Review Summary: Arsis is as Arsis does.
Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe Arsis, consistent isn’t one of them. James Malone and his posse of rotating band members have been drifting to and from greatness with each consecutive release, so understandably even after the pleasant surprise of the Lepers Caress
EP, Arsis fans were still skeptical of their newest full-length Unwelcome
. Ironically enough though, Unwelcome
happens to be one of the most welcome additions to their discography in a while and proves once again that Starve for the Devil
(and to an extent United in Regret
) were nothing more than failed experiments in an otherwise consistently great catalog.
What always gave Arsis their charm is James Malone’s ability to combine technicality and melody seamlessly, creating their signature infectious brand of death metal. The use of guitar overdubs on their early works helped with this, specifically songs like ‘The Face of My Innocence’ strived on dense, convoluted guitar melodies layered on top of each other to give the aural equivalent of a full band when in reality it was the James Malone project plus one. However since We Are the Nightmare
, Arsis has been much more of a band effort and Unwelcome
continues in this vein, marking the return of Noah Martin on bass and newcomers Brandon Ellis and Shawn Priest on guitars and drums respectively. Priest had arguably the biggest shoes to fill considering Arsis always strived on its spastic drum work and ample double bass, and he doesn’t disappoint. Contrary to the overly flashy drums on We Are the Nightmare
, Shawn holds these songs together like glue, alternating between blasts, thrash beats, and fills at appropriate times without distracting the focus from the guitars like Darren Cesca did.
As you’d expect from Arsis, James Malone is front-and-center and vocally he’s as strong as ever. His newfound love for background growls gives an extra punch to the heavier moments on Unwelcome
and compliments his raspy, faux-black metal style of screaming nicely, most notably on the re-recorded and re-mastered version of ‘Carve My Cross’. He and Ellis are a forced to be reckoned with on guitars, Ellis providing the rhythmic foundation for James’ noodling, or in some cases having intertwining countermelodies reminiscent of the A Celebration of Guilt
days. Closer ‘Scornstar’ is the best example of harmonic counterpoint and wouldn’t sound too out of place on the A Diamond for Disease
EP with similar production and all. Thrash metal overtones are found throughout, not nearly to the extent of the sleazy 80’s thrash worship in Starve for the Devil
but rather a subtle style of modern thrash that can get stuck in your head without the crutch of lazy hooks just because. Heavier cuts like ‘Martyred or Mourning’ and ‘No One Lies to the Dead’ are highlights, the latter dipping into a blackened Darkthrone-esque bridge where James’ vocals fit right at home, and previously released bookends ‘Unwelcome’ and ‘Scornstar’ feature everything you’d expect from Arsis and both open and close the album on a positive note.
Also as you’d expect from Arsis, there’s a decent amount of cheese on Unwelcome
, if you didn’t already get that notion from the ridiculous song titles. ‘Sunglasses at Night’ isn’t necessarily their fault as it’s a Corey Hart cover (which is odd enough as it is), but the lyrics are so blatantly awful it’s almost impossible to ignore.
I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
See the light that’s right before my eyes
The always cringe-worthy intro of ‘Carve My Cross’ isn’t much better: ”Being right never felt so wrong”
sounds like it could be ripped straight from an Attack Attack! song, and the fact that it was the weakest off Lepers Caress
makes you wonder why they chose to include it here in the first place. The re-mastering and addition of layered growls does help its cause. In fact the production job in general is one of Unwelcome
’s greatest strengths. Even though James and Brandon recorded organically without the need for multiple overdubs, the thick and dark production gives it the same density of their early albums with the clarity of only two guitar parts playing simultaneously instead of six or seven.
At its core, Unwelcome
is an Arsis album: take it or leave it. If you weren’t a fan of the band during their prime this certainly won’t change your opinion on them. Similarly if you enjoyed Lepers Caress
and wondered what a full-length of comparable material would be like, here it is. At a modest 36-minutes, Unwelcome
doesn’t overstay its welcome (no pun intended) with each track being as wonderfully compact and formulaic as the last. Arsis deserves some credit for staying true to their technical melodeath roots after all this time. Even after compromising their sound in the past, Unwelcome
shows the band doing what they do best and doesn’t completely rule out the idea of another A Celebration of Guilt
or A Diamond for Disease
sometime in the future.