If you are into the current tech-death scene at all, chances are you’ve already heard of Canadian quintet Archspire a few times in your life. Over the span of two full-lengths (All Shall Align, 2011 and The Lucid Collective, 2014) since their formation in 2009, they have been making waves because of their blisteringly-fast, technical compositions; the two most recognizable elements in those being the bell-heavy drumming of Spencer Prewitt and the nonpareil, almost superhuman vocal performance of Oliver Rae Aleron. On their third album Relentless Mutation, they add even more breadth and depth to their already refined style, further propagating their singular place in modern metal.
Second track “Human Murmuration” is the earliest example for this claim. It incorporates a lot more atmospheric work than what we’ve come to know from this band up to now, and it acts perfectly as a short breather between the sometimes exhausting musical sprints. Together with the perfectly produced and mixed bass, which slides in and out of the spotlight throughout the song, this fact helps ease Archspire’s approach a bit to allow for more diversity in style and tempo.
‘Had it been a day or a year inside this skin?‘
Unlike many death metal bands out there, Archspire utilize the genre’s inherent brutality and explicit imagery inside a science-fiction-based horror narrative. It’s hard to make out the exact lyrics, and I didn’t have them to read alongside listening to the album prior to its release, but thanks to the mentioning of recurring characters and certain motifs, it became very clear early on that this is a concept record. As far as I’m concerned, it touches on themes of body-hijacking organisms that transform their victims to bend to their will, advancements of body enhancement technology and possible side-effects, and, of course, all the death and gore your brutal heart desires. I hope to fully discover the album’s story arc once it’s out; right now, I’m only speculating.
“Relentless Mutation” opens with a lush clean section, tastefully underpinned by Prewitt playing fill after fill on the drums. About a minute in, though, it turns into another vicious assault on your ears and sanity alike, with Aleron pulling off different screams from his seemingly limitless repertoire over frantic guitar patterns. These are interlaced with more clean, ambient moments, making the actual heavy sections appear even more frightening in comparison. And speaking of heavy, the following track “The Mimic Well” will do to you what Aleron was recently seeking funds for to do to Tim Lambesis: it will straight-up mangle you.
‘It can look into you as you look into me looking for it.‘
“Calamus Will Animate“ has a certain novelty factor, its intro being comprised of vocalist Aleron spitting his trademark machine gun gutturals over the sound of, well, a literal machine gun being fired. Aside from being a bit cheesy, the imagery this stylistic choice invokes is actually pretty awesome. The synergy between man and machine; one might argue that Aleron himself embodies it with his mechanic yet intrinsically human delivery. Musically, it’s marked by razor-sharp guitar riffs, diverse drum fills and the aforementioned prominent bass. There’s also some pinch harmonics thrown in for accentuation. Keep an eye (or better: ear) out for the violently fast section between 1:58 and 2:24; it’s another one of my favorite moments on Relentless Mutation.
The biggest winning factor for Archspire on this album is that by simply showing the sensible restraint of taking the foot off the gas pedal when the song calls for it, they breathed a whole new spirit into what many called the pinnacle of their formula after 2014’s The Lucid Collective. What was largely absent (deliberately or not) from their earlier work, namely sufficient space for atmosphere and calm moments to build up suspense, is delivered here in spades, and the album is so much better for it. It’s more dynamic, surprising and still technically impressive, once more proving that you don’t necessarily have to completely overhaul your musical style to stay relevant.
Notable Tracks: “Involuntary Doppelgänger”; “Remote Tumour Seeker”; “Calamus Will Animate”
FFO: Beyond Creation, Spawn of Possession, Tech N9ne (sorry, I had to)