AN NCS ALBUM PREMIERE AND A REVIEW: ARPHAEL — “GUIDED BY LIGHT”
(In this post we present TheMadIsraeli’s review of the new album by the Ukrainian one-man band Arphael, along with a full-album stream.)
For me, this album represents a whole new evolutionary step for death metal. It would be hard to argue that Arphael’s music is nothing more than death metal, but it’s obviously the driving force behind his music. I feel like he sought to create something truly extreme and overwhelming in every sense, and he has already accomplished that goal.
I did a small write-up about the music not long ago, with a brief recommendation of his only album at that time, Ambigram, an album that threw more at me than I had any clue what to do with. Guided by Light is Arphael’s sophomore album, and it represents a dramatic step up in every way from his first album.
It’s such an anomaly, and a black hole of death and emptiness in the universe, that it’s gonna take some fucking serious-business death metal to even keep me hooked for the rest of this year, if it isn’t some band I love to death already.
Arphael plays what can only be described as a clusterfuck of technical death metal, djent, industrial, and black metal with a lot of ambience driven by jazz fusion. The sound is frankly unreal to me, and it’s surprising that this is just a one-man “bedroom project”. The songs are long, averaging eight-to-ten minutes, and the song structures are frantic and ever-changing, with only a central theme that Arphael revisits a time or two to keep things tied together. The WAY he writes is very reminiscent of Chuck Schuldiner.
I’m pretty sure Arphael uses guitars with more than the average number of strings, and he uses the full range of them in his riff work. He pulls out everything from technical blitzkriegs reminiscent of Archspire to punchy Meshuggah-driven zealotry. The black metal, industrial, and jazz elements mainly come in the form of the ambience and atmosphere, with the vocals mixed into the back of the mix in a way that feels like black metal.
The music includes clean guitars with an Alan Holdsworth ethereal quality; rather cheesy-sounding synths and strings that also have a black metal character; machine-gun, start-and-stop sections executed with mechanical precision; and drum work that ranges from bombing runs of double-bass and blast-beats to generating intricate machine-like cacophonies of noise to simple locking-into-the-pocket, to carry a groove.
Guided by Light spends its first two songs building up the chaos. Unlike Ambigram, which came immediately out the gate with unbridled ferocity, I rather like the slow build-up that happens over the course of “Ascendant One” and “Erebus”.
“Ascendant One” is a ten-plus-minute hypnotic dragging groove. It occasionally pops in some machine-gun rhythms, but it’s an otherwise pummeling snake-charmer of a song. There are a few sections with blast beats, but it’s quite obvious the focal point is n how much the song drags.
After the atmosphere of “Ascendant One” has died off, “Erebus” comes back into the fray with an eerie clean guitar melody that goes right back into it. The groove is still hypnotic, but it’s faster, slightly more intensive, with a more death-metal rhythmic quality to it. There is more of a balance between the slow grind and the explosions of technical ferocity in this song, and it gets more intense and slowly ditches its groove over time except for the occasional revisit to break things up. This is when the album has begun in earnest; as much of a captivating ride as the opener is, this is where things start to get good. The erratic songwriting also comes into play, with plenty of tempo changes and lots of riff diversity.
“Bringer of Light”, though, is almost the Arphael sound at its most epitomized. An avalanche of blast beats and alien riffing that feels like a combination of Vader and Nile at their most frantic opens the song and brings out the most ultra-violent aspects of the music. The structuring of this song is absolutely insane, as are some of the tempo changes. The song also includes some more “played straight” melodic moments that have a pretty cool dignified air about them.
From here on, the album is just a pure psychotic breakdown. The clashing between the more definitive melodic aspects of the keyboards and the blatantly alien riffing makes for something that’s not only brutal, but completely unsettling.
“Chasm of Tartarus” is a very good example of this clash at work, and it also features some clean female vocals in an astonishingly fitting context. There is a really neat moment that uses the keyboard melody from the beginning of the song with a completely different riff under it — it’s completely referential, with a still-recognizable theme, and yet sounds quite different because of the tempo shift and the change in what the guitars are doing. Really crazy stuff.
I don’t really want to do a pure song-by-song review — I’m just trying to do my best to paint some kind of picture here, which is REALLY difficult with Arphael. I just know this is a shit-ton of sounds I love, mashed together into one thing that is right up my alley, and the sound is organic and convincing nonetheless.
I love the pure unrestrained violence in “Spartan Covenant”. I love “Goddess Touch” with its dignified yet sinister doomy grind of an intro and the way it comes back around to that theme at its end with a completely different rhythm, tempo and time-signature variant. I enjoy how Arphael can take a central synth or string melody and put completely different riffs underneath it at multiple points of a song, at different tempos, and have it all feel cohesive. I’m pretty much in love with this guy’s music altogether.
Arphael agreed to stream the album with us, and ultimately that’s for the best, because there truly is no way of adequately articulating the scope of the music here. To some, it may be tiring to listen to — they’ll listen to this and say that it’s much too much — but I’m completely enamored with what’s going on in this album and I hope the NCS readership will see what I see here.
You can’t currently purchase the album — yet. Take it in, share your thoughts. I’ll be waiting.
I seriously need to get this, I just love the combination of eerie atmosphere with a relentless technical assault and the ghostly female vocals 🙂
So glad you got me into this band when you posted about it recently.
I listened to the stream as soon as i could after i saw that he had released it, it is somehow heavier than the first album which i didn’t think was possible!
Can’t wait to i buy it. Great review too!
Interesting stuff. The drumming is nuts. I like this. Thanks!