but yes, I wasn’t expecting the crooning saxophone provided by Christoph Clöser of none other than Bohren & der Club of Gore to add even more dreariness to this utterly devastating record, both musically and psychologically.
All this being said, “Cellar of Ghosts” keeps popping back into the back of my head, and now I want to say that that song is my favorite for all the same reasons you said. Seriously, I cannot decide on a favorite track, and that is a great problem to have, so kudos to Kardashev achieving such a feat.
R: I can definitely stand behind the idea that the last part of the record is the best part of it, but it definitely couldn’t stand alone as it is. Everything that leads up to there isn’t just clever world building; it’s part of the magic at an atomic level. It just wouldn’t hit the same way on any level if everything that precedes it wouldn’t be there. I would also add that “Silvered Shadows” is a bold and powerful way of opening your record. Yes, opening, because “The Approaching of Atonement” so smoothly glides into it that it simply doesn’t feel like a separate track; the same way its analogous side from the final track isn’t separated from said track.
Mark Garrett is a champion as I see it. Presently I can think of barely a handful of other vocalists in metal that rise to the bar he sets. His versatility and power are amazing, and his outstanding performance is a cornerstone of the record’s impact. Honestly, to me at least, his performance is what makes the album scintillating and not just shining.
I managed to dig into the lyrics, but I really can’t say it made the experience any richer. It sure made it much more comprehensive and detailed, but emotionally, things didn’t change. The way the longing, as you mentioned, then the nostalgia and all the adjacent emotions swirl into a torrent and lift me above and beyond is just something else. I never felt so at peace and at home diving so deep into something that’s rooted in sorrow and aggression like that. I guess the gist of it is that it’s stunningly beautiful and that I’m grateful to be alive at a time like this, to be able to live so vividly through something so otherworldly and so far away from me.
It’s funny that you’d think you can even spoil anything from the final track. It’s such a mammoth, and it’s so multi-layered that I could do a bit-by-bit dissection of it and in reality, at most, it might mislead the listener a little. It’s impossible to spoil something like that via a medium which isn’t sound – that’s how I see it at least.
JP: I fully agree that Mark Garrett has really solidified his place by providing one of the most diverse vocal displays I’ve heard on such a record. His soaring, angelic vocals give me such a rush that I can’t help but feel optimistic about the rapidly decaying world around me. On the other hand, you have his demonic shrieks and howls so impassioned with emotional trauma that makes the album so harrowing. There are so many moments in which his sung vocals are layered/harmonized over his ridiculously savage screams, making for a truly grandiose and emotionally devastating listen at every point throughout Liminal Rite. Like I said earlier, Mark Garrett really went harder than Phil Collins did and I stand by that… the rest of the band also unleashed everything that they got on this record, it couldn’t be any more obvious.
I didn’t want to go super in-depth as to what story the album is telling, as the listeners will be able to make sense of that through the various spoken word monologues themselves. I just wanted to touch on some of lyrical nuances I noticed throughout. One thing I found incredibly interesting was the focus on all these mundane objects found in the protagonist’s early childhood place of interest here. There is so much emphasis on many little things that may not necessarily seem to have any meaning, but to the protagonist, they have a core memory associated with them that takes them back to a time that they’d give anything to relive. It makes me think of this term ‘ropography’, which is defined as such: the depiction of those things which lack importance, the overlooked and everyday objects of life; the unassuming yet necessary things that we take for granted. As the delusion and dementia sets in along with the album progression, we find our main character grasping onto anything that will take him back to when times were simpler and jovial, with his family.
R: I won’t be touching on the narrative further than you did; I think that’s enough to outline the density of the record. Besides, to me at least, getting into the narrative felt partly underwhelming. This wasn’t because it wasn’t a compelling and well-executed concept, because it definitely was, but rather because by the time I did this I already raked in like a dozen listens of the record and had imagined some otherworldly high fantasy storyline, which I couldn’t even begin to describe, but it’s like the epitome of maximalism in my head, so nothing can cut close to it hahaha.
What I wanted to say about Mark Garrett’s delivery, and somehow missed doing so above, was the uncanny resemblance of his soaring cleans harmonizing with the shrieking to how Hath did virtually the same thing, even all the way down to the instrumental backdrop, on Of Rot and Ruin. I’m not complaining or anything even remotely close – I just find the similarity interesting, because the overall package is so different when holding one record next to another, yet the effect of that particular artifice is almost identical, at least in terms of what my reaction to it is.
Speaking of resemblances, I need to mention that there’s a strong Portal of I (Ne Obliviscaris) vibe going on throughout the record, and I just love it. I think that partially has to do with the fact that Ne Obliviscaris has virtually no imitators of any sort and any degree, save for maybe Iapetus? I’d also say that it has to do with the fact that, while the reference exists in my head, it’s not perceived as something unoriginal in the context of the music on Liminal Rite. It’s something wholly fresh and explosive, merely nodding in the direction of said ‘source material’. Although, Nico Mirolla (guitarist/songwriter) did mention that Ne Obliviscaris wasn’t really an influence, right?
Finally, in terms of resemblances, I just want to point out that there are some passages, like at the ending of the last track and some bits from the second track, that remind me of Follow the White Rabbit‘s Endorphinia. You know I have a wild love affair with that record, and anything that reminds me of it even in the slightest way will inevitably earn my love, biased and conditional as it may be hahaha.
JP: Ah, fair enough, although I’m curious how you were able to conjure up some fantasy storyline, as you say, when those monologues make it somewhat clear what the premise is and how the story progresses; at least I thought so. Regardless, it is still super awesome to hear how these larger-than-life soundscapes and musical backdrops are able to create these fantastical storylines and worlds in your head, and considering how everyone will experience the music differently, I can’t begin to fathom the multitude of emotions and visualizations that Liminal Rite inspires. Yes, as melancholic and hopeless as this album feels for a majority of its runtime, I still find glints of hopefulness and sanguinity poking through, which is all that’s necessary to cause me to feel optimistic and at peace myself, even if its at the expense of our main character here.
It’s been a while since I’ve spun Of Rot and Ruin, but I definitely know what you mean. The layering of clean and harsh vocals in such a way always makes for a cathartic and tumultuous release of tension. What makes these moments even more satisfying is when they’re modified repetitions of a previous chorus or verse found earlier in the song. So, we’re roughly familiar with how that given part goes and by the time its modified version hits, it amplifies the weight to indescribable levels. Some of my favorite instances of this are found in “Silvered Shadow” and “Compost Grave-song”, for example.
I totally hear what you’re saying regarding that Ne Obliviscaris resemblance, which I find especially notable on “Cellar of Ghosts”. To answer your question, though: yes, Ne Obliviscaris wasn’t a major influence at all from what I remember, so I think it’s just pure coincidence. Regardless, what makes this musical parallel so striking to me are the stunning and seemingly romantic basslines that drive the song forward, not to mention the unrelenting and heavily dynamic percussive barrage. When the chorus finally hits, the bassline evolves into this frantic spiral that’s very subtle and can be difficult to hear with everything going on at the time, but it’s immensely satisfying once you’re able to pick up on it, and then you can’t unhear if after that. Throughout the rest of the record, the bass has such an obvious and distinct identity and refuses to mimic along with everything else, and I admire that so much. The same goes for the percussion and every aspect of Kardashev, in reality.
R: Well, it’s sort of like suspension of disbelief in a way when you’re watching a movie: you just buy into stuff for the sake of the trip. Sure, the monologue is there, but my brain either shuts it out or twists it to fit. It’s pretty straightforward really. Also, I was always bad at understanding lyrics in songs without lyric sheets, so they could be anything. My entire life with music could be summarized as those parody videos on YouTube with misheard lyrics hahaha.
Anyway, yeah, you do make a point, there’s something oddly reassuring in spite of all the darkness and bleakness within the album. It’s like the old adage that hope dies last – as if those glimmers of hope glint around the record, subtly inducing the idea itself into our heads. At least that’s how I see it.
I’m also totally on board with your additional comments regarding the massive vocal layerings. That altered repetition so to speak adds volumes to the impact. Or, as Adam Neely would say – repetition legitimizes.
I wouldn’t have such big words to say about the bass lines by my own volition, but I can’t disagree with your take either. It is all very well-rounded and really holds the low end everywhere it matters, even though I personally wouldn’t go as far as to say that it has a distinct identity. Although I may just be too charmed by the vocals to even really care about anything else besides that and the riffs, which can’t be ignored because they’re smack dab in your face.
Picture courtesy of Julian Morgan
JP: Finally, somewhere we actually ‘disagree’ on for once today. I totally understand being completely mesmerized by Mark Garrett’s vocals, as I find that happening to myself whenever his mouth simply opens (if that doesn’t happen to you, check your pulse), but I suggest you make an active effort to shake yourself out of his hypnosis and focus on the basslines. Next time try and listen closer to that precise moment I just talked about in “Cellar of Ghosts”, as it is mind-boggling to hear how the bass dances maniacally in the background while Garrett sings like the angel he is. Even during other tracks, like in the verses of “Compost Grave-song”, the bass stands out so much that it draws my attention away from the vocals towards it, and that is high praise.
R: It’s hard to disagree when you’re talking about a record of this magnitude. It’s absolutely monumental, and I can’t imagine that any kind of death metal record through the rest of the year will top this. It would have to be something truly biblical in every sense. Now, I praised Liminal Rite just about enough, it’s time I bring out the bad as well.
It’s really not all that bad or that much. My only gripe with the record is that sometimes the vocals feel kind of buried in the mix. I honestly can’t remember any particular points now, and I don’t think it’s relevant to pinpoint, but it’s odd that there are these inconsistencies where the instrumental just straight-up booms over the vocals. After some relistens I started thinking that maybe it’s how they meant it, although I can’t picture a justification for said choice.
The one other thing that struck me – I wouldn’t necessarily call it an issue – is how the clean, ambient gazey parts sound so much better in terms of production than the rest of the music. I’m not sure what’s up with that exactly, but I’m not bothered by it in any real way. It doesn’t add nor subtract from the experience.
JP: Man, I can’t imagine any metal record topping Liminal Rite this year, not just when it comes to death metal and progressive music in general. As for your comments on the mixing of the vocals, I can see your frustration with that, as it is a just claim to want to hear those lavish vocals even more, but I personally adore them just the way they are. I feel like they’d overpower the rest of the music had they been at the forefront. Instead, they comfortably sit somewhere in the middle to make room for everyone else. And now it seems like you’re nitpicking just for the sake of nitpicking with your talk on the production ‘consistency’, haha – just pulling your chain of course. But that isn’t to say it isn’t a valid critique of course, just something I’d never be bothered by myself, but that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t be.
I myself rarely get hung up on those small details when it comes to production or mixing/mastering, unless it’s incredibly striking with how poorly it was done, which is far from being the case here of course. I’m the kind of guy that solely focuses on the inherent content and music itself rather than the aesthetics and fancy polishing done after the fact; kind of like how I don’t let high-end fancy graphics be the sole criteria that decides my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of a video game, for example. The fancy graphics and production aspects are only a bonus to me. But again, you have a better ear for that stuff than I do, so I’m sure I’m living in blissful ignorance to the fact.
R: I can understand digging something for the concept and the whole musical architecture, that’s the most important aspect for me to be honest. But, uhm, yeah you know I’m the worst snob when it comes down to production, and no matter how much I may like something, I can’t let anything, not even the smallest thing, slide. Obviously, my remarks will not hold me back from listening to Liminal Rite on repeat, especially once the album is released so I can get a lossless version. Equally, my enjoyment will not change and I’m pretty sure people will enjoy it in similar ways.
Additionally, it’s even harder in situations like this not to poke out the dips or micro-flaws, because they stand out much more obviously as everything else is so neat. That makes it even harder for me particularly, because, and I’m not afraid to admit it, I can be an insufferable snob hahaha.
Anyway, be that as it may – again, I commend Kardashev‘s effort with Liminal Rite. They outdid themselves in ways that very few other bands could ever manage, regardless of genre or time period. Finally, Liminal Rite isn’t merely just a record, it’s a fucking experience and you have to let it swallow you whole in order to properly experience it.
If you want an even more in depth analysis of the album, with intensive explanation on the lyrics and conceptual story, breakdown of the songs themselves and what not, swing by Kardashev‘s website as you’ll find all that and more here! Finally, if you really enjoy this type of content, be sure to subscribe to their Enlisted Traveler Program that provides even more content and allows you to interact with the band members themselves on a regular basis!