The most remarkable power of Thantifaxath is how deeply alien they sound. It is easy with music like this to describe it as King Crimson-esque, caterwauling and mysterious, angular and strange. But, while none of these descriptors are wrong, they miss an important internal characteristic of the music, which is how it plays as alien liturgical music, like a haunting cosmic choir emanating from the heart of a celestial cathedral. This aim was nodded to in the title of their debut, Sacred White Noise, and finds fitting extension with this record.
Void Masquerading As Matter is designated as an EP by the band, which is odd at first. After all, though it’s only four tracks, it’s nearly 40 minutes of music; it’s not necessarily enough to definitely state this should count as a second LP by length, but is long enough to raise the question. We get an answer when we look at the material itself. While there is an aesthetic shift when it comes to titling and packaging, important elements when delineating one work from another in an album-oriented space like rock and metal, the songs themselves don’t seem to have progressed beyond their predecessor’s aims.
For a band as accomplished as Thantifaxath, this isn’t necessarily a critique. They represent as well here as on their debut what fans of the more technically and progressive wings of metal, from traditional to extreme, see in the music. At its worst, this type of music can become emotionless riff-salad. Likewise, it’s easy to fall into a trap of denigrating technicality as a spice to be used judiciously, improperly privileging certain sonic aesthetics for no other reason than not having personally heard them used well frequently. Thantifaxath cuts to the core of this divide, the notion of songs and an abstract emotional or aesthetic resonance in disparate parts, and holds to that notion when crafting their songs. There is nary a moment that doesn’t read like Darkthrone covering King Crimson and Genesis playing out like a more avant-garde Enslaved. But one gets the sense that this record took as many years from the debut as it did not because the material was hard to come up with or play, but because they were spending time crafting the songs, nuancing them in engineering and production, nudging little elements in and out of place until they were just right.
Like Gorguts, Thantifaxath lays weight on avant-garde contemporary classical music as a pillar of their songwriting. The stretches of choir and strings on Void Masquerading As Matter are extended compared to their previous record, making them feel now less like transitions and more like central, important sections of the songs. Thantifaxath avoids an issue that plagues many metal bands that play with these timbres by making sure they don’t feel surplus or like mere cool-down periods between riffs. There’s a tendency to make orchestral sections submissive to riffing, which isn’t necessarily a complaint but does show a lack of imagination on the part of the bands who do that. Thantifaxath, by keeping the intent and evocation of the song central, lets these sections take proper prominence, neither cluttering them with traditional rock instrumentation nor making them unduly pretty in the somewhat trite juxtapositional way these textures are sometimes used.
They still shred like Trey Azagthoth on a prog-rock binge and still construct abstract post-nihilist paeans. Thantifaxath sees themselves changed very little on this material. Perhaps that is why it is deemed an EP; there are no significant enough changes to warrant describing this as the next definitive statement by the band. But for a band that can create such dense, rich and yet still evocative, memorable, and digestible music, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.