(TheMadIsraeli wrote this review of the new album by the Ukrainian musician Arphael.)
I’ve been working on this review for a long-ass time. This album came out a couple weeks ago now, I think? The time has escaped me, but this album needed the attention because it’s fucking TWO HOURS+ LONG. I wanted to give it its proper due, given that I love Arphael’s music, but also because there’s A LOT to dissect here.
Argenesis is the finale of Arphael’s primary trilogy of albums he was working on besides the spinoff album Ancient I reviewed last month. This album’s length raises questions about how much we’ll ever hear from Arphael again.
This trilogy — Ambigram, Guiding Light, and Argenesis — were planned from the get-go. I know of one more release that’s coming, which is a re-recording of Ambigram so he can do it justice with his current production style and vocal improvements, but I’m not sure what’s after that. If he never releases anything else, the guy has contributed a unique and challenging sound to the metalsphere that will always stand out to me. Can’t say I would complain if he goes on after this, though.
So… Argenesis; this is one of the most dense albums in all the metal I’ve ever listened to. Period. Bar none. It’s got such a borderline oppressive length, and so much goes on in every song. Only two songs in the fourteen-song track list of this behemoth are below eight minutes. The variance of tempos and rhythms and the degree to which Arphael plays around with the music verges on epitomizing the sort of envelope-pushing insanity that we sometimes praise practitioners of metal for doing. More so than any other Arphael album, this one is going to be almost impossible for the average metalhead to get into.
It’s also certainly the heaviest album of this project to date, mostly complemented by the best production he’s managed yet, combined with a better understanding of how to impact the listener on a rhythmic level. He has also only gotten better at his engrossing mix of ethereal, enigmatic jazz fusion melodic sensibilities and traditionally sinister death metal melody. And, more so than any of his previous albums, it seems to have been written with the intent that all the songs will become a journey or experience unto themselves.
Comparatively speaking, the music is also heavier on the tech-death elements, which is an aspect of Arphael’s sound I always felt he needed to turn up. As a result of the consistently long song lengths on the album, he also gives way more breathing room to the Meshuggah-inspired groove moments and his new-found love of a sort of Meshuggah take on doom metal, which he started exploring on Ancient.
That ratcheting up of the tech-death elements isn’t that noticeable over the course of the album as a whole, but is certainly noticeable in the moment when it’s happening. There are moments in songs like “Night Before We Met” and “Galaeta” that are Dying Fetus levels of insane, while other songs such as “I Belong To You” (which is an eleven-minute epic) are all about the dirge and the drag, with ethereal melodies and withering tempos.
What this album also highlights — really well in fact — is Arphael’s black metal but not black metal inclinations. He could’ve used full-on chords and emphasized the high end like everybody else, but the black metal synth work combined with the nine-string atomic bomb low end has a unique effect going for it. These parts are some of the most frigid and bleak you’ll ever hear, but his choice at the same time to defy the conventions of the style is black metal as fuck in its ethos as well.
I’ve always preferred diversity of sound over diversity of songs. For a lot of people, music like this has the effect where the songs bleed into each other, but I prefer the consistency of it. The presence of this tech-death/Meshuggah-inspired/black metal/industrial mish-mash on EVERY song works. He’s picked his elements insanely well, and he understands the implementation of those elements to a degree which I can’t believe he’s accomplished.
The album’s opener “As I Speak” is an ideal representative of all these elements meeting each other in a perfect middle. In a lot of ways it’s like an album version of the “show, don’t tell” method of story-telling. Everything you need to know about the album is established in the first song, and the rest of it is about the ebb and flow and the twists and turns using that foundation. His particular diversity of sound is so self-complementary that I imagine when it comes to the actual song structuring it’s pretty easy for him to put together.
Arphael’s song-writing on this album, more than ever, also embraces what some might term a directionless state. The almost nihilistic way in which the music just kind of drifts from one section or riff to another is one of the things I love about his writing, but it’s also probably why his music is so hard for most to get into. There’s no fanfare or introduction for the transition from Meshuggah groove to ape-shit fast-as-fuck tech-death. It just happens without warning.
This is a big element of the song-writing that warrants multiple listens. The music certainly grabs you in the moment. You don’t have time to prepare for a section that you don’t already know is coming. This approach is also perfect for the schizophrenic nature of the music that Arphael has always tried to put out there. Once you get used to the way the songs flow on this album. it provides some pretty rewarding listening experiences. The best and perhaps most obvious example I can think of is the song “Celestial Healing”, a sinister dissonant drag that ends in a caustically violent rush of speed and a hybridization of Meshuggah syncopation and death metal pedal-point riffing. It’s the particularly odd distribution of elements in the finale of this song that really sells it.
Argenesis is monolithic in its musical accomplishments. It will be really hard for any other avant-garde extreme metal bands to come close to topping it in its ambition, composition, and cohesion. It’s definitive proof of Arphael’s genius. Whether you agree with his vision or not, I don’t think anybody could honestly say there’s anything about this music that is boring, unimpressive, or trivial. His music is some of the heaviest metal I’ve heard, but also some of the most defiant in its utter disregard for even underground norms.
Argenesis is certainly Arphael’s masterwork, an epitomizing testament to the abstract vision that he began with and has been fine-tuning to laser precision ever since. It will certainly be a favorite of mine for the year, but man it was exhausting. I listened to this twenty times to prepare for this review.
Argenesis is a borderline spiritual force of metallic intensity. Whether Arphael continues after this or not, he’s left an impressive mark on the underground metal world that should not be overlooked or disregarded.