(DGR took it upon himself to create a “greatest hits” album for Arsis, with explanations for his picks. Too bad the album is only in his mind.)
Some people are good with lists, amazingly good. The fact that they can cut something down to five or ten seems incredible, especially given my wishy washy bullshit where if you have an album I enjoy, I’ll probably talk about it to some extent. Andy is one of those guys, and it was while reading his top 5 underrated discs post that I found myself listing something of my own, although to a slightly bigger extent. It was when he mentioned Arsis’ Starve For The Devil as an underrated album that I found about all six of my available neurons firing off at once, for a couple of reasons.
One was that it never really seemed like the folks who hated on Starve had much of a legitimate reason, other than it leaned heavier toward the melodic side of things; if I were to nominate any disc as underrated, it would probably be We Are The Nightmare. Not that I’m claiming that disc was amazing, because I actually think it’s the weakest of the Arsis albums, but I’d really love to see an impassioned defense of it.
The other was that, man, I have followed Arsis for a seemingly long time. Like, since late 2004 long time, when I received a message in an IRC chat from a friend who used to turn me on to all sorts of good music, notifying me that he was emailing me the song “Seven Whispers Fell Silent” and that I needed to hear it. My tastes in metal were not that spectacular at the time, but that song kicked my ass and I needed to have more.
Unfortunately, the local Sam Goody didn’t exactly carry the latest Willowtip releases, so I basically found myself shit out of luck since I hadn’t quite acclimated to my new town and had no idea that places like Dimple or Tower existed – which had sprawling metal sections in comparison. I wound up waiting half a year to make a trip to the Bay Area and hit up a Rasputin’s where I bought A Celebration of Guilt and Evergrey’s Recreation Day, because opposites get you really weird looks at the checkout counter – also paying the last three dollars in rolled-up pennies because you’re poor.
So my love affair with the band began, eagle-eyed on every release, and yet the only time I’ve seen them was on January 22nd, 2007 at The Boardwalk in Sacramento (after United In Regret had hit) when they opened for God Forbid and Goatwhore (I still have the flyer in my room on the wall). They would come to Sacramento again, but I couldn’t get the time off for that show, so a friend of mine recorded it via shitty cell phone camera and came into my work the following day and we wound up hanging out in the parking lot as I ‘retrieved carts’ and watched the fifteen or so minutes he captured.
Yet time flies doesn’t it? Now it’s 2013 – the band haven’t come to Sacramento for years – and they have a new disc out entitled Unwelcome, and I found myself playing with the idea that now that the band have five albums and a pretty solid number of EPs/Demos, what if I were to try and construct a greatest hits disc of Arsis, for new people to get into the band and fans to have a curated playlist from someone who has really enjoyed the group for so long?
Of course, given how song rights and stuff work it’s unlikely something like this could happen. You’ll probably see a “The Willowtip Years” and “The Nuclear Blast Years” – probably something pretty close to the As Regret Becomes Guilt compilation. I’ve had similar ideas for stuff like trying to take the three In Flames discs people tend to complain about (Soundtrack, Sense, Sounds Of) and try to construct one really killer compilation out of them – but the Arsis idea was most attractive at the moment since it involved sifting through a lot of really good music and making nominations for my fantasy album.
And I came down to thirteen songs. Why?
My rules were simple:
1 – 13 is a fucking metal number
2 – It allows me to have two tracks from each disc, as well as one song from each EP (Leper’s Caress and A Diamond For Disease) and one other song that I felt was needed for people to waffle on. A personal song from any of the releases that folks just have to hear, so if you really wanted to add the “Roses On White Lace” (which is unfuckwithable) or “Sunglasses at Night”, feel free. Or, you could go for a real deep cut and put either of the two versions of “Veil Of Mourning Black” on there. In my case, it’s the title track of A Diamond For Disease, although I definitely waffled quite a bit on trying to slam “Maddening Disdain” in there – that one was easily the most difficult cut I had to make, as you’ll see below.
I arranged this ‘greatest hits’ chronologically, which I know is super-lame and totally uncool. The flow of tracks is like feng shui when it comes to these things and unfortunately, I’m not a master of that – but I do know me some damn good Arsis tunes.
A Celebration Of Guilt – Drawing songs from the group’s 2004 debut was probably the most difficult out of any of these choices. A Celebration Of Guilt is a fantastic disc and pretty much every song on it is great – barring the one or two that people may not like due to personal preference. It’s almost inarguable how good it is. However, I found myself playing with the idea of the three most important songs to me, and those were “Maddening Disdain”, “Elegant And Perverse”, and “Worship Depraved”.
It was there that things got a bit more difficult, because if there was one song I probably listened to death, it was probably “Maddening Disdain” – but I later found myself falling in love with two similar songs in “Elegant And Perverse” and “Worship Depraved”; and those kept winning out in my mind, because no matter how many times I listened to them, the lead guitar parts still felt fresh. The short little one- or two-second melodies that would pop up right before the next face-tearing battering-ram part almost built those songs for me. That and the cadences to certain lines in each song, especially the “Let Mary Sleep Forever….” part of “Worship Depraved” that pops up before each chorus. Both songs are also very high-energy, which you’ll see is how I tend to like my Arsis.
1) Elegant And Perverse
2) Worship Depraved
A Diamond For Disease – I am aware that not including the title track for this EP is some sort of heresy, but I will rectify that later because I would never allow any sort of an Arsis collection to pass without “Diamond For Disease” on it. However, I also really love “The Promise Of Never”, for pretty much the same reasons I love the songs I chose off of A Celebration of Guilt, actually. “Promise Of Never” is also an older song since it appears musically on one of the group’s earlier demos as “Fortune’s Envy”, but I like the lyrics and approach to the vocal performance on “Promise Of Never” more than the “Fortune’s Envy” version. There are some vicious screams on this song.
3) Promise Of Never
United In Regret – United In Regret hit in 2006, yet it is an album that isn’t too often spoken of. Even the folks who tend to reserve their vitriol for the next two discs that I’m pulling songs from tend to be pretty mum on United In Regret. I think it’s because the disc represented one of the first of what would be many tonal shifts for this band. It was one of the first of two really, really death-metal-sounding discs.
While Arsis was always somewhat amorphous in terms of genre, this began the shift toward the heavier side of death metal. The riffs became lower-tuned and more chug-focused. I nominated “Lust Before The Maggot’s Conquest” simply because it was one of the first songs released from United and it also represents quite a bit of what the disc, both tonally and lyrically, sounds like. It is also one of the few slightly lower-tempo songs I have in this collection. “Hopeless Truth”, on the other hand, I chose because it’s the more high-energy song and probably the closest to Celebration of Guilt on the album.
4) Lust Before The Maggots Conquest
5) Hopeless Truth
We Are The Nightmare – Man, We Are The Nightmare is a polarizing disc in the Arsis discography. I think one of the really painful things about this album was that they had this absolutely amazing drummer in Darren Cesca, but then everything that happened was so overly busy that his drumming seemed to dominate the songs. I know it probably reveals me as a grognard that I really like Mike Van Dyne’s drumming style, in that it’s very behind the scenes, although he is very skilled as well.
It was difficult to find two songs that I felt fit thematically with the high energy and guitar focus that I’ve found myself choosing from each disc, but I came down to “Sightless Wisdom” and “Overthrown”. Both songs still have Darren absolutely crushing it on drums, but it’s not to the point where it seems like even James is being buried behind snare drum. I also mixed them up somewhat just because I think that “Overthrown” also hinted at the direction that the band would take on Starve For The Devil – so those songs flow into each other a little bit.
6) Sightless Wisdom
Starve For The Devil – Starve For The Devil is probably one of my favorite Arsis albums because it brought the band back to the speedier melo-death side of their playing style. Quite a few of the songs were over the top and shred-focused, and coupled with a few massive anthems, I think it made for a slightly cheese-tinged Arsis experience – but the music so much more enjoyable than the over-the-top technicality of We Are The Nightmare.
I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but two of my favorite songs basically come one after the other, with “Soulless To Shattered” and the bite of each chorus, with the snarl of “Who’s to say there’s no art in dying?!” “March For The Sick” is just a shred-focused guitar song, although less over-the-top than the song “Forced To Rock”. I guess it’s no shock that Nick Cordle eventually wound up being recruited into the Arch Enemy fold after hearing what he could do on a guitar with this disc.
8) A March For The Sick
9) From Soulless To Shattered
Leper’s Caress – This one felt like a pretty simple choice, all told. “Six Coffins Wide” is a new song, and outside of Scion A/V’s free EP, you can’t really find it anywhere else. Plus, it feels kind of like cheating since I’m packing three songs from the Unwelcome sessions online, although the band says “Six Coffins Wide” was recorded later. You capture the band in a similar writing mood and sound, and since Unwelcome was so good according to Israel, why not take advantage of packing as many songs from that era on here?
10) Six Coffins Wide
Unwelcome – Unwelcome is a monster of a disc. It is still tremendously new, but it has been an incredibly long time since I have felt that “Fuck yeah!” sense of adrenaline with Arsis. I enjoyed Starve For The Devil a lot, but man does Unwelcome crush that disc into dust. At least, that’s been my first impression of it so far, and the two songs that have really stuck out in my mind have been “Handbook For The Recently Deceased” and “No One Lies To The Dead”. Both are high-energy, guitar-driven as hell, and filled with monstrous leads and screams – especially in “Handbook”. I know the “Sunglasses At Night” cover is really good, but I kind of don’t want ascribe to the idea of having cover songs on the greatest hits, especially when the group”s original material stands out so strong.
11) Handbook For The Recently Deceased
12) No One Lies To The Dead
Final Track – I told you I wasn’t going to let this song not be on here. I just wanted to go for the punch of having one of the songs that really defined this band be the closer on this imaginary disc.
13) A Diamond For Disease
As you can see, this exercise has revealed a couple of things. I really like when Arsis are going fast and are more melo-death than full-blown tech-death. I love how they’ve been able to fuse those elements together with each album, but to me, James Malone has always been this great vocalist and shredder, so the high-energy songs have really defined Arsis for me.
That aside, I’d love to see what other people think of these songs, as well as what they would rather have. Everyone has their favorites, and seeing new light being shined on songs I may have glossed over, or ones that I liked but cut, is always fascinating. I’m not asking for full tracklists if you were to make a ‘greatest hits’, since I know it’s something of a time investment (although feel free to!), but maybe specific replacements?