Until recently, Arthemis had been one of around a few dozen bands I’d always had a mild curiosity for but had never bothered to closely investigate. I’m convinced the only reason I knew of their existence was because they included Power Quest’s vocalist and guitarist (Alessio Garavello and Andrea Martongelli, respectively) amongst their ranks, though now only the latter remains in the band. I also vaguely remembered them from high school as one of a handful of power metal bands that had a propensity for including bare breasts on their album covers, which always struck me as an ironic practice for what might be metal’s least sexy genre. Blood – Fury – Domination is Arthemis’s eighth full-length, and while I expected to detect some fatigue, the fact that this is the band’s first album in five years gave me some hope for a fresh sound. After all, there’s triple the tits this time around (albeit of the mangled ,mechanical and antler-censored variety); what could go wrong?
Well, a few things, but BFD certainly has worth. Arthemis’s sound is more interesting than I’d anticipated; at least in their 2017 incarnation, they’re a modern power metal act that incorporates some thrash elements and an occasional sprinkle of brainless (though inoffensive) metalcore riffs. The best aspect of this record is the band’s willingness to explore different corners of their sound from song to song while still maintaining a cohesive aesthetic. Though the album begins with a grooving, mid-paced stomp (“Undead”), Arthemis quickly ventures into pop metal (“Blistering Eyes”), wanky thrash (“Warcry”), and Powerwolf levels of power metal pomp (“Dark Fire”), all tied together by Martongelli’s fun and energetic guitar performance. Arthemis’s chamelon-like approach to songwriting feels refreshingly concise due to the band’s choice to repeat the refrain only once in most songs, leaving more room for the infectious riff work.
Fun guitar performances aside, VFD is hampered by a number of weak songwriting choices. The choruses especially feel like they bring down even the best songs; most of them are melodically bland or don’t even feel like choruses at all. The refrain of “Firetribe” (no, not that Firetribe) in particular seems more like a pre-chorus, and as a result the song feels like it lacks an emotional peak. Indeed, Arthemis‘s Achilles’s Heel lies in their inability to convincingly convey a sense of passion in their vocal melodies, a quality that power metal typically lives and dies by. This shortcoming is particularly damning on acoustic ballad “If I Fall,” an embarrassingly sappy affair that’s barren of personality. It took four spins of BFD for me to stomach the entire song, and if I ever feel compelled to revisit this album in the future, I’ll remove the track completely before doing so.
The lackluster melodies could have been elevated by an excellent frontman, but vocalist Fabio D’s performance is hit or miss. He typically fares quite well in his low-to-mid register where his snarl possesses an off-kilter quality similar to Rage’s Peter Wagner, but when his pitch is elevated for the sustained notes in the choruses, his voice is oddly lacking in power despite seeming totally capable of hitting those notes. Regardless of the inconsistent vocals and the numerous other flaws, Arthemis nearly elevated BFD to guilty pleasure status for me thanks to a quality that’s difficult to pin down. It possesses a sort of machismo through the guitar performances and occasional groove elements that falls just a notch above dudebro numbskullery, and it somehow feels novel as it’s not the sort of vibe that I’ve come to expect from power metal. It’s not sophisticated, but it does help Arthemis stand out. Conversely, the production is completely predictable; everything is mixed loud (except for the bass), though thankfully keyboards are only occasionally utilized in the name of industrial electronic effects.
I can’t think of any type of metal fan who could enjoy Blood – Fury – Domination front to back (and I can think of several who would loathe every second), but as a power metal devotee I found Arthemis’s diverse approach somewhat charming. This is an album concerned with nothing but having mindless fun, and while Arthemis never manages to reach the cathartic high points that power metal bands strive for, I feel comfortable giving this a cautious recommendation to followers of the genre seeking entertaining riffs in a somewhat unique context. Just please skip the ballad; the mushiness is bad for your health.