It’s time. The one we’ve all been waiting for. Britain’s most exciting band are back.
Now, anyone that knows me will be firmly aware that Arcane Roots are my favourite band. Ever since I first stumbled across the extended version of Habibty on YouTube in 2013 I was captivated by the blisteringly intricate guitar riffs, the beautiful melodies that carry through the verses and the stunning facial hair of Andrew Groves. I then proceeded to indulge in the remainder of 2011’s Left Fire and 2013’s debut full-length, Blood & Chemistry. I was in love. Never in my life had I been so enthusiastic about a band and the way that I felt about music had changed forever. Every second of every song resonated with me in such a manner that had never before been experienced. Since then, I’ve turned so many people on to this band – it’s the least I could do; the world needs to know about Arcane Roots. Soon they will.
Enough gushing, it’s getting creepy.
Melancholia Hymns marks the trio’s newest venture. Times of recent have seen a considerable change to the approach that Arcane Roots take towards their craft, at least at face value. Percussionist, Jack Wrench has stepped in full-time to replace the former tub man, Daryl Atkins. I was a fan of Atkins for sure, but Wrench is a force of nature – the stamina he demonstrates live is impressive, to say the least – it’s no wonder that he’s become a permanent member of the outfit after clearly impressing as a stand-in on tour. Whilst we’re on the subject – the percussion that carries throughout this album is perfect. Refrained at the just the right times (hear Before Me & Indigo) to suspend the synthetic limbo that is present at various points in the release, then animalistic and pulsating in order to excite and provoke (hear ‘Off The Floor & Everything (All At Once)’).
Previously, I reviewed Matter, track two on the album and one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time, thus, I awarded it the perfect score of 5/5. Within the review, I discuss what is quite probably the main talking point surrounding the release of Melancholia Hymns. Drawing on from the notion that Arcane Roots have adopted a new approach – it is impossible to ignore the persistent emphasis on the electronic elements that are prevalent throughout the album. After listening to the album pretty much on loop since I managed to get my hands on it, I can confirm that there is a lot of synth. Now, the more astute of fans would have heard the singles released in anticipation to the full release and realised the direction that the band were headed. The likes of Curtains particularly exercise these qualities.
Whilst I don’t want to dwell too much on the elements of digitalisation that run through Melancholia Hymns (I feel as though it would be an insult, there is a great deal more to discuss here) I will say that some fans may initially be somewhat deterred. The purists among us may hark back to the days of old where Arcane Roots were guitar and nothing but guitar. Plug in and play. To that, I say ‘piss off’. Indeed, there is a romance to the raw aspect of music – the authenticity of adopting an instrument and making the music by your own means – however, in this day and age, to attempt to reject the fact that the developments that have been made within the realm of technology have afforded us a wealth of possibilities to expand the art of music, is ludicrous. Melancholia Hymns is a demonstration of how these possibilities can be actualised.
Arcane Roots are still very much a guitar band. They’ve never really been the type to stick to rock sensibilities (despite Grove’s stubborn loyalty to the standard E tuning) and you’d be hard pressed to find any riffs that sound like they belong on a traditional ‘rock’ album. That being said, they have produced some of the best riffs that any guitarist would ever have the pleasure of hearing, let alone, trying to play along to. This is definitely still the case on Melancholia Hymns – one listen to Off The Floor (my personal favourite) will instantly confirm this. It is clear that Groves has expanded his rig, and we are hearing tones on this album that we have not previously been treated to – it’s exciting.
The balance is not perfect. Sometimes, it can feel like the dystopian interludes between the majority of songs here are rather drawn out and it can become borderline tedious – it conclusively depends on what mood you’re in. For the most part, however, they serve to establish and ensure an atmosphere that is undeniably lacking in a great deal of the tripe that is released today in the mainstream.
Now, onto the meat and potatoes. Arcane Roots are renowned for the spiky riffs and the coarse, piercing vocals of frontman, Andrew Groves. Rest assured, this is still the case in Melancholia Hymns. Groves’ singing never fails to amaze – throughout previous releases we had been introduced to the capabilities that he boasted – a soaring falsetto and spiteful screams are commonplace in this discography. This album steps it up a notch. Every track will demonstrate the diversity of this man’s pipes, often velvety and smooth, regularly knocking at the roof of the highest octaves within human reach and sometimes fuelled with so much venom that you can feel your muscles tense in intrinsic retaliation. The vocals are, as usual, a clear highlight of the album.
The Root have been progressively making a name for themselves, now more so than ever. Some labelling them as ‘stadium bothering’, this could not be more true – particularly on Melancholia Hymns – they possess tracks that would stand up next to the likes of Muse at bloody Wembley Stadium. The potential here is mammoth and I sincerely hope that it is just a matter of time until the world realises it. Blood & Chemistry set such a high standard for this band to fulfil and it would have been too easy for the band to stagnate and produce what would essentially be Blood & Chemistry 2. Instead, we have Melancholia Hymns: a mature, brave and intriguing exploration into profound and measured music production. In ten years’ time, we will look back on this as being before its time.