(Andy Synn is the author of this review of the new album by Becoming the Archetype, with music from the album at the end.)
Five albums. That’s a pretty good legacy for any band, particularly when they’ve managed to progress with each release, from the unconventional prog-core of Terminate Damnation, through the more esoteric and Extol-infused The Physics Of Fire, the more conceptual and song-oriented approach of Dichotomy, and rounded off with the more stylistically varied Celestial Completion. Through it all though, regardless of several line-up shifts, they’ve retained a core identity that gives the name Becoming The Archetype both its power and its continued relevance.
That being said, let me give you a quick heads up – while I Am continues the tradition of progressing the band’s sound with each release, particularly in this case as a darker, heavier album much of the time, this is not the Becoming The Archetype you’re used to, and almost certainly not the Becoming The Archetype you may be expecting.
“The Ocean Walker” (not an Arrested Development reference, as far as I can tell) immediately sets the stage with its unexpected Periphery style leads and semi-Meshuggah-ised riffs. Thankfully it’s more than an uninspired imitation (it remains distinctively BTA throughout), but the shift in sonic priorities is initially startling. That being said, Chris McCain’s vocals manage to reference enough hints of Jason Wisdom early on to establish continuity, before dropping into a more guttural roar, upping the brutality and paired with a thunderous, chugging riff.
This is followed by two particularly aggressive tracks that recall the more “-core” oriented material of Terminate Damnation. The “Timebender” has a great off-kilter central riff, a warped and dissonant lead refrain, and an almost mechanised sense of rhythm that isn’t far from that perfected by Living Sacrifice. “The Eyes Of The Storm” employs a similarly neck-snapping, rhythmic approach, though the two songs are clearly distinctive entities. The chiming keyboard presence and lightning-fast lead motif draw a line back to the precision compositions of Dichotomy, but with an uncompromising heaviness and visceral vocal intensity that harkens back to the band’s earliest days.
“The Sky Bearer” is bound to be divisive, coming across as a more chaotic, death-infused variant on Periphery and their ilk, albeit dominated by an overpowering vocal performance. However, the distorted organ transition and glorious lead guitar that come in part way through are classic BTA tropes that lift the song onto an entirely different level. In fact, the dichotomy (no pun intended) between this epic middle section and the rest of the song serves to express my main problem with “djent” and its elements – by adopting that sound, even in part, the guitars lose some of their own carefully cultivated identity in order to play with another, arguably more homogenised, one.
“The Machine Killer” is a clever arrangement of unpredictable piano loops and effective, if a little over-played, use of glitchy electronic elements, which leads into one of the album’s best, and most devastating tracks, “The War Ender”. Closer to the death-metal inspired sound of old, it weaves a darker atmosphere than we’ve come to expect, sounding fresh without resorting to the heavy-handed use of any awkward new elements. The song’s bleak atmosphere is enhanced by its swirling solo and piercing keyboards, weaving back and forth between the sort of crushing core-de-force that made “The Epigone” so devastating, and the harsh black metal inspirations which first reared their head on “Xenosynthesis”.
Perhaps even better is “The Weapon Breaker”, an atmospheric death metal powerhouse of groaning, cataclysmic grooves, wrenching note spasms, and dark, menacing chords. The track’s apocalyptic ambience offsets and enhances the pounding, heaving drum work and monstrous death vocals, leading seamlessly into the album’s best solo, a dark, slithering number which employs subtle and nuanced touches of technicality to tease the ear, without ever losing its haunting vibe.
“The Planet Maker” is the track most likely to cause comment-board apoplexy. It plays the Periphery card too strongly, and thus despite the overall quality of the track I’m simply not a fan. Its great weakness is that there is almost nothing here that makes the song recognisably a Becoming The Archetype track – so no matter how well done and inventive the clean vocal lines are, or how tightly put together the track is, every element sounds as if it comes from an entirely different band.
“The Sun Eater” is something of a companion piece to this, but doesn’t really commit one way or another, and is ultimately a more forgettable track as a result. It’s less shocking, downplaying certain potentially divisive elements, but failing to establish much of an identity for itself, good or bad.
The album concludes with “I Am”, which moves from a slow-building, suitably epic introduction, through a swirling, technically stunning lead, into a crushing rhythmic attack, replete with pounding, jack-hammer snare beats, omnipresent, oppressive synth lines, and a barrage of grinding, growling riffs. The end of the track rips out another striking solo, leading up to a spiky, lead-heavy final breakdown that ends the album on a note of overwhelming heaviness and unwavering, unquestionable conviction.
This is a good album. Heck, I might even call it a very good album. Overall, Becoming The Archetype have once again come out on top, maintaining their enviable record of high-quality releases, pushing their sound in new directions without abandoning their core identity.
However this time, perhaps more than on the previous records, some of these experiments are less than successful – certain new elements sit very awkwardly against the rest of the album’s sound. In truth, the fact that certain songs, the better songs by my reckoning, dispense with these elements altogether, is something of an indictment as to how little they actually offer to the album overall.
Interestingly though, issues of identity and such aside, the songs remain strong regardless. There are some full-on, vertebrae-shattering, head-banging riffs that stand testament to Seth’s steady hand on the tiller – certain chord progressions and note patterns which, while an integral part of the “new” Becoming The Archetype, are recognisably the work of the same band we’ve all grown to love.
So what are you going to do hotshot? Are you going to give the band the benefit of the doubt, despite the incorporation of some potentially divisive new elements? Or are you going to say “too far”, and step away without giving it a chance? I almost did, and, although I won’t deny certain tracks just don’t work for me, I feel that if I hadn’t given this album the chance it so evidently deserves, I would definitely have missed out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I Am will be released by Solid State Records on September 18. The band’s Facebook page is at this location. And here are the three songs from the album that have been officially released to date, including the lyric video for “The Planet Maker”, which debuted late last week: