(Later this month Unique Leader will release the latest full-length by California’s Arkaik, and here we have DGR‘s review.)
Southern Californian tech-death group Arkaik have become something of a slowly gathering storm in the music world for a little while now, having remained on a fairly consistent up-swing since the start of their series of meditative science fiction concept albums with 2012’s Metamorphignition.
Over the years the band have seen a rotation of members — including various members from Deeds Of Flesh, Flesh Consumed, and Brain Drill (even more fun considering former drummer Alex Bent currently sits behind the kit for Trivium) — yet they’ve been able to keep their hybrid of tech-death musicianship, brutal-death slamming, and yes, light deathcore sense and dedication to all things groove relatively unchanged.
Each of Arkaik’s five albums has seen the group travel further into the wormhole of the alien and the futuristic, and the group’s newest album Nemethia is no different. It also sees the band making usage of some of the symphonic undercurrents that are traveling through the tech-death scene at the moment, as well as incorporating more high screams into the band’s overall sound, which is fitting given that much of Nemethia has its foot on the high-speed accelerator this time around, a marked difference from its chuggier sibling, Lucid Dawn.
Like a lot of “third” albums, Nemethia does its best to hybrid the two sensibilities, the aural and technical assault of Metamorphignition and the headbanging groove of Lucid Dawn, and the result is that Arkaik may have unleashed its most focused and frenetic work to date.
Strange as it might sound, I’ve considered Arkaik one of the flag bearers for the current brand of tech-death under the Unique Leader label for some time. As such they function in a bright signal flare role as well, because it seems like Arkaik’s writing style comes to rest right on the pulse of their current scene. They’re able to pinpoint exactly where it is traveling next so as to perfectly line up with it. They absorb so much into their sound that it’s not just the usual wall of notes over relentless blasts — though they have their moments — but instead has become this almost perfectly spherical mass that has an obsession with the introspective concept disc.
The opening three songs of Nemethia are a wild tour through the current state of the death metal scene within Arkaik, covering some pretty serious ground, from the high-speed guitar/bass freakouts in the back half of “Occultivation” — which also kicks off the album as a whole, dispensing with an opening static vocal sample in about half a second in favor of a wall of sound — to the more traditional pit riffing and a million guitar segments in “Of Violence And Pestilence Born”, to when the group finally stretch their wings with the nine minutes of “Order Of Heiragon”. Arkaik make those minutes disappear in the blink of an eye as they stack a billion different segments on top of each other and pull the listener into headbanging groove and percussive segments that get almost martial in how hard they hit over and over.
Only when “Order Of Heiragon” wraps up does Nemethia take its first break with the quiet and ambient “Dweller On The Threshold”. Nemethia starts out stacked with music and then still has five songs left after its opening volley.
Weighing in at nine songs, Nemethia is a slimmer album than its immediate predecessors — though not the group’s shortest disc, missing that mark by one song — and with its first three songs running right into each other, that makes “Dweller” feel like a natural split in the album (the band later make use of this trick with the sub-one-minute interstitial “Lifting Amnesia” as well). After that you jump back into the fray with “Futile State”, a surprisingly straightforward song after the progressive wanderings of the death metal map in the opening twenty minutes of the album.
“Futile State” is the rhythm-section-driven song on an album filled to the brim with guitar-driven music. “Futile State” is where you start to hear the blurring of genres for the band as the song shifts gears from the relentless buzzing and quickly fired notes of its opening in favor of a punchier and more chugging bit that comes to define the song. Even as “Futile State” twists and turns across multiple paths, everything seems to wrap back around to the way the vocals and drums run side by side, each hit marking the end of one line or another, and even the multiple words by way of blastbeat trick makes its appearance.
If you are a fan of when Arkaik really wander up and down their instruments, album closer “Nexion Stargate” gives you one final chance to really hear the band stretch a bit. As a slower track than most of Nemethia, “Nexion Stargate” winds up sounding like the missing link between Nemethia and Lucid Dawn. Arkaik usually have one song that seems to cross that bridge per disc, and as you listen to the bass rumble its way through “Stargate”, it’s hard not to call to mind the -core centric sensibilities of that album. Stargates being a sci-fi trope for a bridge across space is a wonderful coincidence in that sense.
It is interesting that Arkaik chose to close out Nemethia with a slower grinder of a song, given the high-speed pace they adhere to for most of Nemethia, but it does effectively cap an impressive forty-minute journey, with the closing meat tenderizer of a groove helping to seal things off neatly.
Given that I’ve typecast Arkaik into a signal-flare role as to where their current branch of the tech-death scene is stationed, Nemethia is an exciting ambassador for things of the future. It’s a forty-minute journey that sees a lot of the fat trimmed away, in favor of a more guitar-oriented assault and a quicker tempo that makes the disc feel snappier for most of its run. The two ambient tracks do a great job breaking things up so there isn’t that much wear on the listener and things don’t start to feel staid, and the seven other songs are filled to the brim with opportunities to rock out in between the usual instrumental pyrotechnics.
Arkaik’s spacier inclinations help to differentiate them from the ever-growing mass of death metal wunderkinds out there and their hybridizations of a bunch of different death metal sounds keep the band an interesting show to watch. While it’s hard to pin down right now where Arkaik may travel in the future, discs like Nemethia are proof that whenever the band are able to pop back up, they’ll be worth checking out.
Nemethia will be released by Unique Leader on September 29.