Review Summary: Arsis returns to a slightly different form with their best album to date.
Even being a fan of Arsis, I’ll be the first to admit that United in Regret
was pretty much a complete suckfest. It had all the symptoms of a sophomore slump: uninspired riffs, repetitive structures, solos that showed no emotion and never went anywhere, and an overall lack of the inspirational fire that made their debut, A Celebration of Guilt
so enjoyable. After the release of their marvelous EP, A Diamond for Disease
(which was actually written after much of the material on United in Regret
, to no surprise) many fans were excited about but ultimately let down by the uninspired, repetitive mess that was United in Regret
. Thankfully, Arsis has rewarded their fans’ patience with We Are the Nightmare
, which I would consider to be their best and most cohesive album to date.
On previous releases, Arsis wrote and recorded as a two-man project. Now that Arsis has four full-time members helping to write, it’s obvious that they’re able to come up with more ideas and pour them together into great, cohesive songs instead of just depending on 2 minutes worth of ideas dragged for 4-5 minutes. James Malone’s signature guitar style is still quite apparent on the album (expect lots of arpeggios!), but it seems a great burden has been lifted from his shoulders in the writing process with the help from the new members, ultimately making the album more varied and feel less forced as a whole.
Arsis’ debut, A Celebration of Guilt
was a great album, but suffered in part due to the fact that it lacked its own identity. I mean, it was well executed, but it wore its influences (Dissection and At the Gates especially) on its sleeves to a great extent. Even though United in Regret
showed signs of uniqueness, it still sucked too much for me to really care. With We Are the Nightmare
, Arsis is certainly moving into their own niche in the metal world with a sound that is unmistakably theirs.
The riffing on the album is impressive, both technically and creatively speaking. It shifts between atonal and uneven to emotively melodic frequently, with plenty of jarring stop-start moments and superbly executed counterpoint harmonies, all while maintaining a balance between (tasteful) technicality, dynamics, and songwriting. It’s more technical than anything else they’ve put out for sure, but they now pull it off much more tastefully than a lot of the pointless wanky parts on United in Regret
and the technicality never seems forced. Killer riffs like the chorus riff in “Failing Winds of Hopeless Greed” and the riff after the chorus in “Servants to the Night” are pretty much the reason I listen to metal. Yeah, they’re that good, and they’re damn consistent throughout, never boring me or having me waiting for the next phrase to start.
The riffs also seem to bear a certain power metal-like catchiness; they aren’t ever really evil or crushing like most death metal, but kind of dwell in other metal realms while not forgetting the band’s melodic death metal roots. The album is, for lack of better terminology, fun and not afraid to show it. This is the sort of thing I usually find very out of place in death metal, but it seems to me that their shameless approach to just having fun with their music has allowed them to excel in this sense. The soloing on the album is nothing short of awesome as well; they’re always inspiring, placed impeccably and never seem to be the only thing carrying a song like solos too often do. Instead, they compliment the overall feeling that each song is working to communicate.
Now onto the drumming…well, it’s alright. I’m not going to deny that Darren Cesca is an insanely talented drummer, since he’s definitely doing much more than just holding his own behind the kit. But therein lies the problem: he’s doing way too much. He’s the sort of drummer that won’t find a beat and stick with it for more than a few seconds at a time, which I guess fits the album to a degree since the guitar work is very technical and shifts a lot, but it seems like he’s constantly trying to one-up the guitars with how ‘tech’ his drumming is and it gets a little distasteful sometimes. For some reason, he uses four (four!) snare drums, two of which sound like bongos and the other two sound so similar that it makes you wonder why he even bothers. This makes the drums a little more annoying, due in large part to the fact that he sometimes decides it’s a good idea to blastbeat on the bongo-sounding ones when it clearly isn’t. He does a good enough job holding the album together, but his drumming can make the album a little hard to listen to at first because it’s so sporadic.
James Malone has never really been agreed to be the best death metal vocalist by any means; his blackened brand of growling seems to be off-putting for several individuals who claim his vocals are grating. On previous albums, his vocals suffered from excessive use of layering for pretty much no reason most of the time, and I’m glad they didn’t do it on this album as much because I’m not going to lie, it was very
grating after a while. His voice doesn’t sound nearly as frustrated or angry as it did before unfortunately though, probably due to the clear production they’ve opted for this time around. The vocals are still effective though, and he comes up with a lot of memorable patterns and the lyrics are very easily understood which is also a plus. People who didn’t like his voice before certainly won’t find anything new to like about it here, but for those who liked it (or could tolerate it), not a lot has changed.
All in all, We Are the Nightmare
exceeded my expectations and then some. For what it is, it’s definitely excellent and shows that Arsis has their shi
t together yet again. It’s definitely their most consistent and focused release yet, while somehow managing to be their most varied as well. And yeah, it’s a hell of a lot better than United in Regret
, so what more could a fan ask for?