Review Summary: "As entertaining as a technical exercise can be"
I’m fairly sure the world of critical writing can do without another long-winded musing about the current state of tech-death, but in this case it seems to be a necessary evil. Archspire can be accused of encompassing most of what’s wrong the genre, and yet they have a curious knack of making even the most emotionally devoid, overproduced nonsense sound entertaining. It’s an odd gift to possess, and one that is certainly paying dividends for them. Having shot to prominence with their debut All Shall Align
, Archspire have returned to grace us with another half hour of megasweeps and hyperblasts, now with a certified guarantee of zero emotional connectivity. While you can accuse it being shallow all you like, the fact of the matter is that it works. The Lucid Collective
will never be held in awe as a triumph of integrity over virtuosity, but once more this Canadian quintet have succeeded in their mission to create an entertaining – if over the top – ensemble of technical wizardry.
Overall The Lucid Collective
is an improvement over its predecessor, tweaking the finer details where necessary but still failing to address a lot of the larger issues. The production is as squeaky clean as ever, the instruments having been produced and polished to such a degree that they glisten like finely cut zircon. Oliver Peter’s rapid-fire vocal delivery is less in-your-face by virtue of being mixed slightly lower than before, now sitting quite comfortably in the middle of things. The crystal clarity allows you to absorb every note, syllable and drum stroke with consummate ease, but the expressive power of the instruments is predictably compromised. One of the most glaring issues is the near total lack of bottom end in the sound. The bass work is surprisingly audible, but seems to function as a second rhythm guitar instead of laying down a foundation for the rest of the instruments. Season of Mist claim that Archspire have a “supreme mastery of dynamics”, and while I understand they are simply trying to sell the album, a line has to be drawn somewhere. The Lucid Collective
has been brickwalled to the point where there is almost no variation in terms of intensity from start to finish, with “Kairos Chamber” being the only significant breather in whole album. Thankfully, the album’s brevity limits the damage done by the lack of dynamics, as everything takes place in a little over half an hour.
Blatant fibs about dynamics aside, the label’s comments in regard to the band’s technical aptitude are more than sound. The Lucid Collective
is littered with inhumanly paced riffs and leads, while the drumming often approaches and sometimes exceeds three hundred beats per minute. But before you roll your eyes at the idea of this being another unstructured wank fest, Archspire manage to strike a balance (of sorts) between vapid ostentation and song writing. The inherent flashiness of the music is enough to impress on a superficial level. Sweeps and shreds have infested just about every sequence in every track, while tremolo picked chords, finger-tapping and pinch harmonics fill any voids there may be. Despite the constant focus on speed and technicality, the guitar work is still highly engaging if given the attention it warrants. The solos are unusually melodic for such a technically inclined album, contrasting well with the hell fire instrumentation that supports them. Drummer Spencer Prewett makes an annoying habit of wanking the snare drum, but is also very capable of lending a delicate touch to the music. His cymbal work is particularly impressive, showcased best during the breakdown in “Fathom Infinite Death”.
Of course, unabashed technicality does not make for an interesting experience, and this is where Archspire manage to limit the damage cause by their rather one dimensional approach to the album. After repeated listens, concrete song-writing patterns do reveal themselves, but the focus is still utterly fixated on in-the-moment, musical pyrotechnics. Over the course of the album, the overall pace begins to wane ever so slightly, until an extended hush in the form of “Kairos Chamber” gives the listener a much needed breather. Unsurprisingly, this is the strongest and most instantly recognisable track on the album, and so it’s a bit a shame that the band didn’t explore the more progressive elements found on the album. While technically accomplished, the whole experience just feels passionless. Even the progressive sections are stifled by the crushed dynamics, as the music just seems to intermittently speed up and slow down, as opposed to build upon itself. The problem doesn’t appear to be incapability, but more of a conscious decision to ignore the less tangible elements that go into making an album just that little bit more special.
In the end, Archspire still achieved everything they intended to with The Lucid Collective
. Unfailingly technical, it’s likely to be looked upon endearingly by aspiring, young musicians everywhere, but those craving something a little more distinct will be disappointed. You could argue that it’s not in the interests of the band to diversify, but the brief forays into progressive territory are still irksome signs of untapped potential. The Lucid Collective
is as entertaining as a technical exercise can be, but still a technical exercise nonetheless.