ArsisWhen it comes to seminal death metal bands from North America, the East Coast alone boasts the likes of the genre's greatest staples: Death, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, and Nile. Perhaps in response to Virginia's political conservativism and the state?s legacy of the Baptist religion (in addition to being known as ?Mother of Presidents? because it is the birthplace of eight former U.S. presidents), it's no surprise that band founder/songwriter/guitarist/lead vocalist James Malone adopted a mantra of courageous insurgence and very early on in his life ? especially in the musical realm. ARSIS, which derived its name from the musical term "arsis and thesis" meaning unstressed (up-) and stressed (down-) beats respectively, makes music that is righteously tinged with black & thrash metal influences, but is completely dedicated to expanding the reaches of melodicism and technicality in the genre of death metal.
Brought together through a mutual respect for King Diamond and formed during Christmas vacation in Boston in 2000 by Berklee College of Music students James Malone (an already skilled violinist and a composition major) and double-bass connoisseur Michael VanDyne (a drum performance major and rumored octopus), the duo recorded a 3-song demo in 2001 and a 5-song demo in 2002 simply to ?amuse? themselves over winter break. Thanks to the favorable feedback they received, ARSIS became a live and full-time endeavor. After only one month of being an ?official? two-man band and with only five live shows to their credit (utilizing session musicians for second guitar and bass), Malone and VanDyne signed a deal with Willowtip Records to release their 2004 debut, A Celebration Of Guilt, and began exploring life on the road soon after. Much to the band?s surprise, A Celebration Of Guilt seized the spotlight by clinching one of the ultimate honors possible for a brand-new technical, melodic death metal band: being praised by Revolver Magazine for creating "the best [album] in the genre since At The Gates' legendary swan song [Slaughter Of The Soul]." Thus, these relatively unknown musicians were suddenly awarded the status of saviors to a waning genre.
With a firm reputation to upkeep, an inspired EP followed in 2005. A Diamond For Disease featured a 13-minute title track that took four months to write and was hailed as ?a multi-movement death metal masterwork,? by Decibel Magazine. The song was commissioned for exclusive use by the New York-based Ballet Deviare, resulting from Malone?s online friendship with the ballet company?s Executive Director, Andy Carpenter. That year, as ARSIS continued to tour, they employed various live session musicians and continued to accumulate many avid supporters among the metal underground, the metal press, and amongst metal musicians themselves.
Entering Max Tax Studios in Albany, New York and teaming up with producer (and Daath guitarist) Eyal Levi in 2006 to record their sophomore full-length album United In Regret, ARSIS placed a higher emphasis on technical complexity and on song structure, earning them kudos from New York?s Village Voice for being ?American death metal at its best.? The band toured relentlessly throughout North America with Enslaved, with Goatwhore, God Forbid, Mnemic & Byzantine on the Chains Of Humanity Tour, with Necrophagist, Decapitated & Cephalic Carnage on the Summer Slaughter Tour, and with All Shall Perish. After securing a new record deal with Nuclear Blast Records, VanDyne surprisingly left the band to pursue studies in radiology. Not one to risk losing momentum and to ensure the best possible performers for the band?s new label debut, Malone recruited ex-Goratory/ex-Burn In Silence/ex-Berklee School of Music drummer Darren Cesca, second guitarist Ryan Knight, and bassist Noah Martin (who did session work on United In Regret). With a solidified line-up that would put conservatory valedictorians to shame in the name of metal, Malone set out to hone the musical mission he entrusted himself with since Day One.
Produced by Zeuss (Agnostic Front, Hatebreed, Municipal Waste) at Planet Z Studios in Massachusetts, mastered by Alan Douches (Kataklysm, Unearth, Shadows Fall), and featuring the grotesque and meticulous artwork of Mark Riddick (a relationship that stems back to the band?s first album), 2008?s We Are The Nightmare further expands the band?s repertoire and proudly showcases why ARSIS are well on their way to making their discography absolutely essential for any fan with an extreme music library. Featuring songs that are simultaneously complex, impressively aggressive, and rich with classical frameworks, this is a showcase of spectacular variety, one where ARSIS plays to their greatest strengths: their dramatic, energetic passion and scorchingly mature expression.
Headphones are mandatory to follow the nuances between the inspired guitar work and meticulous drum lines in the title track; on ?Failing Winds Of Hopeless Greed,? Malone?s blackened vocals and obvious talents as a word smith embroider this composition with golden threads of embittered melancholy; ?Overthrown? is equal parts blunt force, sumptuous melody, blind rage, and wide-eyed introspection (?Every moment that came and went / That cursed and crushed our innocence / And we all must realize / That no spells can save us?); the graceful time change combinations and spitting proclamations in ?Progressive Entrapment? unfold like a riveting narrative; rounding the album out (and paving the way to a second spin) is the visceral frailty and mournful grandeur of ?Failure?s Conquest.?
All told, We Are The Nightmare is a venomous and virulent strain of guitar-centric melodic death metal that brings merit to the genre as a whole. Musical courage is never cautious, and rebellion needs only a head to contrive, a tongue to persuade, and a hand to execute. Thankfully, we have ARSIS to lead the way.
Arsis @ MySpace