(We present TheMadIsraeli’s review of the new album by the Ukrainian one-man project Arphael.)
I’ve always agreed with Andy’s assertion that at the end of the day, Meshuggah is a death metal band. They created their own nebula of brutality, especially when Nothing came out, pushing the sonic limits and revolutionizing the very concept of groove in extreme metal as we knew it. Meshuggah, a top-10 band for me, have always been about a defiant, transcendent minimalism that hits you like an asteroid to the soul.
While we saw the djent movement come and go, mostly a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon that produced very little quality music with staying power, more extreme-minded death metal bands have tried to take what Meshuggah did to the next level. In-Quest and their phenomenal last record Chapter IIX – The Odyssey of Eternity was a great attempt at a Catch-33-style, super-long song that saw the band adding new elements of intensity and stylistic diversity around the Meshuggah framework. At that point, It was the best I think Meshuggah had ever been riffed on by someone else.
But then this guy came around, this fucking lunatic Ukranian who goes by the name Arphael.
Arphael knew that what Meshuggah had built, and what a band like, say, Anomalous tried to do, could be pushed to a maximum limit, and he seemed to believe that he could also make the sound more diverse, more brutal, more ambient, and even heavier than either of those bands had ever been.
Arphael was a surprising discovery for me back in 2015 whom I’ve become pretty passionate about. Really, nobody sounds like what this guy is producing. I wrote a Bands You Should Be Listening To feature on this project, and I reviewed his sophomore album Guided By Light; it was one of my favorite albums of that year.
Ancient is an accident, a diversion, whatever you want to call it. Arphael was working on another album called Argenesis, which was the main album that was supposed to come out next, and he somehow just got lost in the wilderness or something and wrote another album. Argenesis will also be coming out this year, as far as I know. No doubt I’ll review that too.
Arphael’s music, in so many words, is like the culmination of death metal progressivism. It’s technical, it’s progressive, it’s ambitious, it’s amorphous and unafraid to adopt other stylistic elements to bolster its matter-obliterating intensity and menace, and it’s all so cohesive. He essentially takes everything about Meshuggah, all eras and all changes they went through, and mashes it all together. Consider a 9-string guitar, look at the most frantic and accomplished of tech death insanity (Spawn Of Possession and Origin come to mind), contemplate the song writing of bands like Martyr or Extol, bring in a fuck ton of black metal spirit and excellently blended-in synth and string tones, and dial up the Allan Holdsworth-ian jazz influence to 11, and you have SOMEWHAT of an idea of what this project is.
The thing is, except for the obvious spiritual foundation of Meshuggah and Meshuggah’s legacy, I don’t even think any of the references for influence that I named really give you an adequate idea of the music. This guy is truly original.
And so Ancient is a hard album to quantify, and even harder to quantify for first-time listeners, which I’m sure most who see this review will be. From his debut Ambigram, to Guided By Light, to this record, Arphael has only continued to turn up the extremity of elements while making insane advancements in the quality of his mixing as well as in his vocals. His vocals mostly consist of a grotesque low-end guttural attack (which kind of sounds like Lenzig from Cephalic Carnage) combined with some ambient cleans that are strongly reminiscent of Paul Masvidal. Very contradictory, but it works in its absurdity, as does everything else on this album. The whole thing is an exercise in auditory absurdity.
Sometimes you’re getting hit by a pure Meshuggah-worship riff, sometimes he’s playing riffs so technical you can feel the wood chipping and filleting off his fret board, and sometimes he locks into a groove and lets the synth and Holdsworth-toned clean guitars establish an atmosphere of terror and the unknown.
The black metal synth work tends to lean more towards the Khonsu-esque retro sci-fi end of things, which blends in perfectly in establishing an alien, otherworldly sense of intensity along with Arphael’s creation of a ballet of high and low notes in some of the most profoundly complete use of 9-string guitar range I’ve ever heard. THIS is the dream of what extended-range guitars could accomplish in metal, realized to its maximum potential. Arphael is also the only other band I think who can induce the so-called Meshuggah face out of you, and you fucking feel it in your bones and soul.
Oh yeah, and sometimes he tries mixing Meshuggah-syncopated grooves and doom metal together.
From the standpoint of pure art, this is one of the best death metal albums of the year. No one and nothing sounds like this; it is so pure in its mission and so undeniably ruthless that I can’t help but love it for its avant-garde zealotry. This is a hard project/band to get into, due to the long song-lengths and the nature of the music itself. While not adequately appreciated now, I think in five years we’ll be looking back on this guy as a genius.