Back when we actually gave reviews scores (and went under a different name), I reviewed Thantifaxath‘s Void Masquerading as Matter in 2017 and gave it a 10. I’m sure we can all agree that I jumped out the window with that bold move. It’s not that Void Masquerading as Matter wasn’t that good, at least at the time, it’s more that the overall relative enjoyment of that mini-album/big EP has waned with time – I’ve returned to their actual 10/10 album Sacred White Noise and even their self-titled EP a bit more than Void. So much time has passed since then that even though I still consider Thantifaxath one of my favorite bands of all time, it’s allowed the dust to settle and for me to go into their newest work with comparatively less bias. Not no bias, just less.
Hive Mind Narcosis crept up on me even though I’ve known the band were working on new music for years – it had to drop eventually, right? With the drop of the first single, “Solar Witch”, I was catapulted back into the voidal, blackened sensibilities I fell in love with almost a decade ago, but something was different. There was more – of the band, of sounds, of a lot of things. The song was like eating a food you love after years of not having it, just abject bliss, able to detect subtle little changes to the recipe that you like. The Thantifaxath foundation was there with “Solar Witch” – dissonant and angular riffs, vantablack mood and tone, and a general sense of dread hanging like a body from the gallows – but the progressiveness and diversity was much more apparent. Melodies were even more winding and almost unpredictable to a point and structures were practically uncomfortable in their desire to land on any particular permutation of metal.
The anonymous trio has never been fully lockstep with black metal stylings, but it was the one genre you could seat them in comfortably for a quick descriptor, as long as you’re clear that it’s the more modern atmospheric, almost post-black metal type. Despite key moments like the rollicking drum and tremolo-picked guitar intro of “Surgical Utopian Love”, which is pretty keenly blackened, there’s more going on with Hive Mind Narcosis than the band have ever done before. Death, doom, prog, whatever you wanna call it, it’s more.
Speaking of “Surgical Utopian Love”, what a fucking track. There’s so much going on in its 10:58 runtime, I could almost fill a whole article’s worth of words talking about each of its distinct sections. It’s so confident in how it moves from setpiece to setpiece, weaving in different tones and atmospheres that both call back to their earlier work and mark the arrival of a new era entirely. This is the multiverse of black metal albums, and it’s because of tracks like this. “The Lost Wisdom of Wolves” does well for itself with creepily modulated vocals in the middle with these ravenous riffs that could fit on a cosmic thrash album, two things I haven’t really heard in a Thantifaxath track before to this level.
Having one atmo-focused track per album is a Thantifaxath staple, and here it’s “Blissful Self Disassembly”. It sounds downright angelic at time, almost at peace with itself. There’s a gentle voice seemingly navigating the trip while twinkling synths surround on all sides, each one pinging after the other, while a choral roar creeps up from the back every so often. It feels futuristically transcendental and mechanical, like someone’s consciousness being ported over to AI. The demise is sealed once more raucous and uneven instrumentation enters on the back half creating this cacophonous finish to something that feigned a calm peace. It’s like that consciousness awoke and realized what was happening to it, panic the only thing coursing through it as it very futilely tries to fight back.
This goes to show that no matter what, Thantifaxath‘s world is never far off from an oblivion of some kind, and if that wasn’t enough, “Mind of the Sun”, the final track, absolutely drives the nail into any restfulness that may have been had. This song is violently energetic with a siren-like hum gurgling behind the frantic guitars and hammering drums. This is an absolute sunderer of a climax and one of the berobed band’s best tracks ever – it’s also their shortest one since their debut EP.
It’s very odd engaging with something so familiar and yet so different, almost as if it’s from a parallel universe. It’s like Thantifaxath looked on at something very much like itself and asked ‘who are you?‘, only for it to respond ‘I’m you, but stronger‘. Everything is the same, and yet it’s not. I am comforted by hearing one of my favorite bands back on their bullshit, and I am roused to my feet by the new they’ve accomplished. Genre conventions are tossed aside like garbage, but also lightly embraced when it fits the sonic narrative they form with Hive Mind Narcosis. It all coalesces into a mental spin cycle for your brain not unlike the kind The Chemical Mind – another all-time favorite band that happens to delve in black metal – provides.
Just like Void Masquerading as Matter before it, this isn’t a 10/10 album, and I don’t say that to devalue or degrade it whatsoever – I say that to point out that that’s not the point, of this review or the music itself. I think it’s most important to recognize what Thantifaxath has given me not only with this album, but in my ten-ish years of being a fan and it’s a lot, expertly continued on with Hive Mind Narcosis. For me, I’ve never heard a band mix atmosphere and musical depth as well as they do, where they can coexist so well, forming a dark matter synergy to plow across the realm it inhabits. The melodies and rhythms are the atmosphere, just as the more traditional elements of the atmosphere – the openness and constriction of the soundscapes – act as their own instruments at times. It’s a wondrous endeavor, spraying you with black blood from the veins of an anguished beast. That sort of thing can’t be distilled into any sort of score – it’s worth a hell of a lot more.