The Lucid Collective may have made Archspire‘s career, but Relentless Mutation is the album that will make their legacy. Three years ago, Archspire‘s second record dropped, followed by the mandible of many a tech death fan. Just when we thought the late 2000s tech death sound generated by the Sumerian/Unique Leader cohort was finally on its way out, here was an album that took the style and sprinted away with it, not even pausing at the finish line to let your ears catch up. It was concise, brutal, and spectacularly tight, setting new standards of both performance and writing, simultaneously catchy and indulgent. I would have been quite pleased to see Relentless Mutation recap the whole thing.
But that’s not what happened. Archspire‘s sound has continued to evolve, and Relentless Mutation, while unmistakably of the same mark as The Lucid Collective, has far-flung ambitions; namely, it has gone neoclassical. That may sound like nothing new, especially in a world where a new Necrophagist album went from being a hope to a joke to a really, really tired joke long ago, but the execution here is something else. Counterpoint has always been a big part of Archspire‘s sound, and it’s now more prominent than ever, with the bass frequently slipping in and out of step with the guitars as Dean Lamb’s melodies choose increasingly unconventional paths. “Remote Tumor Seeker” is a great introduction to this agility, with contrasting riffs packed in right next to each other even as they experiment with dynamic variation and vertical counterpoint.
In contrast with the angular and dissonant riffing that’s du jour in technical death metal, Archspire have packed this album with agile melodies that proceed stepwise or through obvious arpeggios, yet never seem to follow exactly where the ear would take them. “Relentless Mutation” packs in the most standard tech leads, stretching up and down scales, but ends with cut-time churning and a beautiful isolated bass melody. Following that, “The Mimic Well” takes the album’s longest excursion out into neoclassical territory, dropping out drums and vocals entirely for a three-part counterpoint between the guitars and bass before returning to full force with a drawn -out, harmonized lead.
The Archspire mainstays are still here, of course. Spencer Prewett’s drumming remains exemplary, and his wide ranging-patterns and liberal use of fleeting snare and cymbal blasts make for a performance almost as entertaining as the one coming from the guitars. Oli Peters’ vocals are not as upfront as they were on The Lucid Collective, but it makes room for more contrast within the songs, and he’s as fast as ever, playing the role of a death metal auctioneer. But more so than before, the guitar pyrotechnics seem to be occurring on top of their rhythmic background rather than within it. Relentless Mutation collects rhythm in a few pitches and cascades melody over them however it chooses, in contrast with Archspire‘s previous work, where melodies were often as fragmented as anything else going on. This can lead to a much choppier sound overall, but it’s something that the band have obviously noticed and embraced, as the introduction to “Calamus Will Animate” makes clear.
This album has a lot more going on, but considering its length and replayability, I think Relentless Mutation will greatly benefit someone who gives it a few careful listens back-to-back. There have been few times when, after the racing leads of “A Dark Horizontal” seem to fling open every crystalline doorway, I haven’t felt compelled to run the whole album over again. At just half an hour long, Relentless Mutation is even snappier than the last album, and despite all of its head-spinning writing, it’s also something you can just sit back and headbang to.
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if The Human Abstract went tech-death, wonder no longer. The neoclassical flair and intelligent writing of Relentless Mutation make it the strongest effort in the “traditional” tech death genre in a long time, and it progresses both the style and the band themselves more than I had ever expected. Archspire are a force to be reckoned with and have clearly established themselves at the forefront of the genre with bands like Beyond Creation and Revocation. But beyond their competency, it’s the innovation of the band’s sound that’s sure to keep Relentless Mutation spinning for years to come.