Brian Mason – guitars at CONTRARIAN (progressive death metal from Rochester, NY)

If you’re fluent in Rochester local metal, and you know Brian, then you’re familiar with bands like CONTRARIAN and SULACO, but if not, you’re in for quite a ride. Brian’s progressive death metal outfit, CONTRARIAN, have established quite the name for themselves over the years, previously incorporating drummers like George Kolias (Nile) into their fold, getting endorsed by ESP guitars, and most importantly, grabbing the attention of huge metal publications whilst captivating prog death metal audiences everywhere with each new release. CONTRARIAN’s forthcoming record, Sage of Shekhinah will be out this March and we’re so stoked. To help us pick the album apart, AND delve into the history of the band, here’s all that Brian Mason had to say:

1. Talk about the beginnings of Contrarian for those who don’t know the story. How did you come to found this project?

Jim came to me somewhere around 2007/08 with 3 songs he had written (they ended up on the EP and our first album). They had a very 90’s proggy feel to them. Very Atheist feeling I thought with lots of changes and erratic riffs, but there was no band at that time. We were just gonna find a drummer and record these songs. I believe Ed Paulsen (Contrarian’s current bass player and Jim’s old band mate), was to play bass as well. I was deep into my bands BML and Sulaco at the time and nothing came from it.

Fast forward about 4 or 5 years and Jim calls me to tell me he found a drummer at the Nile show he had just attended. Jim used his Greek heritage to get a chance to talk to George Kollias from Nile in his native tongue and gave George the very basic demo that he had made. George was into and Contrarian was born.

2. How long have you been playing guitar? Name some players who first inspired you to pick it up.

I have been playing since 1985, so if I math hard, that equals a long time. My very first influence was Andy Taylor from Duran Duran. He made me want to play guitar, but it wasn’t until EVH and David Gilmour entered my life at a more consistent basis years later that I actually picked up the guitar. I was 12 at the time. From there, it was the usual progression of Yngwie, Lynch, DiMartini, Etc.

I think Jim picked up guitar just a few years after me.

3. Going even more in-depth with influences or inspiration, discuss some bands or artists that first inspired you to become a musician before you even decided which instrument you wanted to try. Who made you fall in love with music in the first place?

The very first band I remember just being completely in love with to the point of obsession was Pink Floyd. There were a few bands before them that I attached to (Duran Duran, Led Zepplin, Van Halen), but Pink Floyd was the first band to ever give me chills. They also sparked my lifelong obsession with David Gilmour. Both as a musician and a person.

In the metal genre, it was King Diamond’s Abigail that gave me my first metal chills. Obviously, bands like Metallica, Celtic Frost, Metal Church, Etc, were all in my Walkman at the time, but Andy’s guitarwork on that particular KD record really solidified my love for metal and metal guitar. I love the horror aspect of King’s work and how well the band writes to set the mood. Especially on that album. Andy is one of my biggest influences and probably the main guy I draw from in my mind for Contrarian solos.

4. Fast forwarding to today, talk about some bands who have emerged in the past decade or so who have really struck a chord with you. Discuss local bands too if this calls for it.

We got to tour and share a bus with Soreption last summer and I really loved watching them every night. Great people and a fantastic band. Hath’s Of Rot and Ruin I enjoyed a lot. Been really into bands like Cognizant, Artificial Brain, Baring Teeth & Die Choking lately. I know I’m missing a ton of more recent bands I enjoy here. In the metal world, I do tend to stick to older bands, BUT… I do keep finding new stuff I enjoy like the new Stabbing record (Another band we got to play with on tour). On a less metal side, most people know I’m a huge Billie Eilish fan (Not sorry… debate me). Brutus is great. There is a band called Birth that I’ve been playing a lot to get my 2022 version of 70’s prog thing going. I’m all over the place.

Locally, I know I will forget some bands, but off the top of my head… Sastruga, Inertia, Inhumatus, Anthropic, Babayaga and Gutted Alive immediately come to mind. Can Undeath be considered a local band? Probably not, but they are local, so… I can go to just about any regional show and enjoy the bands however. I need to get to more shows. This area is ripe with talent.

5. What made you guys settle on the name Contrarian? What’s the story behind the name? I know I’ve asked you this before in past interviews, but for the sake of newer readers…

We always felt that the genre of metal in general meant to go against the norm, and to support the underdog.

6. Thinking back on the full catalogue, talk about some of the Contrarian songs you’re most proud of having written and what makes them so special.

We really enjoy the last track on Their Worm Never Dies. It’s called “Whomsoever Worships the White Worm”. An absurdly long title for an absurdly long track, but the snake-like nature of the riffs and the random nuanced ear-worms really represents what Contrarian likes to do. A real fun song to play live as well.

7. GEAR SEGMENT: Talk about the brands, makes, and models you swear by when it comes to guitars, amps, pedals, plugins, etc. I’m sure a lot of younger bands need guidance in these areas and at the same time, a lot of seasoned players out there could stand to improve their setups as well.

Jim and I both have an endorsement with ESP guitars. Jim has a bunch of ESP’s (Too many to list here) and I just have an LTD ’87 Eclipse (Tele shape) that I love. I can’t find another ESP family guitar that I like more, so I stick with it. We both also love our Charvel guitars. We both have a few of those from various years and orgin. I recently got a Standberg guitar after trying one out at the Hollywood Guitar Center when on tour. I immediately fell in love with something I thought I would hate, so I ordered one while on tour and it was sitting there for me when I got home. I recorded the entire new album with the Strandberg and that LTD. It’s now the guitar I pick up most often at home. Beyond those guitars mentioned already, I’m a huge Fender nerd and love my Strat/Tele things.

Amp-wise, I only use my Friedman BE-100 with a Friedman 412 loaded with Celestion H75 Creambacks for all my bands. It’s a very dynamic amp and can be used for just about any genre. Jim mostly uses a Marshall JVM 410H paired with Marshall cabs loaded with the Celestion T75’s. It’s a good combo of amps between us that covers all the right frequencies we need, and more importantly, they sound great.

For recording with Contrarian though, I use the Friedman BE model with an IR of my cab in Helix Native and record direct.

8. Talk about the most memorable live shows in Contrarian’s history and what made those performances so special.

Montreal, on tour with Pathology and Narcotic Wasteland in 2019 was a blast. That city loves it prog metal and it was a blast. On that same tour, we played Saint Vitus and that is where we got to meet our current drummer Alex Cohen. He played with Malignancy that night. We recently toured with Suffocation, Atheist and Soreption and just about every show was insane on that 4 week tour. We played in Wisconsin and it was a weekday show with decent attendance, but everything was just really vibing with every band that night. We sold a ton of merch that night too. Houston was a blast too. Both of those shows had that feeling of unity and the “what this is all about” feeling. Every show was so much fun though on that tour however. You can have no better hosts than Suffocation and Atheist.

Memorable for other reasons… Mesa, AZ was 101 degrees at 11:00 PM. Jacksonville had a heat index of 105 and the venues AC was busted, keeping it a nice 95-100 degrees in the venue all night.

9. As I recall, your “Contrarian” character has been on a journey since the first album. Try and walk us through that journey album to album, leading us to the concept of the forthcoming album, Sage of Shekhinah.

Iron Maiden had Eddy and Dio had Murray. We always love the concept of a mascot that carry the collective conscience of the band. So we have Syd. He first appeared on our second album, To Perceive is to Suffer. We just liked him. He is mysterious. Even to us. We have no idea what he is doing or why or how, but he always seems to be there causing some kind of ruckus. Jim may have a clearer vision on his story, but I like to think he’s just some jerk who likes to start shit.

10. What was the recording process like for the new album?

Our members are all over the place location-wise, so we each record however we want/can. Jim usually goes in and records his parts at Watchmen Studios. Alex recorded his drums at his studio. I recorded my parts in my basement studio and Jacob did the same with vocals in his studio.

For Ed (Bass), we went over to Bill Bodily’s house (bass for Flotsam and Jetsam) who played bass on our last album and on our 2019 tour. Bill and I engineered that session at his house since Ed was in town. Ed used one of Bills bass’s and we cranked that out. Ed is a trained, classical bass player. Watching him read his own standard notation in real time is always real treat.

We also gave Jack Eaton, our touring bassist, one track, “Apollonius of Tyana”, on this record.

As things come in, I make a demo mix of everything before we send it off to Neil Kernon for proper mixing. This way we can get preliminary ideas for mix and levels ahead of time. Once we have all our notes, we send it off to Neil who then does his magic.

One thing we always insist on is no over-production. I don’t mean that term as a slight. It’s just how I describe production with lots of quantizing and editing to “clean it up”. I take no issue with bands that do this however. Bands should sound how they want to sound. We have a click track generated by Jim that may or may not be entirely accurate and that is it. I’m like this with all my bands. I like a little “mess” in production. We like a live feel I suppose. It works with our old-school sound anyway.

11.What’s your favorite track on the new album and why?

I’m personally a huge fan of “Zabur of Satfiyah al Shama” from our new album, Sage of Shekhinah. It has layers and a feel I personally really enjoy. You could tell Alex had a lot of fun recording drums on this song. He is such a creative and unique drummer. I got to use my much loved Strat for a part on this song as well. You can barely hear this part, but it’s there setting a mood. .

12. How does this record stand out when compared to the rest of the discography?

It has a more aggressive sound I think. Without compromising the hooks we always have. Alex really went super creative with the drums. Our singer Jacob has a different vocal approach than our former singers, so that alone gives the record a different sound and feel.

One thing I like about this project is that we have different members on different albums, because it is very much a project band. Since everyone has carte blanche when it comes to writing their parts, each album has it’s own thing going on. This is because, being the band this is, everyone is in different bands with different commitments in different states. We are sometimes forced to find touring replacements and whatnot since members have to tour with their other bands or whatever reason. Our touring band typically is the band that does the next album. Having so many different members throughout our lifespan may seem like a hinderance, but it’s honestly my favorite part about this band. I get to work with a bunch of really talented people.

13. Let’s say someone reading this has never heard your band before and wants to check it out. Think of some bands you could most readily compare yourselves to (well-known) and pick out a few starter songs you’d recommend to people looking to get into your brand of progressive death metal.

We always get compared to the 90’s prog-death bands like Death, Atheist and Cynic. I’m not gonna lie… that is pretty dead on, though we probably throw bits of Fates Warning and early Queensryche in there as well musically, but with aggressive vocals.

Since every album has it’s own thing going on, I’ll pick a song from each since someone may love one album, but hate another. Ha.

Polemic – “Predestined”

To Perceive is to Suffer – “Transend the Mundane”

Their Worm Never Dies – “My Curse”

Only Time Will Tell – “The Mega Metropolis”

Sage of Shekhinah – “Zabur of Satfiyah al Shamal”

14. Plug the band! Leave links to Contrarian’s full online presence here:

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