In this unfortunate, post-Schuldiner existence, Arsis just might be the closest thing we have to Death. Before you soil your pantaloons in outrage, hear me out, there are a few undeniable parallels. The most obvious being that Arsis, for the most part, play the kind of super-technical Death Metal that Evil Chuck invented and refined throughout his all too brief career. Sure, Arsis has never penned a tune as classic as “Spirit Crusher,” “Symbolic,” “The Philosopher,” “Suicide Machine,” “Pull the Plug,” or every song on Scream Bloody Gore —it can be argued that their most memorable moment to date is actually a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Roses on White Lace”— and they lean far more on melody and blastbeats than Death ever needed to, but James Malone does have quite a bit in common with the legend. He’s a virtuoso guitarist plus frontman (not the easiest combo to pull off), he has that ultra-screechy vocal style, and he’s also the tyrannical driving force behind his band. Yes, one has to assume, given the endlessly revolving door of bandmates he’s burned through in 13 years, that Malone —like Chuck— is not the easiest guy to be in a band with. But the ends always justify the means, and up until 2010’s Hard Rock-obsessed stinker Starve for the Devil, the Arsis name has stood for a seal of quality in Tech-Death circles. With Unwelcome, Malone returns to that form nicely. These might be the leanest and meanest songs he’s written since breaking onto the scene in 2004 with the excellent A Celebration of Guilt debut. Sure, he throws a mid-album screwball with the head-scratching cover choice of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” —it’s actually not as bad as it looks on paper— but the majority of full-length #5 is no laughing matter. Malone and newest second axeman Brandon Ellis achieve an infectious interplay akin to Shermann-Denner on steroids and Adderall. The two trade jagged Thrashy rhythms, arena-ready solos, and slick melodic layering like they’ve been shredding together far longer than a year. Meanwhile, new drummer Shawn Priest unleashes a blistering barrage of rapid-fire snare and double bass punishment unlike no other Arsis sticksman before him. If Malone can somehow manage to keep this lineup intact longer than a New York minute, the future looks bright for this exciting band once again.
Note: Do your best to track down the digipak edition. You get 2012’s Leper’s Caress EP as a bonus, as well as a blazing re-recorded version of ‘04 crowd-pleaser “The Face of My Innocence.” It’s a seamless fit with the new material, although it does make for a somewhat overstuffed serving of Arsis to stomach in one sitting.
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