Review Summary: Arcane Roots’ debut album displays the refinement of a sophomore, but is by far their most inconsistent album.
If you listen to Arcane Roots’ discography in order, ‘Habibty [Extended]’ bridges the gap between their debut EP and Blood & Chemistry
that came two years later. The chunky guitar riffs, soaring vocals, drastic changes in dynamics of that final song of Left Fire
flow so well into this that it almost seems planned.
Blood & Chemistry
is – despite its vastly different production style, exchanging the raw feeling of Left Fire
for a more refined, nearer-metallic sound – still true to their previous work. Here, songs like the anthemic and chorus-led ‘Belief’ take the spiritual place of ‘You Are’. The heaviness of ‘Million Dollar Question’ and ‘Long & Low’ is more spread out, making major appearances in ‘Sacred Shapes’, ‘Second Breath’, and the revered ‘Triptych’. (‘Rouen’, however, remains stubbornly unrivalled)
The former and latter in that trio are worthy of praise: both highlight the vast improvements in songwriting and musicianship Andrew Groves (you know what he does), Adam Burton (bass), and Daryl Atkins (drums) had managed in the two years between the releases. Both see complex riff after complex riff flying, breakdowns more than worthy of the name, and vocals to match. Nothing they have ever composed quite matches the furiously screamed bridge and the two-minute, time signature-jumping breakdown on ‘Triptych’; the chorus that seems almost at odds with what comes after; and the underlying semiquaver riff on the verses that runs up and down the frets (which was, by the way, a damned impressive sight to see live). ‘Sacred Shapes’, for all its heaviness, is far more dynamic, with its loud intros, space-like intermission in the second verse, and energetic choruses.
One thing I rarely see mentioned in reviews is the drums on these tracks, as Groves steals the limelight time and time again, which is not undeserved. This is doing the band a disservice. The complicated riffing and vocals would not be complete without Atkins’ best (and last) performance in Arcane Roots, complementing when necessary, such as the fill introducing ‘Slow’, using interesting and unusual beats in the tracks mentioned in the previous paragraph. While rarely the most original of drumming, it sure isn’t forgettable.
Some tracks on this album do come across as filler. Where the anthemic ‘Resolve’ and ‘Belief’ take tracks two and three, cleverly splitting up the heaviness of the prior and subsequent tracks, ‘Hell and Highwater’ seems more placed for necessity. It does have moments of greatness, but never soars to the heights of ‘Resolve’. ‘Second Breath’ has some excellent riffs, but compared to any other heavy track on the album, falls flat, and ‘Held like Kites’ is utterly forgettable, the token light track seen on so many rock albums.
I always forget that Blood & Chemistry
is Arcane Roots’ debut album. Honestly, that’s partly because I listen to their EP’s as much as I do their albums, and the distinction starts to break down. The rest is mostly due to the refined and perfected musicianship seen across nearly the whole LP; it just doesn’t sound
like a debut. They had been around since 2006, and taken seven years to actually get around to making their debut, and in that time, they had managed to almost skip the stops and starts that many bands experience in their first album. Almost. Unfortunately, there is a considerable amount of filler, which brings the whole album down below the bands’ usual high standards.