Arsis
A Celebration of Guilt

We all know Willowtip does death metal and grind as good as or better than any other US label, but how will they fare in the European dominated melodic/black genre? Fucking phenomenally.

As with most Willowtip releases, Arsis’s offering is the extremity tipped, red headed, bastard child of a parent genre. Arisis is to melodic death/black metal what Goatsblood is to doom and Watchmaker to grindcore; a shit smeared, befouled spawn of its chosen genre that raises the bar and blurs definitions. A two piece hailing from Virginia, Arisis has taken all that is frilly and window dressed about their Swedish brethren and given it a typically over the top, US makeover laden with urgency and spite, while still retaining the genre’s sense of dynamic melody polish.

The overall sound culls from noticeably Heartwork era Carcass, US thrash metal, with a sprinkling of say Dissection, Necrophobic or Naglfar. The NWSDM vibe is only portrayed in the plentiful layered harmonies, no matter how scathing, and only the genre’s more aggressive contemporaries (At The Gates, Sacrilege, early Ebony Tears and more recently Detonation) could boast this level of balanced harmony and vitriolic grace. No interludes, no clean vocals, no acoustics, no ballad or sonic respites, just 11 superbly crafted tracks of challenging, melodic yet visceral perfection.

Guitarist/bassist/vocalist James Malone crams more riffs, solos and hooks into one song than seems humanly possible and drummer Micheal Van Dyne aids and abets with equal skill. Each track is steeped in harmony on a caustic (a word I find myself using often when reviewing WT releases) level, that veers from traditional upbeat, happy galloping of the Europeans, but instead blast beat laden and menacing sense of melody dripping with malevolence. The album opens with the longest, most complex track, ‘The Face of Innocence’, that sounds what Scholomance would sound like if they went on a hate driven, piss filed killing spree, hopped up on steroids; fatally artistic. ‘Maddening Disdain’ and ‘Seven Whispers Fell Silent (Malone also pens some killer song titles and lyrics), both open with salvos of abrupt precision, but the prior track hefts a subtle layered solo work that’s more Swedish it its delivery, while the latter weaves and slashes with a more razor sharp blackened gait broken up with some impressive slower breaks. The thrashier ‘Return’ and ‘Worship Depraved’ melds their European influences with a distinct US thrash vibe, just sped up and laced with more subtle harmonies. But the brief malevolent breakdown of ‘Carnal Ways to Recreate the Heart’ is pure black metal spite, reminding me of Necrophobic’s ‘The Art of Rebellion’ chorus. The solo heavy ‘Dust and Guilt’ seemed to be the only track that passed by without any significant ‘wow’ factor, but still delivers a high quality by any standard.

 If there was a ‘controlled’ track on the album it’s the lean paced, but still intricate ‘The Sadistic Motives Behind Bereavement Letters’, with superb solos flourishing amid the songs finely honed gait. While standout tracks are hard to pinpoint amid such consistently impressive material, penultimate song ‘Looking to Nothing’ has a certain vehement gallop I found appealing to both my melodic side and satisfying my need for a more solid concrete feel to my metal.

Malone has little variety to his basic acidic scream but it’s full of emotion, and balances his complex guitar work. A superb album by its own rights and its level is raised when you consider the now tired style they play and the origin of the band. Arisis have injected the genre with a sorely needed shot of venom, to counteract the feminization and saturation of a stale, dumbed down genre. Who knew that shot would come from Virginia?

If you are a Willowtip fan, this may surprise you with how melodic it is, but it still carries all the Willowtip values that make them outstanding; great production values and a knack for finding bands within a chosen genre that push the envelope while staying recognizable (Rune is a perfect example). You need this album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
March 30th, 2004

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