Review Summary: Interesting songwriting, ace musicianship, great vocal performances, Devin Townsend...what's not to love?
December of 2005 was quite an interesting month for me. I obtained my intermediate driver's license (since I'm not sure about driving regulations in other countries, this is basically just a full driver's license with a few minor time restrictions for those of you outside the U.S. of A), I had my first kiss, I received my first proper guitar amp (Line 6 Spider 212), and amongst a slew of other, and much more insignificant things, I was given Becoming The Archetype's debut album, Terminate Damnation, as a Christmas present. Aside from just being an all around great album, what with all of its progressive elements and talented instrumental performances, it also served as a stepping stone for me into heavier music, more specifically progressive metal and, to a lesser degree, death metal. The more I listened to the album, the more things I found to love about it, and after more listens than I can count, it still holds up as one of my favorite progressive(ish) death metal of all time. After growing so attached to the album, it goes without saying that when I got word about their sophomore release, Physics Of Fire, I marked my calender and waited for its release with bated breath.
Whilst Physics Of Fire was undoubtedly a solid album, it just fell a little short for me, and it seemed like there was just something slightly amiss. Whether it was due to the loss of a few founding members of the band, or some other reason, there was just something missing from that album when compared with their debut, so when I heard about their third effort, Dichotomy, there was just a little bit of apprehensiveness mixed in with the excitement. However, with the news of the aforementioned members returning, I started to grow slightly more at ease about the new album, and with every new song released through their MySpace I grew more and more excited. The rest of the story is pretty predictable. I stayed up until midnight on the 24th, downloaded the album off of iTunes more or less the second it was available, and have listened to the album six times in the short 48 hour period since its release.
I apologize for that rather long intro...
So how exactly is the album? Has whatever was missing previously returned? Does it live up to their debut? The answer, I'm happy to say, is a resounding yes, and then some. If I had to pick one word to describe the overall sound of the album, it would have to be "huge". The riffs are huge, the song structures are expansive, Jason Wisdom's improved roars are even more beastly than before, and there are some moments spread throughout the album that are just downright megalithic in scope (i.e. the intro and subsequent verse section of Evil Unseen, many of the breakdowns, which are used only when necessary and are wonderfully executed, and the rather loud, and quite literal, explosion of noise in the middle of the previously mentioned track). With all of this "hugeness", a need for small breaks in the onslaught does arise, and Dichotomy provides just such breaks in the form of slower piano centric sections (one of which morphs into an almost lounge jazz piano piece) and cleaner sections that include melodic vocals (of which there are only two present in the album, but more on that later), as well as the two minute classical guitar piece St. Anne's Lullaby, which is executed almost flawlessly. Now when you go and shove piano breaks into a metal album, its easy to completely throw off the flow of the song, and if done often enough, the entire album itself. Luckily, Becoming The Archetype has nearly mastered the art of transition into such sections and the songs themselves rarely suffer from a lack of flow.
Of course, since this is a progressive/tech/death metal album, most listener's focus will undoubtedly be on the respective instrumental performances, and I'm happy to say, the instrumental performances presented here are more than solid. The riffs, be them galloping 3/4 or 6/8 affairs, smooth tremolo picked sections, massive chord progressions, melodic leads/dueling harmonies, or thrashy riffs with a load of technical flair, are all highly enjoyable, and the solos, aside from being extremely technically sound, also fit the mood and style of the songs to a tee. The rhythm section is equally impressive. The drumming is the same as you would find in many other albums of the genre, mainly consisting of speedy double bass and lightning fast fills, but the drums set themselves apart from their peers slightly by utilizing cymbal noises (i.e. tiny dings and other bell-like noises) in interesting ways, and providing a few unorthodox beats (at least for death metal). The bass, which is actually quite present in the mix, follows along and keeps up with the guitars for the most part, but also occasionally breaks out with some impressive fills and groove sections. Even though all of the members are technically skilled with their respective instruments, there are no points in the album where one person gets to far ahead of the rest of the band in an attempt to show off, and cohesiveness like that is something that is becoming pretty rare in this day and age. The secondary instruments used on the album, like the keys/synths, symphonic string sections, and quirky electronic noises, all contribute to the album in their own individual way, and thankfully never become to frequently used or overbearing.
The production of the album really deserves a whole paragraph to itself, as the ever eccentric Devin Townsend has simply done a bang up job in producing this album. Each individual layer and instrument track is so large and full sounding, yet at the same time nothing is ever muffled, and no single track ever overpowers the rest. Think of it as a perfect casserole if you will. Each individual layer is delicious on its own, doesn't bleed into any of the layers underneath or above, and when "eaten" as a whole, every individual flavor is exactly as prevalent in the overall scope of things as it should be. Mr. Townsend is also undoubtedly the mind behind the addition of the rather quirky electronic elements, and one can only hope that if he isn't the producer on their next album, the band will attempt to stick with, and expand upon them as they really add to the album, and also do quite a bit to set the album apart from most of its counterparts. How much Devin actually contributed in the area of vocals or instruments himself is a bit hard to say without reading the linear notes, but the clean singing section toward the ending of album opener Mountain of Souls is almost instantly recognizable as Devin, and there are also a few other spots where you can almost undeniably hear Devin warbling in the background. Vocal contributions were also made by friend of the band, and label mate, Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter on the album's title track (Clark is also featured in the song Elegy on the band's debut album).
Even with all the positive aspects, there are a few things about the album that will deter a few listeners, the major aspect obviously being the overtly religious lyrical themes. To be perfectly honest, it wouldn't take a whole lot of effort to ignore the religious aspects, with the obvious exception of one cover song (like I would actually skip over this?). I have to admit, even I was a bit skeptical when I saw How Great Thou Art sitting at the number 8 spot on the tracklist, but to be honest, Becoming The Archetype absolutely nailed it. Very rarely can a cover be considered a legitimate song within an album, but BTA took what was once and somber church hymn, and made it completely their own by turning it into an absolutely crushing slice of death metal excellence; solos, pseudo-breakdowns and all. In fact, though it seems like a rather cheesy, and almost kitschy/gimmicky thing to do, the track actually ends up being one of the albums best cuts when all is said and done. While its an extremely superficial reason to dislike an album, there will undoubtedly be quite a few listeners who shun the album for nothing more than religious reasons, and to do so would be an act of supreme foolishness. With Dichotomy, Becoming The Archetype has firmly thrust themselves to the forefront of Christian metal, and one can only hope that the metal community in its entirety will open their hearts and ears and accept them with open arms, Christian ideology and all.