Review Summary: Tech-shred to be enjoyed, not just appreciated.
Archspire's all-flash style has drawn both ire and esteem, but they've remained headstrong, turning the wick up with every iteration to the chagrin of their critics, and I admire that. With that in mind, Relentless Mutation
, their tertiary album, conveys a kind of self-assurance that was missing from their first two – like they no longer feel the need to look back at the audience as if to say, “see what we just did"” Their skills were never in doubt and, with that having sunk in, they've begun to artistically push themselves in ways that were hinted at in the past.
The sterility which plagued their work has been mitigated, and everything sounds
much more balanced. Dean Lamb's 7th and 8th strings actually boast some bottom-end now. His use of them is often fleeting, too, so bouts of witting heaviness actually have some impact. The drumming of Spencer Prewett is less digital in tone, albeit still clean as a surgeon's scalpel – before the operation at least. However, this is no wrongdoing, because missing out on any of Spencer's fills or ghost notes would have me feeling ripped off. Binding this cocktail of virtuosity together is a modern, not-too-loud master that allows for proper dynamic shifts. “Involuntary Doppelganger”, “A Dark Horizontal” and the title-track all have clean sections that give the ears some much needed respite. Better still, is the fact they maintain the flow of each song by using pre-established motifs, doubling as thematic bridges as well as reprieves.
The crystal clarity still has the effect of the performances feeling intensely mechanised, but also alive – not like a dial-up modem so much as a T-101 doing what it does best. Oli Peters' false chord speed rapping is as metronomic as the instrumentation that backs it, only this time, more exuberant and expressive. Low-end bellows may be absent, but Oli does vary his pace and delivery with zest, from somewhat fast, to fast, to really fucking fast. Hell, he deserves extra credits for pulling off tongue rolls during “Human Murmuration” on top of everything else.
The leading role often switches between Oli and the axemen either side of him, who've not only defied naysayers in upping the technicality further still, but also spliced in some acute phrasing that is all too easy to overlook should your attention dip for but a moment. They've even managed to pen some ear-worms, such as the main motif in “Remote Tumour Seeker”. The whole ordeal is still masturbatory as ever, sure; you're never too far away from some kind of faster-than-you-can-blink shreddery, but now their performances feel genuinely musical as opposed to note-density competitions of two.
No doubt, the unfettered song-writing is the silver bullet here. No longer do the songs feel like static platforms upon which the members boast their skills; just about every cut here will throw some kind of curve-ball at you, some doing so repeatedly in one sitting. This kind of spontaneity makes the intentionally over-the-top musicianship actually feel purposeful, all the while, songs progress in logical patterns despite their ostensible waywardness. Trying to keep up as riffs and leads duck, weave, twist and churn is intoxicating at the best of times and exhausting at others, but don't let that fool you into thinking this can be a grind – Relentless Mutation
is virtuosity at the speed of light, but more importantly, it's really, really fun.