A few years ago, a friend of a friend gleefully proclaimed that they found a "wrong note" in a U2 song. It was in one of the songs off their 2009 album No Line on the Horizon. I didn't press him on the details--he was the kind of person who fancied himself a music scholar, but really only had enough knowledge to be dangerous. His statement made me chuckle for a couple of reasons. The album probably had a production budget the same size of the entire Apollo Space Program with at least 100 times the computing power available, so the idea that an unintended note would somehow end up in the finished product is hard to believe. On a broader level, the idea that a some notes are "wrong" is a funny idea, even if it's common among less-adventurous music consumers. I'm guessing that U2 threw a slightly dissonant note in somewhere, and it was made all the more jarring to my acquaintance because, as a pop band, U2 typically stays well within the vanilla of musical sounds.
Of course, metal knows no such fears of dissonance, and Thantifaxath's new album, Sacred White Noise, demonstrates this handily. The first few seconds of the opening track, "The Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel", gives you a hint of what you're in for. It sounds like the organ soundtrack of a merry-go-round sped up to 10 times its normal speed, and when the first guitar riff kicks in shortly thereafter, its restless dissonance wanders in that realm where music and mathematics intersect. It's a great, satisfying line, but it's jarring and cerebral at the same time. if you're worried there won't be enough black metal, don't be. There's plenty of blast beating and tremoloing to go around, and the vocals are raspy, full-throated, and actually understandable for the most part. But everything is always just a little bit off in the best way possible.
Therein lies Thantifaxath's brilliance. There's always a delicate balance between the immediately satisfying and the bizarre. "Gasping in Darkness" may start with the most evil-sounding Gregorian chant ever, with voices slowly drifting in and out of unison, but when the main rift kicks in, it's an immediately likeable bit of blackened doom made just a bit odd by the changing meter it's played over. The mournful, beautiful strings that open the closing track, "Lost in Static Between Worlds", help balance the hyper-frenzied guitar freakout in the middle of the song. The music is cerebral, but with plenty of emotional gut punches to absorb along the way.
Thantifaxath probably won't be the most dissonant thing you've ever heard. There are always bands like Jute Gyte, with their "We Will Use All the Notes Inbetween the Notes!" approach to occupy the outer edges of what music can be. But Thantifaxath balances the avant garde with more familiar territory, even if it's always just a bit out of focus, giving us an album with plenty of intellectual depth to pour over, but with an immediacy that keeps the whole affair from being exhausting. Their previous EP hinted at this, but as good as that EP is, Sacred White Noise is a quantum leap forward.
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