Review Summary: Eureka.
I am going to get two things right out of the way before I dive into the nitty-gritty details of this LP.
1. Archivist sound like Deafheaven and Ghost Bath.
2. This self-titled debut is 100% free on their Bandcamp page.
Archivist have some big shoes to fill, regardless of what sub-genre they believe they fit into. Self-professed, pioneers of 'Ethereal Metal', this album is essentially the black-metal-infused shoe-gaze we have come to either love or hate, with a larger focus on size than even the massive 'Sunbather'. Being a few minutes longer than the already lengthy, hour-long Deafheaven release, it does not take scope lightly. And I hate to say this, but there is not really any other way to enjoy it. 'Archivist' is one of those records that demands attention. For maximum listening pleasure, please be seated, isolated, in a darkened room. Place expensive headphones over your ears, adjust volume levels until you can no longer hear yourself breathing, and refuse to make any form of contact with another human being for the following 66 minutes. This has been a PSA.
The intentions of the album are made quite clear from track one, 'Ascension'. This album will make you feel down. Not in the sense that many black metal albums aim for; shockingly depressed to the point of no return, but rather just sad inside. When the whole band kicks in just prior to the 3 minute mark, one might expect a triumphant kick to reverse the emotional conduct, but instead you are left feeling worse off. The vocal performance and massive riffs cry out and do not let down. Even when dynamics shift from full-band to clean guitars or ambiance, the feeling of sadness is a constant throughout this LP. And it is a very commendable effort.
The vocals are the standout in this record. While Ghost Bath and Deafheaven have both gained notoriety for their agonized approach to screams, the performance on 'Archivist' is altogether more refined, more intense, and more controlled. The screams follow the music, rising with the band and dipping when necessary, contributing to the wall-of-sound much more effectively than Archivist's blackened-shoegaze peers. The intro of 'Escape Velocity' is an exemplary showcase of the vocal control and as the song progresses into heavier territory, the vocals rise in intensity. This use of vocal control causes an unprecedented level submersion among blackened-shoegaze releases, one that I truly hope is adopted by the true pioneers of the scene.
The guitar work is nothing short of phenomenal. The scale of the album lends itself to the powerful play; massive chords, intricate riffs and haunting cleans, all topped off with a healthy dose of reverb. Standout track 'Dreaming Under' shows all of these facets in tandem and the effect is that of a wave. All strings are melded together, all rise together, all crash together, all pull back together and repeat. When combined with the astounding vocals, this in itself is enough to cause a greater sense of despair than the majority of black metal acts performing today.
An album this massive in sound also lends itself to a strong production job and some very inventive drum playing. I have no gripes with the production. Every instrument is audible, the dynamics are fantastic. The drum play doesn't rely only on blast beats (although they are used many a time), and instead focuses on using every part of the kit to create a wall-of-sound. Although not as technical as work seen on other blackened-shoegaze releases (that's what people call them, right?), the fills are unique enough to provide an interesting listen without detracting from the overall experience.
You won't be surprised at what you find in 'Archivist' if you have read this based off of the first point I made in the review. However, overall this release is just as, if not more focused than that of it's peers. It is dark. It is gritty. It is massive. A strong step in the right direction, Archivist have somehow managed to pave way into a widely overplayed territory with confidence and enough originality to provide an enjoyable listen. Whether or not Archivist can keep up the effort in future releases is besides the point; Archivist are one of the best blackened shoegaze acts out there, and for the wonderful price of free, there is no reason not to pick up this fantastic debut.