Yeah, eagle-eyed readers will realise that I've already reviewed one technical death metal album from Canada that was released on 29th October, 2021 already this week and I'm supposed to mix it up. Well, whatever First Fragment's album was, and it was a heck of a lot of things, it really didn't play for me as death metal. Progressive metal, absolutely. Flamenco metal, sure. Technical in any description, of course. Death metal? Not so much. This, however, is nothing but. Archspire are on their fourth album of brutal death metal that's very fast and very technical and they couldn't be mistaken for anything else.
I haven't heard them before, but I've seen their name popping up all over the place, both over a period of time and in the 2021 end of lists. This album has shown up in five thus far and I'm still in process factoring others in. To highlight the scale of that achievement, only seven albums made it into that many lists and I happily gave Dream Theater, Gojira, Iron Maiden and Mastodon 8/10s. If this follows suit, that only leaves Cannibal Corpse with a 7/10 and Rivers of Nihil still to review. It's also notable that, on two of those lists, at Angry Metal Guy and Metal Observer, it snuck into the top five.
Of all the many bands approaching death metal from a technical or progressive angle, Archspire feel like they're one of the truest to the genre. They aren't spending half the album wandering in other genres. They aren't bringing in sounds from every which where. They're playing death metal and they're playing it incredibly fast and incredibly technically. And I mean that literally because it boggles the mind how fast and technical this gets. Sure, I've heard drummers this fast before and, I'm sure, vocalists this fast. However, Archspire start and stop songs on dimes with such frequency that they have to be insanely tight. This isn't just about keeping time with each other, it's about a need to do that at machine gun speed.
And I should call out Oliver Rae Aleron for special attention here. He doesn't play an instrument in Archspire, he just sings, and that's a tough job to truly live up to. Death growls are limited just in what they are, so it takes a really good vocalist to make them interesting and a special one to sound iconic enough to be either recognisable or invaluable. In my First Fragment review, I made the suggestion that David AB could have not shown up and I wouldn't have noticed. Aleron is such an integral part of Archspire's sound that, not only would they not sound remotely the same with him gone, they would sound notably lesser. He's the textbook for death metal vocals.
And what he does is to keep up with the drums of Spencer Prewett and the guitars of Dean Lamb and Tobi Morelli (and, on songs like Abandon the Linear, the obvious bass of Jared Smith). Which are not slow, trust me. We're beyond thrash metal speed here, into what tends to be reserved for black metal walls of sound, but it's death metal through and through and closer to brutal than it is to melodic. Aleron delivers his vocals in a fascinating way because they're a growl that he spits out as if he was rapping at high speed. Ever heard Rap God by Eminem? Or Godzilla? Aleron surely reaches similar syllables per second delivery speed at points and he's doing it in a growl.
Another fact I should call out here for notice is the fact that Bleed the Future is done and dusted a half hour in. Never mind these technical death metal opuses that bloat to the hour mark and even beyond, with a frequent resultant loss of interest in the listener due to sheer fatigue. This blast of brutal death starts as it means to go, finishes as it started and wraps up in half an hour. Not one of these eight songs reaches five minutes. It's as emphatically in your face as April's Cannibal Corpse album but it does a lot more than just bludgeon. I can tell the songs apart, for a start.
Drone Corpse Aviator, for instance, which kicks off the album, has a notable stop start approach, a cool call and response between voice and guitar and a delightful interlude in the middle that sees a reprise later on. All in four minutes. It's not a clone of anything else here, right down to the solo in the second half, even it carries a similar punch to other tracks here. Even its final moments are memorable. Golden Mouth of Ruin does some similar things, but the riffs and solos are different, the trade offs between instruments are different and nobody attuned to this sort of speed will be mistaking them. Abandon the Linear has some amazing bass runs. And so on and so on.
Favourites? Good question. I love the runs in Abandon the Linear, whether on guitar or bass. The title track is a spat out gem with another delightful drop away from frantic in the midsection and cool guitars taking it home. The rapid fire vocals on Drain of Incarnation are fascinating. And I do get a kick out of the voicemail introducing A.U.M. that asks for danger to be brought back into the music. Well, that's what Archspire do. This is up there with First Fragment, in its way, for technical insanity, but it also feels like a dangerous brutal death metal album. There's the difference.