Review Summary: Now this is the Arsis I know.
Imagine a brilliant chef, master of a very specific kind of cuisine. Even if he could be called a one-trick-pony, he was a true Expert that could make unparalleled wonders in his field. What kind of food was his specialty? Calf liver. No, really. Our guy is a liver genius, an undeniable Gastronomy monster who manages to turn raw meat into art and got a fairly good following for doing so, despite the fact it’s such a niche kind of thing. I mean, not everyone likes to eat liver and all, but those who do love it so dearly they obsession rose to the level of a cult. Then one day he walks on the fans and says he’s flipping burgers now. Hey, it’s not liver, but he’ll add a tiny bit of the same seasonings so it should be alright and still cool… what works on a 5-star gourmet restaurant works on a McDonald’s too, right?
This is how I felt about the drastic style change in their previous album, and it’s also why I was hesitant about even listening to this EP: because I’ve been following James Malone’s work for quite a while, back to the days where Arsis’ inspiring, extreme form of art was still a tad too raw, and “Starve For The Devil” took my appetite away like nothing else. In all seriousness, if it wasn’t for the very characteristic (against all odds) vocals, that could have been passed around as some other band’s album.
Let’s get the technical aspect out of the way first. The general mix is a definite improvement because while the guitar-centric approach remains, all the elements are far more discernible than in their previous works; because of that reason, though, the heavy but static programmed drums can be very obvious and even distracting in moments with single hits (an issue that could have been avoided with a little work on panning, dynamics and reverb). However, I absolutely have to say the guitar tone choice is, for the lack of a better definition, slow clap-worthy. Vocals were well-tracked and tastefully mixed and the bass was, as usual, really just there for the heaviness, no flashiness whatsoever; can’t argue with the formula, especially since sonically this strikes me as their heaviest work up to date and by that I don’t just mean brickwalled.
So, enough about audio engineering; time to talk about the actual music.
As an intro, “Haunted, Fragile, and Frozen” manages to start ominous without being particularly obnoxious (which is quite an achievement for introduction tracks in general). The moment you start to wonder where they are going with that, bam! Rapid-fire kick and the loudest guitars right on your face, so close you can taste the strings and they do indeed taste like metal. It fades into the new track “Six Coffins Wide”, and this is the one that fills me with more hope than Obama: it’s liver all over, cooked to absolute perfection. An excellent example of how heaviness can not only exist but compliment melody-driven songs with more than one chord progression going on.
It’s unbelievably great to hear a classical track such as “Veil of Mourning Black” being reworked. The proper mix for this track we had previously experienced as a demo shows how full of movement metal can be with the constant variations in the drum patterns. This song just hits even harder than before.
Again the Black Metal roots of Mr. Malone stand out in “A Tearful Haunt, Condemned”, and besides Arsis’ natural style of brutality the impression given by this song is that Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection didn’t suicide and instead lived on to be shreddier. Oh, what could have been… Anyway, the richness present in the band’s waltz-esque moments fading into straight black metal, then into hard rock riffing make me wonder why would anyone even think they need more than this amount of variation in style.
The least interesting track in the whole EP, “Carve My Cross”, isn’t particularly bad either: tailor-made for mosh-pits, this rhythmic post-grind juggernaut’s major flaw lies on the sole fact of how downright confusing the arrangement can be at times, but even this chaotic track progressively makes (a little) more sense as it gets near its end so while it might be the weak link, at least it’s not completely awful.
The short and efficient “Denied” is a rework of “Painted Eyes” easily the most appealing track they’ve released in a while: it has all the elements that define the “Arsis sound” we know and love such as blastbeats followed by short breaks, modern melodic death metal riffing and harmonized expressive solos. It’s simple and it works, because it’s obviously their comfort zone and frankly, it’s ours too. This track is a perfect summary of what one looks for when they get into Arsis.
Without a defined direction when experimenting, the thin line between genuine progression and random artistic masturbation might be crossed. There is nothing wrong with playing it safe, with sticking to what you know as long as you know it very well. Malone knows his blackened tech-death to the point of shaping it into a form that is just his, and this is what got most of us to listen to his work in the first place. If it’s not broken, it might be a good idea not to try and fix it.
I say this as a friend: James, there’s a ton of bands who are doing cheesier, more commercial shades of metal and that’s fine, there’s a public for that; good for them. But it’s not why I walk into your restaurant religiously, I wouldn’t go all that way for a goddamn cheeseburger. You have a right to experiment same as everyone else, artistic integrity and all… I just think it was a pity to have a master of X descend to the level of a talented yet out of place amateur of Y, it really didn’t show your potential as this work did. I look forward to the next album in hope that it will be more similar to this than to “Starve”. Because boy, am I ever hungry for your liver.