Review Summary: Half the heaviness. Triple the emotional payoff.
I’m going to start this review off by saying something that will likely horrify Arcane Roots fans: I am honestly indifferent towards their mathier, heavier roots. I much prefer their more melodic and progressive approach to music now. While there are undoubtedly huge hits from before (eg. “You Are”, “Triptych”), the style tended to be a bit inconsistent and the quality control they show these days is stronger. The thing is though, this band has been hinting at this new style pretty much since the beginning. Some of the strongest tracks on Blood & Chemistry
were “Resolve” and “Belief”, both of which were structured in a more melodic and alternative-driven way. “Hell & High Water” is progressive right down to its core, the way it builds up beautifully from a gentle, tender intro. Even on Left Fire
, mid-album highlight “Rouen” experimented with this dynamic too, quietly building up to a more alternative rock outburst. They were always going to venture into this territory frequently even if they didn’t decide to make the full switch over. Their latest album Melancholia Hymns
is without a doubt the farthest they’ve ever been from their early math/post-hardcore sound and the band sounds just as strong as they did on 2015’s splendid slab of soaring rock that was Heaven & Earth
, albeit with a higher dose this time of lush electronics to back the songs.
Fans might be thrown off by the opener this time around, especially for a band known for delivering crushing and emotional songs to kick albums off. “Before Me”, if anything, sets the tone nicely for the peaceful and soaring atmosphere this album aims for. However, it’s not indicative of the entire experience thankfully and songs like “Matter” and “Solemn” reacquaint listeners with the heavier moments of their 2015 EP, the former being a song that’s Muse-like riffs splashing up from the background would not have sounded too out of place on Heaven & Earth
. Even though I’d be lying if I told you the screams were abundant here, there are still some reminiscent of their past work. They elect to use them more sparsely and really any time they do incorporate them, it’s at the perfect times (namely the ends of each song). The passionate, mic-dropping outros to “Curtains”, “Solemn”, “Arp”, and “Everything (All at Once)” are essential and they would simply not be complete without the harsh vocals. Elsewhere, “Off the Floor” offers a vibe that is the closest the band gets here to their past work, coming off as a bit of an outlier in this album (but by no means the weakest track). Its catchy chorus and attention-grabbing riffs are actually among the album’s most powerful moments.
What feels new here ends up being some of the stronger aspects of the album. “Indigo” is the shining example of this newer sound. Andrew Groves puts forth some of his best vocal work and the vibrant electronics offer a beautiful backdrop to the entire song. But it’s the patient build-up of the whole piece and eventual piano ballad to close it out that catapult this song atop some of their best work to date. If the tender falsettos over piano don’t tug on your heartstrings even a little, I’m not sure whether you can even be called human.
At a time in the year where seemingly every well-known rock band these days is dishing out albums, Arcane Root’s Melancholia Hymns
is a true standout amongst them, offering a more unique blend of progressive rock and alternative. It’s for the music listeners amongst us that don’t need your standard riff-verse-chorus structure and want the emotional payoffs that come from songs that demand more patience from their audiences. Alas, it misses a perfect score because at later points in the album the structure of songs becomes a tad formulaic, but the formula itself is strong and it stands among Arcane Root’s strongest efforts to date, once again indicative of a band with a promising future.