Written by Kep
Plasmodium – Towers of Silence
Black/death metal from Melbourne, Australia
Releasing April 20th, 2021
via Transcending Obscurity Records
You ever drop a ton of acid and then spend three-quarters of an hour in a carnival funhouse? I mean, I’ve never done that, but it sure sounds like it would be a bewildering, terrifying experience, and one that would stick with you. Approach Towers of Silence, the new offering from Australian black/death purveyors Plasmodium, the same way you would that hypothetical drug-induced, hallucinatory horror trip: with a healthy dose of caution, but with expectations of something unique.
Plasmodium hails from Melbourne, and if you search for any band details beyond that fact you’ll immediately find that this is a group that’s all about creating a mood of bewilderment. Nearly all of the members’ identities are secret, as they go by pseudonyms: Fuath, Nocentor, Aretsikapha, Yen Pox, and Demoninacht. Of those names, the only one whose specific role I can be reasonably sure of is Demoninacht; a drummer who goes by that name in another band (his real name is Matt “Skitz” Sanders). In this band, though, he’s responsible for “limbic chaos”; the others’ roles are “disembodiment,” “reverberactions,” “invocations,” and “spiteful whirlwind generation,” respectively. I’m guessing that at this point you’re starting to get a fuzzy picture of what Plasmodium is all about. This is a band that’s very much in the vein of outifts like Portal and Teitanblood, where aural disquietude is the main objective.
Towers is five tracks and 47 minutes of insanity, and I don’t use that term lightly. First two tracks “ParaMantra” and “Churning” are both tightly packed whirlwinds, featuring about three minutes each of incessantly pounding blast beats, grinding and shrieking guitars, and violent, throaty vocals before short, atmospheric ending sections. Next up is “Pseudocidal”, whose opening is a welcome but unsettled cosmic voyage, highlighted by echoing chimes. The drums carry this track, playing what almost amounts to an ostinato pattern heavy on the cymbals for half of the song. Then, in case you were feeling too comfortable, after the music has ended there’s the truly disturbing sound of insects chewing. “Translucinophobia” is, at over 18 minutes, the longest track on the album, and it makes use of sustained screeching guitar lines to up the anxiety level, mixing in quiet atmospheric passages off and on. “Vertexginous” is the closer, and it features an extended opening of free-form drum hits, echoing voices, and agonized wails. The eventual arrival of the full band feels almost tribal and primitive, again driven by the drums, which make heavy use of the toms. Then, after a passage of nearly five minutes of atmosphere and sounds, there’s an unexpected capper of 20 seconds of blast beat aggression that fades and ends suddenly.
In case I haven’t been clear, I want to say in no uncertain terms that what Plasmodium sets out to do—create a trippy, psychedelic atmosphere of horror and insanity—is absolutely accomplished. Towers of Silence is not supposed to be an easy or comfortable listen. Hell, it’s right there in their promo information: “This is certainly not meant for the more conventional or easy listening metal fans,” it says. The music is cacophonous, disorienting, and anxiety-inducing, and that’s 100% due to the band’s ability to craft ambiance via music and effects. I adore Portal, and I like bands like Teitanblood and Mitochondrion quite a bit, and sections of this record made me feel more discomfort than either of those bands.
That all being said, there are a number of issues that make Towers a much *more* unpleasant listen than the band intends. Foremost of these is some extremely frustrating work on the production front, primarily related to mixing and mastering. Outside of a few specific passages, such as the opening chunk of “Translucinophobia”, it’s nearly impossible to hear anything the guitars are doing when the music is in full swing; they’re just a wash of distorted noise behind the prominent drums and vocals. I’m sure there’s a bass in the band (maybe “reverberactions” is bass?), but you could use whole sections, like pretty much all of “ParaMantra”, to convince me that there isn’t, because the bottom end is nearly nonexistent. I’m also not a fan of the pacing, which is just odd. “ParaMantra” and “Churning” start the record, both energy balls of 3½ minutes with very little fat, which is fine, but then the tracks jump in length with the final three being 9+, 18+, and nearly 13 minutes long, respectively. The amount of ambiance work done in those tracks, along with their length, makes the two openers feel like throwaways, or bonus tracks somehow lumped at the beginning of the record. You could drop them entirely and start at “Pseudocidal” and I wouldn’t miss either one, plus the album would still be 40 minutes long. Finally, I find the whole compositional style to be rather aimless and wandering. Maybe that’s by design, and maybe I just don’t “get” it, but it’s hard to keep a listener’s attention when things don’t seem to have a destination, and passages like that tiny, violent ending section of “Vertexginous” feel like they were forced with the intent of being weird. Add to that some severely repetitive drumming and that obscured guitarwork, and it’s easy to get bored.
Ultimately, Towers of Silence is a strange and bewildering experience, not unlike that hypothetical carnival funhouse trip. There’s psychedelic terror and ambiance in spades, and my gut tells me that Plasmodium really accomplished exactly what they set out to on that front. But Towers is also a frustrating listening experience, with a number of wearisome issues that will keep me away from the carnival in the future. But as for you, dear reader? You won’t know what this trippy horror show is all about until you’ve tried it yourself.
Favorite track: Pseudocidal