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Album Review: ARCHSPIRE Relentless Mutation (with Full Album Stream)

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At this point in death metal’s history, it’s hard to surprise listeners and make their jaws drop. So imagine my surprise in 2014 when I heard “Scream Feeding” from Archspire’s album, The Lucid Collective. Here was a band that had the sleek, finely compressed sound of modern technical death metal, but with something extra special to offer: INSANELY FAST VOCALS. How Oli Peters manages his vocal delivery is beyond me, and clearly beyond most of his contemporaries.

Check out the karaoke video for “Calamus Will Animate” and see if you can keep up with him (you can't):

But the band isn’t out to use this technique as a simple gimmick, like what happened with pig squeals in the late aughts. They work to weave this vocal prowess into a well executed and memorable brand of tech death. Tech death, like the wider death metal world itself, has been well explored and the cement that makes up its stylistic tropes dried several years ago. From the sound of early experimenters like Nocturnus and Cynic, to the crushing godfathers in Suffocation, and the late-90's band that laid the true groundwork for tech death like Nile, Hate Eternal and Necrophagist, the lineage of today’s tech death heroes is easy to trace. But Archspire stands as a newly emerging branch in the genre’s genetics.

They master one of the most important things about establishing a solid artistic legacy: when you hear them, you KNOW it’s Archspire. It’s not Beyond Creation, Obscura or the dozens of bands that emerged after 2010 to rush into the sweep-picking sweepstakes. Nope, when you hear “Calamus Will Animate” or “Remote Tumour Seeker,” you know who it is. The second track is a glorious and dizzying romp through intricate drums and guitars. But crucially, the riffs are good and worth multiple listens. In other words, listening to Relentless Mutation is a rewarding experience for the music itself, and not something akin to watching pointless shred videos for the one-time thrill.

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As someone who’s not really into tech-death, it’s great to hear a band make something like “Human Murmuration,” where the sweep picking works as a well-placed narrative guide to lead you to other goodies like the mini-bass solo (a death metal must!!) at 2:50 and Oli’s high-pitched scream. And as you can see on songs like “Involuntary Doppelgänger,” the band has gotten the memo to use gory and terrifying themes effectively, to where they engage and terrify listeners without pointlessly grossing them out.

In other words, Relentless Mutation is a great step forward for Archspire, as the writing is vastly improved and more consistent than on previous records. And it’s a great step forward for death metal as well, especially the tech death-side of things. Never mind our worries about the robots replacing us. The robots should be afraid of Archspire replacing them!

Score: 9/10

Favorite Songs: “Involuntary Doppelgänger” and “Human Murmuration”

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