Album Title: Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts
Label: The Artisan Era
Date of Release: 11 March 2022
I’m not sure whether it is because of my new-found love of the genre, and as such I’m seeking more out, but 2022 seems to have been flooded with some extremely high-quality technical death metal. In fact, the same could be said about 2021, with one or two examples even ending the year in my Top 30 ‘best of’ list. But rather than drying up, the flow of new material just keeps on coming. Not that I’m complaining mind you – it’s more of a surprised exclamation if I’m honest.
Today is the turn of Arkaik, a band that has been on the technical death scene since 2004. Hailing from Northern California, they are now a trio comprised of Jared Christianson, Nathan Bigelow, and Alex Haddad. Those who w their extreme metal will probably be familiar with these names, as drummer Bigelow is known for his work with Singularity AZ and previously Alterbeast, whilst guitarist Haddad is also connected to Dessiderium and Nullingroots. ‘Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts’ is the sixth album under the Arkaik moniker, but first to which I have been exposed to any great degree.
With so much of this type of music vying for my attention, and the bar seemingly being pushed ever higher, it is getting more and more difficult for the protagonists of a burgeoning scene to be noticed. It feels like the artists need to create something more and more spectacular to be heard over the noise, a noise that is very loud at the best of times – this is death metal after all.
And ultimately, this is to be the slight undoing of Arkaik based on the content of ‘Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts’. Without question, these three musicians are insanely talented, able to do things with their instruments that most of us could only dream of, and with a proficiency that’s unnerving to those of us who can just about play the intro to ‘Enter Sandman’ on the guitar…badly. Regarding their skill and abilities, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Arkaik. However, as I have said many, many times before, the talent has to be backed up by music that I want to hear. It has to be backed up by musicality, be that in the form of groove, melody, or something else that keeps me, as the listener, returning for repeated listens.
On this record, despite hints earlier on, it takes until the fourth track before I find myself becoming fully engaged with the music. The opening trio of songs are full of instrumental gymnastics and insane dexterity, all delivered with surgical precision, sharpness, and attention to detail. However, I just find it tricky to remember anything about them after they finish playing. There are hints of groove, or fleeting nods towards a melody, but not enough for my personal tastes. As an exercise in proficiency though, they are incredible.
Track four though, ‘Broken Glass Apotheum’ begins to show that Arkaik have even more in their locker and start to really grab my attention in the process. The track is still bonkers from a technical standpoint, but there’s a greater use of orchestration and synths to increase the atmosphere and lace the music with a sense of extra gravitas, not to mention more immediacy and memorability, especially as the track develops beyond the halfway point.
It gets even better by track six too, courtesy of ‘To Summon Amoria’. A quiet opening sees ethnic instrumentation create an aura of mystery before being battered by one of the simplest and heaviest riffs on the album, full of muscle and groove. The Middle Eastern flavour is never far away though, and the blend of the two creates the most satisfying of tracks. I love the way that the song flits between no-nonsense crushing heaviness and more dextrous endeavours, as well as mixing up the intensity by allowing moments of calm to emerge. It’s such a fabulous track, and the only problem is, it makes me wish more of the album had been like this. It proves that, if you have the skill, you can be technical, memorable, and heavy as hell all at once.
‘The Vertical Road’ continues with the excellence, starting off with some flamboyant lead guitar work that segues into a truly arresting melodic passage, underpinned by fantastic drumming and rhythms. At just over seven minutes, it’s fair to say that the song could have undergone a bit more editing, and I also wish that there would be a late reprise of the opening melodies. But even so, it is somewhat difficult to knock the song, because it has some phenomenally good ingredients within it, including some great riffs and a smattering of well-placed groove.
The final track, ‘Eminence Emergence’ is almost as long and initially goes to town on the orchestration and the theatrics. The inclusion of a choir is a nice addition, as are the sections of gentle calm that are juxtaposed between some of the most savage material on the album. To these ears, it’s one of the most varied tracks, as well as being one of the most opulent thanks to all of the various embellishments that feature throughout. The piano-led closing outro with the sound of a heartbeat fading to nothing is a nice touch too, a fine way for the album to end.
In conclusion then, my thoughts are relatively simple. The technicality is very impressive throughout, but some of the songs suffer a little in my opinion from lacking that little something to make them stand out from the crowd. However, when Arkaik introduce a little more memorability into their music, or something just a bit different, they are a force to be reckoned with, as a handful of the songs on ‘Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts’ fully attest. At this point, I bemoan the fact that the entire record isn’t more like this, whilst feeling like a proper Grinch for daring to criticise music that demonstrates such technique and ability. Regardless of my thoughts, you’d be foolish not to give it a listen if heavy techdeath is your thing.
The Score of Much Metal: 83%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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