The Niches of Nietzsche: Polemicist Unveil “The Convalescent” and Get Philosophical
It was a little surprising that at the Wikipedia page for Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the novel by famed German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche the last item in the section for “Musical and Literary Adaptations” was how Polemicist’s debut album Zarathustrian Impressions is based on the second and third book of the notable tome.
Over drinks at famed Philly watering hole Johnny Brenda’s, guitarist Lydia Giordano was impressed to find this out. Vocalist/guitarist Josiah Domico was less so.
“I added it there,” Domico sheepishly admitted. “I had to because I figured like there’s so many Nietzsche metalheads.”
Such notoriety hasn’t come quite that quickly for the Philadelphia group, though it may seem so. In the fall of 2017, Domico and Giordano formed the group from the ashes of Surgeon, a progressive-leaning multifaceted metal outfit that had a small following around their Philly homebase. Although a polemicist is “a person who engages in controversial debate,” Domico was amiable and not at all confrontational. He wouldn’t even let me buy a round.
“What drew me to the name specifically was having studied philosophy,” he said, “so the idea of a polemicist attracted me, both from the philosophical and rhetorical angles, meaning that some knowledge some people are unwilling to discuss, more so than just governmental/political debates. This is more like ideas that are challenging and Nietzsche was the perfect place to start.”
Early on the duo, rounded out with drummer Jacob Nunn, formerly with grindy crossover merchants Bataan Death March, and bassist Sam Zettell, spent as much time figuring out the best way to mesh their own styles together beyond what they did in their previous band.
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“We had this idea that we wanted to make really epic narrative type pieces and that was our strongest goal,” Domico recalled. “Sometimes Lydia and I would sit in the same room and just discuss it and then hash it out on guitar. Other times I would give her a full track to record her leads over. Surgeon had a more black-‘n’-roll direction, so that she was able to really adapt to the black metal type leads very easily.”
When they penned their very first song they wrote called “Revenge of the Tarantulas,” they initially thought that it would be part of an EP. Before long the band was penning a full album’s worth of material, a sprawling conceptual piece based Nietzsche’s treatise that elaborated on the Übermensch and God’s demise. And although Nietzschean nihilism makes for excellent metallic fodder (and unfortunately is regurgitated by no shortage of NSBM boneheads, though Domico joins the chorus of scholars who are irritated at nefarious types who have hijacked his ideas), he wanted Polemicist to be more than trite iconoclasm.
“His whole thing is about overcoming revenge, this idea of ressentiment, as he calls it. It’s like resentment towards self and resentment toward life. He feels that this was resentment has fueled Christianity. So, even the logic against Christianity is still caught in this idea of ressentiment. There’s a lot of Satanists out there who call for the preaching of death and who think that death is a good thing, whereas Nietzsche would say like a pro-life, more pagan embrace of life is a better kind of way to live life rather than this Christian heaven or hell, death or eternal life dynamic,” Domico explained.
The band continued to write and finally played their first show this past April. A college friend of Domico sent a live recording of that show to Mark Eddington of Fólkvangr Records. He loved it and when the band sent him the newly-recorded album, he offered to release it. As soon as the two-minute Wagnerian into “Zarathustra’s Theme” concludes, Zarathustrian Impressions becomes an unapologetically unrelenting attack. This was by design, according to Domico.
“I think it’s something that we agreed upon and talked about early. As much as I love the doom metal genre, especially like classic doom stuff, it was also like a lot of slow music was kind of eclipsing the fast music that kind of got me into metal,” he said.
“Plus we wanted to kick our drummer’s ass,” Giordano laughed.
Although the murky, echoey mix courtesy of Sébastien Robitaille of Sorcier Des Glaces and a plethora of cascading riffs invoke black metal’s second wave, the album transcends that era in many profound ways. This was most evident in the way bright solos contrast the darkness, reminiscent of classic metal when lyric jackets helpfully listed who performed the solos.
“As a guitarist, I don’t like bands that don’t play solos and don’t shred,” shrugged Giordano between sips of Manayunk Back Flip Raspberry Gose. “It’s just lame. I want to hear shredding. And I think that’s why we’re definitely a crossover, you know, focusing on different elements of metal. There’s definitely some death, some black, some heavy metal.
“I also feel that as the album became a full length, you don’t want to lose the listener,” she continued. “I feel like once a band puts a slow song in the middle of their record they just lose momentum. Does this suck the energy away or does this add to it?”
The band personally handpicked “The Convalescent” as the second single, streaming exclusively below. They chose the track because the contrast with the first single “On Redemption” showcases the different personalities of Polemicist.
“I feel ‘On Redemption’ is more black metal and ‘[The] Convalescent’ is definitely more progressive, more death metal, and it’s got just more things going on,” explained Giordano. “I think showing the two angles of what the whole record is about is a good idea. It was a second song that we wrote, and it kind of started morphing our styles together and seeing where it could take us.”
Domico sees the track as an epic epicenter to the whole concept.
“That is the point where Zarathustra realizes that he has to be the teacher of eternal return,” he enthused. “That is this concept that this life as you have lived it, you will live over and over and over again. So, it’s not so much this form of reincarnation, but it’s more like the snake eating its own tail, ouroboros. It’s this idea that like you encounter the same metaphors individually over and over and rather than hating life and wishing for death, you embrace it, which is the ultimate ‘fuck you’ to god. It’s kind of like Sisyphus pushing the Boulder up the Hill.
“At that point in the book, that’s when Zarathustra embraces his destiny. He goes through this sickness before dealing with it because he can’t connect with regular people, they don’t understand him. But more so I think it’s the fact that Nietzsche was writing in there that they were not ready to understand him because they were still caught up in this very moralistic Christian kind of thing.”
Needless to say, the lyrical themes are just as intense as the music. No matter how Polemicist evolves or even if they don’t ever endeavor to create a conceptual piece again, that will likely continue to be the band’s niche.
“I don’t want to bore people, but I want to say this thing has shown me value,” he said. “Nietzsche’s prescription dealing with nihilism is to find some meaning other than like the meaning that you’ve inherited. For me it was like Christianity; I just grew up with [that] and heavy metal to fill that void for me. I didn’t want to sing about Satan and getting laid.”
Zarathustrian Impressions releases on August 30th. It can be preordered on CD and cassette through Fólkvangr Records. The band celebrates the release of their debut on August 31st at Century Bar in Philadelphia.