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Songs of Blissful Ignorance and Dreamy Optimism - 87%

bayern, March 19th, 2017

Pessimist belong to the transformational death metal movement that was started by the jazz/fusion-infested “hallucinations” of Cynic, Atheist, and Pestilence in the distant 1993. The contagion seems to have spread quite extensively in Eastern Europe since before you know it there was Violent Dirge in Poland with the surreal masterpiece “Craving” (1995), followed by the band under scrutiny here and their compatriots Vuvr and Scenery; and later by the Ukrainians Deflected Sense and the hallucinogenic wonder “Commentaries at the Edge of the Abyss” (1999), to name the more prominent examples.

Unlike the aforementioned two Czech outfits, Pessimist launched themselves with the album reviewed here directly, without testing the soil with demos or any other similar preliminary variations. The early efforts of both Vuvr (the “Slaves of Time” demo, 1997) and Scenery (“Mental Confusion”, 1997) showed those acts also fond of the more aggressive ways of expression before completely spacing out on subsequent exploits whereas the album reviewed here is a direct descent into abstract musical surreality to the point that at some stage the listener may be confused about the death metal tag attached to it, and about how justified it actually is.

Fans looking for most devious, left-hand-path trajectories to explore, for paths leading out of the established canons into shape-shifting fields with infinite possibilities for more or less logical metal metamorphoses, will have found their dream opus here. The moment the opener “Lidska Hloupost” starts the listener will find him/herself not quite prepared for this strange dreamy world; a world which even the game-changing “Focus” wasn’t able to map out correctly. That same opener is an oblivious balladic melancholia for nearly half the time before the band start spacing the environment to the point of no return with some of the most beautifully chaotic rhythmic patterns known to the metal fanbase with clean robotic semi-declamatory vocals assisting on the side unobtrusively, the overall atmosphere strangely reminding of Depeche Mode if the Brits had hardened the course with guitar-driven dashes and more audacious song-structures. This reference is by all means a compliment here as the band are really expert at evoking dark ethereal atmospherics which become even more prominent on the title-track, an amorphous bizarre shredder which hectic serpentine riffage will pass through numerous guises including a dissonant passage ala Voivod, not to mention the frequent jazzy interruptions and the outlandish vocal “duel” consisting of the already mentioned clean vocals and equally as effective husky semi-whispered deathy ones. A hallucinogenic listening experience which calls the bass for help on “Dny Zla”, the bass player bouncing more actively accentuating a brilliant lead section in the middle which stretches all the way to the end.

Yeah, death metal seems like wishful thinking for most of the time, but the band don’t care so much about that as ”Bez Nazvu” carries on with the eccentric landscapes pulling out a few more aggressive riffs mid-way to spice the dreamy proceedings which suddenly acquire a more aggressive, and clinically technical character on “Hra o Zivot” with a superb portion of intricate shape-shifting riffage as “an appetizer”; the bass assists with all the vigour the guy can muster to add up to this unnerving rifforama which transforms into a fast-paced speed metal passage where nice keyboard strokes spring up. The latter stay around for “Pocity”, a great nod to the aforementioned Cynic legendary debut with all the fusion-like pathos and the sudden jazzy twists. “Zbabelec” shreds its way in a more thrashy manner recalling Voivod again, the jumpy mathematical breaks in the middle a stylish “wink” at Watchtower and Deathrow; watch out for the speedy accumulations in the second half and the excellent exiting lead-driven passage. An all-instrumental piece follows suit which crosses the leads and the riffs in a tough mid-tempo “tussle” both sides alternating for almost 8-min reminiscent of the way Dream Theater used to weave their elaborate tapestries at the beginning. “Zlej Sen” is a minimalistic progressiver with creepy serpentine riffs bordering on doom their stride intercepted by melodic keyboard insertions; and the bonus track “Stin” is a larger-than-life progressive opera with virtuoso leads, technical riffing and more dramatic clean vocal tirades.

I’m not sure if the band have agreed with the definition “death metal” given to their style, but more often than not this genre seems to be absent from their exploits. It serves as a more brutal background, but very rarely does it become a leading component into these labyrinthine meanderings through the metal spectre. In this train of thought the death metal fans would definitely be more satisfied with Vuvr’s “Pilgrimage” which has retained the aggressive riff-patterns from the preceding demo; and by all means with Scenery’s “Mental Confusion” which is pretty much a confusion... sorry, fusion-peppered technical thrash/death metal record. Aggression as a legitimate tool for expression within the death metal palette has been taken away here, leaving the style naked and exposed to numerous “attacks” that may have exasperated the purists back then, and may have not found immediate audience among the progressive metal lovers who hadn’t at the time quite tasted the extreme progressive metal concoctions that flooded the scene in the new millennium.

The fans had to adjust to these new horizons, and it was Pessimist again who helped with the adjustment process with their second instalment, “Ke Hvezdam” (2003). Unlike Vuvr, they didn’t give up after just one showing, but persevered through the fluctuating, not always agreeable metal field, and the sophomore opus was a logical continuation to their inimitable style further delineating itself from any tangible death metal allusions. Scenery also opened up for those more laid-back, “philosophical” possibilities with “Philosophy of Ages…” (2002), and gradually the death metal realm became more welcoming to less brutal visions, consequently leading to other acts discovering this more experimental path like Unreal Overflows, Serdce, L.I.G.O., Beheaded Zombie, Morbus Chron, etc.

2008 also saw the return of Cynic themselves with the “airy” progressive opera “Traced in Air”. Death metal was a distant memory on it as the guys obviously held no fascination whatsoever with their brutal roots. However, it was Pessimist again who did it the right way with “Longaevus” two years later, another spacey progressive metal opus which held true to their abstract, albeit firmly riff-driven visions sounding way more metallic than the Cynic comeback album. The guys also found time to establish another formation, Mindwork; needless to add, this new initiative is also immersed in the technical/progressive metal idea, but while their debut “Into the Swirl” (2009) was a dynamic technical death/thrashy affair with nods to Death, the second showing “Eterea” (2012) saw it merging with the style of the father band. No complaints, though, as the metal world would always be ready to absorb more ethereal, dreamy visions fitfully translated for the always optimistic, perennially adventurous metal masses.