(We present Andy Synn’s review of the new album by Vancouver’s Archspire.)
If you’re even vaguely aware of the comings and goings of the modern Tech Death scene, then chances are you’ll have heard the names Archspire and The Lucid Collective (the band’s 2014 album) before now.
Famous (or perhaps infamous) for their shameless dedication to ludicrous speed, as well as their ability to change direction faster than a TRON light-cycle (ask your parents…), the band are (rightly) held up as an example of Technical Death Metal at its most outrageously and enjoyably OTT, with everything (and I do mean everything) turned up well past 11.
There are those, however, who believe that the Canadian quintet’s addiction to excessive velocity is a flagrant example of style over substance, and that the spitfire vocals of motormouth mic-slinger Oli Peters, impressive though they might be, are little more than a gimmick designed to disguise the group’s lack of finesse in the songwriting department.
Well, it appears that the band must have taken some of these criticisms under advisement when putting together their new album, as this is one area in particular where Relentless Mutation improves upon its predecessor in leaps and bounds.
It goes without saying of course that the seven tracks presented here are as mind-bendingly complex and fret-meltingly technical as anything currently on the market, but what instantly strikes me about this album is how much the band have focussed on improving and integrating their more melodic side this time around, resulting in a greater emphasis on truly memorable moments and riffs that actually stick around long enough to really get their hooks in you, while Peters also displays a much-improved knack for incorporating catchy and well-defined vocal lines in amongst his usual array of galloping glossolalia.
Opener “Involuntary Doppelganger”, for example, while still performed at a few kph over lightspeed, also takes time out to play around with some jazzy, Cryptopsy-style melody along the way, while both “Human Murmuration” and “Remote Tumour Seeker” actually find the band easing off on the gas a little in places in order to deliver something approximating an actual, honest-to-goodness, headbangable groove in amidst all the rat-a-tat spasms of staccato, stop-start riffage and maniacal blastery.
And while this improved sense of focus and dynamic definitely means that it’s easier than ever to separate and identify each song on an individual level, additional credit must also be given to the work of Dave Otero (Flatline Audio) on production, as the mix on this album is noticeably more nuanced and more balanced overall (although the drums are still a little plasticky in places), with more depth and space in particular given to the dual guitars of Dean Lamb and Tobi Morelli, as well as the intricate bass work by new boy Jared Smith (check out the rather phenomenal title-track when you get chance for a prime example of how these three interweave and intertwine their technical talents and melodic skills to great effect).
If there’s one complaint or criticism I would like to offer it’s that while the internal dynamic and flow of the individual songs has certainly improved, the album as a whole feels like it’s ever-so-slightly too short, lacking a final climactic resolution that “A Dark Horizontal”, for all its undeniable charms, doesn’t quite offer.
It’s all well and good leaving people wanting more, but there’s a fine line between that and leaving your audience with the musical equivalent of blue balls, waiting for a climax that never comes.
Minor complaints aside though, Relentless Mutation finds Archspire once again firing on all cylinders while also making some big strides when it comes to the substance and songwriting which underpins their relentless auditory assault.
It might not be enough to fully convince the cynics and the sceptics of course, but it should more than suffice to fully cement the band’s status as one of the finest (and fastest) examples of the modern Tech Death scene.
Relentless Mutation will be released by Season of Mist on September 22nd.
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