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The World's Best Roach - 100%

Apteronotus, December 26th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, 12" vinyl, Fallen Empire Records (Limited edition, 2 colors)

Wow, one of my all time favorites! This album is so ridiculously good that I can’t bear to explain the basic details without gushing over it. Blattaria’s self titled release is the solo project’s first full-length. This much compositional talent all in a single musician, Manuel Garcia who is also credited with all of the instruments and vocals, just seems unfair. It’s freakish, especially considering this is the project’s first full-length and it was only preceded by a demo. Summing up the sound, this is the culmination of a variety of interesting developments in black metal that have happened after the second wave sound fully coalesced. The chaos of bands like Gnaw Their Tongues, the musty atmosphere of House of First Light bands like Vorde, the dissonance of Deathspell Omega, and the unrepentantly savage melodicism of Naas Alcameth (of Nightbringer fame) - Blattaria expertly and coherently incorporates the best parts of each of these styles, and often all at the same time.

The name Blattaria, referring to cockroaches, is beyond appropriate for the music’s filthy vibe and dizzying pacing. Reverb and delay effects on the clean guitar melodies make the notes seem to skitter over one another, and the left field high-pitched tremolo-picked notes have an insectoid screeching quality. For example, the quick transition at 2:50 on “Dimension” couldn’t be anything other than a fever induced hallucination of roach swarms writhing their way under a moldy refrigerator. However, unlike so many “chaotic” contemporaries, Blattaria knows when to pull back, and countless creepily slow moody parts are integral to each song and help to highlight the intensity elsewhere. Transitions from one stunning riff to the next have such seamless energy that the thrilling songs, and even the entire album, become a page turning narrative. While you could, in theory, boil the music down to switching between quiet and loud parts, doing so would be like suggesting you don’t need spaces between words.

One counterintuitive part of the music is that despite all of the noise, chaos, and cockroach feces, this release is superbly mixed and mastered (by Mare Cognitum’s Jacob Buczarski.) The strong stereo split on the effects adds a ton to the depth to the music. The mixing’s effect on the melodies is even more striking. Take for example the representative stretch of music starting around 1:30 into “Amongst Filth, Amongst Decay” where the centered bass rumbles along before being joined by a dissonant meandering melody entering from stage right. Next, a bewilderingly high melody joins strongly from the left before the guitars meld back together. Every single part the mix comes through crystal clear and without sacrificing an ounce of the vile and ferocious vibe.

Even the drawn out and distant vocals add an excellent layer to the mix, and they appear as nasally incarnations of Attila Csihar or as extended shouts. The vocals are more of a texture, used like a synth-pad on a keyboard might be. Each gurgling note is so distant in the mix and slow in comparison to the often frantic pacing elsewhere. The unique texture is also a critical part of how the album feels so coherent. You know every last song couldn’t be from any other band, even though the actual repetition or recycling of ideas and riffs is extremely minimal. Compare the earlier example from “Amongst Filth...” to the bit starting around 1:40 into “Dweller of the Night.” This second example is brilliantly drummed with punchy rhythmic choices, and the incredible riffs don’t repeat anything from “Amongst Filth...” Still, you can draw obvious parallels in how the high melody plays against both the rhythm section and an additional guitar riff to create climactic tension. It’s just one clear example of how the album’s structure is absolutely beautiful (in a fluorescently lit roach carapace kind of way.)

It almost makes you wish there was some filler in here, or even a song that was only “just” really good. Some sports have a mercy rule to put a stop to overwhelming dominance, right? Plus, I can only get so amped up; but at the same time the 42-ish minute run-time is just perfect. Once it’s over, everything seems somewhat dull in comparison, like you are going through withdrawals. Only a handful of albums have ever risen to this level or have this kind of effect; and although I had this reaction to the album immediately, an additional month and change of listening has only reinforced my opinion. While Blattaria isn’t the first band to use a lot of the elements on this album, everyone knows that first to market doesn’t necessary translate to quality. This lodestar album has merged a wide variety of black metal’s novel fringe styles and thrust them to the next level.

Originally written for Contaminated Tones.