Progression and innovation are wonderful things in whichever walks of life they may manifest themselves, and luckily for us we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with a branch of the musical spectrum that is prone to producing this on a regular basis. This is a notion that runs particularly deep within the sphere of metal, with the more extreme side of it being no exception, and needless to say, Canadian tech-death powerhouse ARCHSPIRE are following suit in true abundance.
For those of you not yet acquainted, this is a quintet that are assuredly attempting to push the boundaries of the genre; the sound bears a devastating amalgamation of tempos exceeding 300BPM, devilishly complex double bass patterns and drum fills, outstanding noodling and tapping from the trio of stringsmen, all topped off with a monumental display of uptempo growls that are almost reminiscent of rap-style phrasing. The outfit burst onto the scene in 2011 with their unreserved and enticing debut album All Shall Align, following this up three years later via the release of their second full-length effort The Lucid Collective, a record that proved to gain them a decidedly notable degree of traction within the scene. Fast forward another three years to the present day, and the unbridled force of ARCHSPIRE is back, with the immanent release of their third attempt Relentless Mutation. In previous years we’ve heard generous helpings of thoroughly impressive musical ability in the band’s writing, but it’s about time for them to refine their sound and truly hit their stride; one can only hope that they’ve managed to strike that balance this time around.
Traditionally, it would be unconventional to commence by narrowing in on something negative, however in this instance we feel compelled to do so. Without any particular comment on the musical content itself, an air of disappointment arises from this album from the very beginning, and this is solely based on the run-time. Of course, opinions differ, but this is a band that really should have been endeavouring to produce something that gives the impression of being more thoughtful and maturely structured than what we’ve seen from them before. With a total of just seven songs (four of which have already been unhanded as singles) and a total run-time of just thirty-one minutes, one could ascertain that a certain aspect of this desired progression has not been achieved. Particularly frustrating is the fact that ARCHSPIRE have pretty much established a three year album cycle at this point, and have again (for the third time) released a body of material that only just surpasses the thirty minute mark; this may prove to be a disappointing attribute to someone who has waited for three years for more material.
Moving on, and taking a closer look at some of the more redeeming elements, Relentless Mutation is exactly as impressive on a musical level as one would expect. Everything that was mentioned in the above description of the band is clearly present on a greater scale than ever before, and is rounded off delightfully by a strikingly crisp and detailed mix, allowing each instrument to shine exactly as it should. In addition, vocalist Oliver Rae Aleron‘s performance is better than ever, with a generous helping of the ‘circle breathing’ technique he’s so renowned for using, in addition to a surprising range of other tempos and styles in order to fit the requirements of the instrumentation; something he’s not been able to pull off so well in the past.
Something that stands out in particular about this record is the feeling that the band have somewhat dialled back the extravagance and spontaneity that they’ve almost exclusively become associated with. Yes, this is a good thing; as much as ARCHSPIRE‘s all-guns-blazing approach can be thoroughly entertaining and impressive, you still simply can’t beat a good hook and a bit of melody. It seems that this time, they’ve been able to nail down a satisfyingly inoffensive blend of mind-bending technicality and a comprehensible structure, boasting a series of catchy, melodic riffs, and applying classic structural elements such as breakdowns and bridge sections. This is arguably the best thing about the album. This a band that have made a name for themselves by executing near-impossible levels of technicality, but in our opinion have never truly struck the level of musicianship that their talent deserves; it seems this may have finally been achieved through this release.
Its difficult to analyse certain aspects of this album without stating the obvious; namely, the complexity of the instrumentation. Relentless Mutation is once again, and predictably, a shimmering display of the technical prowess that ARCHSPIRE have become renowned for. It’s important to distinguish that this is not something we’re underwhelmed by; rather, it is just yet another display of the brilliance we’ve seen from this band in the past. In terms of the writing and composition however, some attributes of a more notable level are certainly on display this time around. The addition of bona fide riffs that are catchy and memorable is nothing short of essential in developing this band’s sound, and this something that is very much on display on this record, particularly through songs such as Human Murmuration and the title track Relentless Mutation.
In summary, this is a good release from ARCHSPIRE; they’ve firmly held onto the foundations that gave them their name, whilst adding a pinch of progression and increased maturity. Whilst this merely feels like a small step, its certainly enough; it wouldn’t be outrageous to predict that bit by bit, this band are taking steps in the right direction, and slowly working towards developing a more refined and complete sound.
Relentless Mutation is set for release on September 22nd via Season of Mist.
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