Originally written by Clay Moore
You may have noticed that we’ve recently begun teaming up on some of the more noteworthy releases, in an effort to both provide extra discussion of albums of interest and, at times, offer contrasting views. Based on what I know about Tim’s views on A Celebration of Guilt, along with the undeniable quality of this EP, I have a feeling my follow up review may be little more than a glorified “yeah, what he said”. But I decided to weigh in anyway for a couple reasons. First, last year’s A Celebration of Guilt made a hell of a splash with the staff and readers, and despite the fact that this is only an EP, anticipation is high to hear how the celebrated re-animators of melodeath will follow a debut as masterful as A Celebration of Guilt. The other rationale for offering up my assessment is that, unlike my colleague, I tend to keep current melodic death metal at arm’s length. If this is melodic death metal—I like melodic death metal. In a genre that I regard as, more often than not, toothless, Arsis bristle with a vibrancy and technical flair that commands attention across the metal community.
It’s old news that “A Diamond For Disease” was written for use in a Ballet Deviare performance, and you’ve probably also heard that James Malone will be playing live during the show. I can’t help but picture them doing it like that scene in Top Secret, where the female ballerinas dance across stage on the impossibly mammoth bulges in the front of the male dancers’ tights. I can imagine Malone stalking the stage, shredding away while walking atop the junk of the dancers. Sadly, unless they take this show on the road, most of us won’t get the chance to find out. It’s too bad, because I find the concept intriguing, and Arsis has contributed a piece of music that should provide for an ideal collaboration with the dancers. Everything you’ve heard about the thirteen-minute title track is true. It’s fucking monstrous. Malone’s volcanic guitar work spills a non-stop Jeff Loomis-like whirlwind of jaw dropping leads cascading across the savagery of the song’s rhythms. You’d never guess that this song is thirteen minutes long unless you watch the time elapse on your cd player. From the opening swell of frenetic guitar work in the intro, to the breathless, exhausted climax, “ADFD” holds the listener rapt. What’s so impressive about the song is how incredibly subtly dynamic it is. Rather than relying on dramatic tempo changes and acoustic interludes, Arsis create an intriguing central theme, and systematically move (dance?) between its skillfully crafted variations. Yes, it’s a long song, and yes, the musicianship is fantastic; but in the end, both of those things truly serve the song itself, rather than the other way around. The other factor that makes this song a fucking ace is how well the flourishes of gorgeous, crystalline lead work interplay with the pummeling immediacy of the rhythms and bursts of riffing, giving the song an ornate, classical precision overlaid atop a train wreck intensity. Grace, beauty, and savagery–the band has perfectly captured the concept and possibilities ofBallet Deviare.
Here’s the rub: the other two tracks on the album, “The Promise of Never” and a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Roses on White Lace”, essentially function as b-sides, giving the listener more EP value for his cash. On the whole, fans will simply be pleased to get the extra material, but it has to be said that these two songs pale markedly next to the epic star of this show. But by no means does that mean they’re bad songs. “The Promise of Never” is a retooled demo track and sounds like it could be an outtake from Arsis’ A Celebration of Guilt days (clearly nothing to sneeze at), and in fact opens with the lyric “To celebrate the guilt”. It’s a damn fine song, it’s just fairly short, and before reaching three minutes, closes the EP with a bang, admonishing, “I gave you roses, be careful of the fucking thorns!”. Between the two songs is “Roses on White Lace”. It might seem an odd decision to cover a song from Alice Cooper’s 1987 album Raise Your Fist and Yell, but conceptually, the song bridges the two other tracks, and the band translates the material well to a modern melodeath platform while maintaining a satisfactory level of the song’s hard rock, fist pumping soul. Decent song, not a great song. Not like the title track. Which brings us back to where many of us were at this time last year–incredibly impressed by the youngArsis and wondering how they’ll be able to build on such strikingly promising early work. Forty minutes of music as good as A Diamond For Disease’s title track may be too much to ask for. But I’d never think of betting against them.
posted on 11/2005 By:
Arsis is the best metal band of the decade; this millennium, even! There, I said it. Between this three-song special release EP and the new Vader EP, I’m starting to question my policy of excluding EPs from my year-end top ten. For the (hopefully) very few of you out there that are unaware of the existence of Arsis, let me gladly fill you in. They are a two-piece band out of Virginia that got their start at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, if I have my Arsis history right. Correct me if I’m wrong. They released an eight-song demo that showed a band that was years beyond their age in terms of maturity and ability. Sometime afterwards, the always innovative Willowtip label scooped them up.
2004 saw the release of their full-length debut, A Celebration of Guilt, which included four tracks off of the demo. The album was critically acclaimed and praised by nearly everyone that heard it, and for once, the wave of hype was well-deserved. Arsis effortlessly blends the best of melodic death, thrash, and black metal in a display of technically astounding musicianship. Any sense of musical justice would’ve launched them on a string of top tours that so many lesser flavor-of-the-week bands take part in, but this did not happen, perhaps partly due to the difficulty of a two-man band playing such complex music with guest musicians. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to catch one of the few shows they played (as a three-piece) and it was one of the best half hours of live music I’ve seen.
One of the people that was impressed with their music was the founder ofBallet Deviare, an NYC-based ballet performance group that was putting together a show that combined the grace of ballet to a metal soundtrack. An Arsis track was used in a one-off show, and discussions were had with James Malone, guitarist and vocalist of Arsis, to put together the centerpiece track for the next string of performances, and that’s how this EP came about. “A Diamond for Disease” is a 13-minute extreme epic created for Ballet Deviare, and this EP features that song along with an Alice Coopercover and a re-recorded track off of their demo.
The title song starts off quietly with cyclic shredding fading in. This leads into some technical thrashing, before the raspy vocals come in. Oddly enough, Malone sounds like Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy) to my ears. The powerful chorus features relentless drumming by Michael Van Dyne. After about 3:30, the first solo appears, transitioning smoothly from a verse. At this point you realize that four minutes have already passed and the song just feels like it’s getting started – just as a long song has to be. The middle of the song features impressive musical control, mixing at least three separate guitar tracks, all thought up by the same guy, rather Opethian in that regard. A mandatory headbanging section rears its thrashing head at about 8 minutes in, but even then, there’s always virtuosic shredding lurking around, brewing underneath the surface. The grand finale evidently begins at 10:30, but takes awhile to wind down, perhaps the only minor flaw in this epic track.
“Roses on White Lace” is the Alice Cooper cover, and while I’ve never heard the original, Arsis does a fine job transforming it into a catchy and aggressive modern metal composition. Lastly, “The Promise of Never” is an original song of the band, previously available on their demo, but it’s certainly album-worthy. This is more along the lines of the music of A Celebration of Guilt, with standard song structure. Musically, it is a perfect compromise between the melodic and thrashy wings of the Gothenburg sound, meaning that it is more straightforward than many of their songs, and serves as a reprieve from the technicality of the main album piece.
Go buy this EP, if you have heard them, you know that it’s worth the cash.Arsis never fail to impress and the upcoming second full-length should be another fine encore to their debut. And for the New Yorkers out there, Ballet Deviare sounds like a fun and unusual way to spend a January evening, especially considering that Arsis will be performing live what is possibly the song of the year.