We first stumbled across an unsigned Oregon band called Arkhum about six weeks ago. We were intrigued by the striking cover art for a yet-to-be-released album and included the band in one of our occasional EYE-CATCHERS features (here). At that time, the only music we had available to us were rough mixes of two songs for the forthcoming album and an earlier 2009 track. But those three songs certainly grabbed our attention in a big way.
Much has happened to Arkhum in those six weeks. Today, the band officially releases its debut album, Anno Universum, and we can now report that they have been signed by the Vendlus Records label (home to such talented bands as Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room), which will begin distributing the album worldwide later this fall.
Arkhum was kind enough to give us an advance copy of the eight songs on Anno Universum and we’re happy to report that our earlier instincts about the band have proven to be correct: Anno Universum is stunning — one of the best debuts we’ve heard in 2010.
We got so excited about the music that we pestered Arkhum for an interview, and brothers Stephen and Kenneth Parker patiently answered our meandering questions. In the post immediately below this one, you can read that interview, which turned out to be pretty damned interesting.
In this post, we’ll try to explain why Anno Universum has made such a strong impression on us and why we think you’ll be hearing lots more about Arkhum in the months to come. (more after the jump, including a song from the new album . . .)
For a group of young dudes who’ve just finished their debut album, Arkhum is an impressively talented collective of musicians who combine their prodigious technical proficiency with serious songwriting chops.
If you forced us to slap a genre label on Anno Universum, it would be something like blackened, progressive, brutal, technical death metal. Songs like “Nilpulse” and “Expendable Biomass” charge ahead with blazing speed, featuring rapid-fire riffing, acrobatic guitar leads, brain-scrambling drumwork, and unpredictable time-signature changes — the kind of music that tries to tear apart the fabric of space-time and reconstruct the elements into a new kind of dark matter.
But Arkhum doesn’t always have the afterburners turned on. On songs like “Obviated Geocentrism,” the tempo drops into a crevasse, and “Bloodgutter Encircling” launches with a slow, ominous, ringing guitar melody. Which is to say that around every curve in Anno Universum, something new is waiting to surprise you (including a few bars of Spanish-style acoustic picking in “Grief Urchin”).
Arkhum is blessed with two talented guitarists, Stephen Parker (lead guitar) and Kyle Jendrisak, and they both contribute solos that range from the bleeding edge of extremity to soulful anthems. Within “Nilpulse”, they trade off on the solos to head-spinning effect.
We mentioned that there is a blackened crust on Anno Universum, and much of that charred flavor comes from Kenneth Parker’s howling, jagged-edged shrieks. But he is equally adept at delivering deep, rumbling gutturals that are just as hair-raising and evil as those scabrous rasps in the higher end of his range.
While barnstorming technicality is the name of the game on this album, the music never spins out of control. All that instrumental inventiveness is cabined within carefully designed structures and united by the recurrence of headbanging chainsaw riffs and rhythms and an undercurrent of melody that makes each song distinctive. As fun as it is to listen to these dudes go nuts on their instruments, the album wouldn’t be nearly as good without the care that went into the songwriting.
Anno Universum was produced by Agalloch’s bassist, Jason Walton, and it’s got just the right mix of clarity and coarseness. The instrumental displays needed and received definition, but not to the point of turning the music into something antiseptic. After all, this is fucking death metal, no matter how modern the stylings, and the production doesn’t let you forget that.
You can order Anno Universum from Arkhum’s web store right now at this location, and when the Vendlus distribution begins in October, it will be available from The Omega Order and Revolver Distribution in the U.S, and through Code 7 in Europe.
Don’t forget to check out our Arkhum interview here.