Like many, 2004’s A Celebration of Guilt blew me away. Arsis emerged with supreme confidence, technical skill, and song-writing smarts, dropping a masterful debut LP in an era where the melodic death sub-genre appeared to be losing its bearings, overrun by half-arsed clones, blatant attempts at sugary commercialization, and general over-saturation of an increasingly weak market. A Celebration of Guilt gave hope to the fledgling melo-death scene and marked Arsis as a band to keep a close eye on. However, not everything has gone to plan since then. Although I’ve never disliked an Arsis album, their track record over the years could hardly be considered consistent in terms of overall quality. A Diamond for Disease was a ripping EP, but sophomore LP United in Regret fell deep in the shadows of its predecessor, lacking the spark and inspiration of the debut. We Are the Nightmare righted the ship, finding mastermind James Malone creating a shredtastic blast of techy death, with stellar results. A couple of years later Starve for the Devil dropped and alienated some fans with its less serious, ’80s influenced approach. It was an ultimately fun but disposable detour.
Five years since 2013’s solid and thrashy Unwelcome, Arsis make a pivotal return with sixth LP, Visitant. With a stable line-up in tow, Malone has masterminded a visceral, energized collection of tunes, set to catapult Arsis back to the top of the American melo-death pile. Sounding hungrier than a pride of starving lions and ferocious as a pissed off honey badger, Arsis utilize their most effective writing tools; meshing slick, knotty technicality, with thrashy aggression, compelling melodies, and dynamic compositions. Despite reference nods to different parts of their career, Visitant has its own identity and is a harsh, aggressive beast of an album, finely crafted and memorable. Musically, the execution is impeccable, the intricate musicianship, white knuckle aggression, and restless energy permeating Visitant‘s core. The impressive technical flair embellishes the taut songwriting, rather than meandering in self-indulgence, despite the bombastic nature of the soloing.
Following a scorching, blood-pumping opener, Arsis launch into the blasty surge of tightly coiled riffs and thrashing urgency of “Hell Sworn.” The song’s deft tempo shifts and hooky melodic bounce are immediately engaging, while Inferi‘s Malcolm Pugh lends his talents with an inspired guest spot. Visitant‘s song-to-song consistency is impressive, as are the variations of the Arsis brand of thrashy, technical melodic death. Hooky, full throttle barn-burners like “Easy Prey” and “Funereal Might” sit comfortably alongside the more measured and weighty presence of “Fathoms” and malice-dripping melodic punch of “A Pulse Keeping Time with the Dark.” Aside from boasting a title that conjures nostalgic memories of Fred Gwynne’s ominous character in the Pet Sematary film adaptation, “Dead is Better” offers a nasty chunk of blasting intensity and penetrating hooks.
Malone’s trademark rasp sounds especially vicious on Visitant, dripping with acidic venom, blackened bite, and pained emotion, lending the album a seething and spiteful edge. Shawn Priest does an excellent job on drums, his schizophrenic, battering ram percussion an ideal foil for the flashy guitar pyrotechnics of Malone and Brandon Ellis (The Black Dahlia Murder). Not to be outdone, bassist Noah Martin can be pleasingly felt and heard in the mix. There’s little in the way of major gripes to be discussed. Visitant marks a fresh chapter of rejuvenation after an extended recording break, boding well for the band’s future and longevity. The only nitpicks I can level at Arsis here, is that the excellent song-writing doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table. Meanwhile the production is big, sleek and meaty, the mix punchy and well organized, but the compression saps some of the power from the dynamic arrangements and more subtle shifts in tone.
Inspired by horror films, Visitant‘s sinister melodies, violent energy, and gloomy atmosphere fits the theme perfectly. Arsis have smashed out a undeniable winner with Visitant, crafting their strongest album in a decade, one that comfortably belongs in the upper tier of the band’s work. The generous early promo drop has allowed me ample time to analyze and revisit the album on many occasions and I’m still far from sick of being held in Visitant‘s gnarled grasp. Arsis is back in a big fucking way and Visitant will be a serious contender when it comes time to assemble my year end list.