Scientist – Barbelith (2018) REVIEW

Scatterbrained post-metal conglomeration still resembles a ‘modernity’ and fluid genre-fuck to a fellow like me who more-or-less reached legal adulthood as albums like ‘Remission’ and ‘Times of Grace’ landed nearby. Twenty years later it is a personal struggle to hear their influence and feel inspiration that isn’t clouded by preferential nostalgia. Of course in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles this struggle wouldn’t be enough turmoil to inspire connection with the Barbelith, a great satellite of self-realization hidden on the dark side of the moon. With no hope of affording the tuition of enlightenment, instead I think I’m better off with David Hume‘s ‘Bundle theory of the Self’ that perhaps nostalgia is inherent identity by non-linear positive associations. So, the frantic influence of sludge metal’s prog-like expansion in the early 00’s is a key point in the genre’s identity. As such the expanding, changing unit that is Scientist have blended the grey area between pre-existing influences with deeper gradient and differentiating performance.

Another odd point of nostalgia is ‘Way of the Dead’ by Yakuza, an indescribable avant-metal record from 2002 that was a first and last for the band in terms of Century Media Records and Eric Plonka who provided guitars and vocals for the record. Plonka would go on to found Scientist about a decade later with members associated with Taken by the Sun and Making Ghosts. Before Century Media laughed in my face at for the terrible zine I was writing in the early 00’s I found the promo for ‘Way of the Dead’ perplexing. It only stands out in my mind to this day because it was a challenge I couldn’t rise to and thankfully ‘Barbelith’, the third full-length from Scientist is an easier thing to digest and express. How about extreme metal influenced progressive sludge/post-metal with some alt-rock tendencies and some noise rock rhythmics? Yeah, it’s that.

There is a grand romantic tradition among the stoniest of us all that hallucinogenic abuse leads to enlightenment and a grants the user vision into the greater workings of the universe. It leads to drug-induced persistent psychosis at worst and anxiety disorders at best. In the case of ‘Barbelith’ occult meditation and psychedelics portends the coming birth of the self in true. I can only assume ‘Barbelith’ is the exit of the perceived self towards the Invisible College, a concept borrowed for countless fiction works from The Magicians TV show, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol novel and more notably the clearly referenced comic book series The Invisibles. The intention is perhaps less metaphysically challenging than it seems and without a lyric sheet it’s all a lot of shouting and singing.

The riffs are why you’re here, I’m guessing and I wasn’t blown away personally. There are plenty of positives to note, though. Always well-produced and cleanly performed, even when simply demoing instrumentals, Scientist have expanded their abilities by adding an additional vocalist in the form of Barry Kotarba (Boatman’s Toll). His inclusion offers the well-grasped opportunity for even more Mastodon and Neurosis comparisons with a dual/triple vocalist approach; Yet it actually helps to distinguish the band’s sound and allows their ‘alt metal’ melodic moments greater consistency coming off of the guest vocal heavy ‘10100||00101’ full-length in 2015. ‘Barbelith’ likewise features performances that reach outside of the limits of an atmospheric sludge metal sound towards black and death metal jolts that work by some magic of the professional production/mixing. It is a progression beyond Scientist‘s past releases, though I’m not sure if the detailed, stylistically flighty songwriting is always thrilling.

As a full spin I would write ‘Barbelith’ off as a ‘mush’ experience that is arranged beautifully in theme and sound… but without enough care for the hot fuckin’ pockets of intensity. The parts that really ‘hit’ are often clobbered by the twisted, heavy grind resultant of a myriad of influences. Am I analyzing a progressive metal album as if it should aim for accessibility? Slightly, yes, because as often as I’d connect with Scientist‘s thickly laminated dance floor and begin to reel back in awe at their atmospheric abilities a real chuggy duke of a riff would stink up my groove. Without any regard for my futile need for familiarity, ‘Barbelith’ is a good listen. Challenging by sludge standards, and not overly challenging by progressive metal standards, Scientist remain highly listenable as they smooth over the raw brunt of their previous work.

I find the appeal of this sort of music generationally dependent. Resemblance to Mastodon, however accurate that comparison might/mightn’t be, surely dictates how willing you are to entertain this jawbreaker of fiddly sludge metal. I warmed up to it, cuddled up in it’s bearded recesses, and after about 4-5 listens was ready to move on to something else. Still, Scientist is a standout band in a very crowded indie sludge landscape and ‘Barbelith’ sees the project hitting a more confident stride. It is the right point of entry for anyone curious and sludge-inclined so don’t mind my jaded whimpering and give it a try. For preview “Magick Mirror” and “Retrograde” are pantie-melters that’ll quickly let you know if you’re in or out.


Artist Scientist
Type Album
Released April 13, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on Scientist’s Bandcamp! Follow Scientist on Facebook
Progressive Metal,
Atmospheric Sludge Metal

Countdown to theophany. 3.5/5.0

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