Review Summary: 'Energy is Never Lost, Just Redirected' (or, 'rock band finds synthesiser')
When, two years prior, Arcane Roots released their EP Heaven & Earth
, I don’t think anyone could have foretold the change in style Melancholia Hymns
was going to bring about. From Left Fire
onwards, they exhibited a knack for crafting contrasts; heavy to light and back to heavy, spacey vocals and acoustic piano entrances to ferociously screamed exits (‘If Nothing Breaks…’). One thing is for sure; 2015 saw them emphasise the emotion they had previously flirted with, which made Heaven and Earth
the most compelling music they had composed. 2017 offered us a band who had realised their strength – not the mathcore- and prog-tinged rock of their previous album, but whatever feels
right for the track. And if that sometimes requires synthesisers and virtually no guitars, so be it.
Known for their explosive openers, Arcane Roots opt for a subtler start here. ‘Before Me’ is the equivalent of the sea at low tide, advancing slowly up the shore, the polar opposite of the waves-crashing-against-rocks of ‘Energy is Never Lost…’. That’s not actually completely accurate – technically, both start with quiet openings. But past that quiet opening, ‘Energy…’ opts for a sudden change of momentum, whereas ‘Before Me’ accelerates slowly to a grander conclusion. Don’t get me wrong here though, as the album does have their signature crescendos; ‘Curtains’ builds from acapella quiet to metallic breakdown, as does the stunning ‘Arp’. Those climaxes and the intensity are used to a much better end; bringing highlights to the album, as opposed to constantly vying for the same label in previous records. That is the epitome of this album. Moderation. The ability to hold back, when required to.
What this album does see change is the time signature jumps: far rarer, they are less used for technicality’s sake (a la ‘Triptych’), only relied upon when demanded (‘Everything [All At Once]’). That means there is more room to experiment in other regards; no more forced breakdowns like in ‘Belief’, so the whole record has a lot more space to breathe, allowed to form fully without suffocating in extraneous technicalities and riffs. ‘Indigo’ benefits from this the most; verse after verse of emotional vocals before a refreshing climax that comes from synthesisers, not heaviness, before fading out to a heart-rending ballad at the end. The single repeated line makes a return here, but it doesn’t feel lazy, unlike in previous records.
The lack of heaviness was arguably the most risky thing Arcane Roots had ever done. Andrew Groves himself said in an interview that he was worried it would be received poorly: ‘rock band finds synthesiser’, ‘Arcane Roots discover keyboard’. And true enough, some fans (myself included) found it hard to accept this new change. What I was missing those first few listens was the depth of what at first seemed as shallow as those statements above. Take ‘Arp’ and ‘Firefly’: sat next to each other, these two risk blending together with a similar structure (as another reviewer has mentioned, the last half of the album is more formulaic than the first, but I don't think this detracts from the album very much) and maybe, if they were the other way around, they would. However, the breakdown in the former track is used almost as a full stop, a comma to indicate the switch.
It took me a while to think of the summary line for this review. I was struggling to round up the album, or this review, in a single sentence. Then, I realised that the perfect summary was staring me straight in the face; the cliché of using a track title. Of course. Because Arcane Roots really haven’t lost any energy, and it has
been redirected to better uses. A band that was previously pretty good math-rock became exceptional prog-tinged rock, moving their efforts from overtly technical to subtle intensity, to an album of lows and highs, of synthesisers and painting scenery with them.
And that’s what makes a near-perfect album.