REVIEW: ARCADEA – “Arcadea”
Side projects are an always popular way for musicians to do things or collaborate in ways that they generally cannot in their main band, and it seems that everyone is doing them. Very often, however, a side project, while serving as an outlet for music not suited for their main project, is really not that different than their usual work in a band setting. A good example is the last album I reviewed, Tuesday The Sky’s ‘Drift,’ an ambient/prog side project of guitarist Jim Matheos. Now I liked the album quite a bit, and it is indeed different from what Fates Warning has been up to as of late, but there wasn’t anything on it really different from other albums he’s done in the past. Sometimes, however, musicians decide to use a side project and do something very different and very fresh, and Arcadea is such a project.
The project (and subsequent self-titled album) is an outlet for Mastodon’s drummer, vocalist, and frequent writer Brann Dailor (drums/vocals) who recruited guitarists Core Atoms (Zrua, Gaylord) and Raheem Amlani (Withered, Scarab), both of whom play keyboards and provide vocals. As noted, the two play guitar for their normal bands. However Arcadea is – with the exception of the drums – an entirely electronic project, so the two only play keyboards. This is perhaps a surprising move for people known for their metal music and might well turn some fans off as it is nothing like what they usually make. This move, however, is what makes the album so wonderful. It actually takes risks and does something fresh and unexpected. They have crafted an electronic album that sounds nothing like EDM, and a heavy album that’s not in any way a metal album. Bold moves for sure, and the result is a fun, quirky, and very good album.
The album starts off with “Army of Electroncs” and as is often the case for opening tracks, sets up and sets the foundation for the general sound of the rest of the album. It begins with synth waves before the live drums and proper key work begins. As on most of the album, lead vocals are delivered by Brann in his clear and easily recognized style. At points the vocals are electronically modified with a vocoder, an effect used throughout the album, and one that is generally quite effective at producing a remote and otherworldly sound for the songs. This is only fitting as the lyrics are of the space/psychedelic type. The song titles reflect the approach and mindset of the project, including “Rings of Saturn,” “Neptune Moons,” and “Motion of Planets.”
Of those three songs mentioned above, the most unique is perhaps “Motion of Planets” as the vocals are lead not by Brann but by another member and are sung in a slightly grittier manner. This is not to say they are screamed or growled or anything of that sort, but the vocals are deeper and are shouted more than sung. It reveals another side to the sound they have created, and is another example of the unorthodox nature of the album.
For most metal reviews it is fitting to comment on the playing on a given album and the balance of instruments. That is not as necessary here as the main instrumentation are keyboards, and the type of music created is not the type with flashy runs up and down the keys. But the sound the two create is solidly performed and crafted. The electronic elements are largely aggressive and higher pitched, resulting in the previously stated heavy feel of the album. Brann’s drums remain the only “live” instrument on the album, and as to be expected from someone of his caliber and ability they are excellent. Truth be told, this is easily my favorite drum performance of his since Mastodon released ‘Crack the Skye’ in 2009. His best playing is saved for the final song on the album, “Magnificent Facade,” which runs nearly double the length of the others at 6:37. The latter half of the song is predominantly instrumental, and he really breaks out with tight, rhythmically complex playing and fills, driving the song on and grounding the heaviness of it. It’s a perfect ending for the album.
Arcadea has managed to join three gifted musicians and allow them to explore a new medium, and the end result is one of the freshest and most unique albums I’ve heard in recent years in mainstream music. Electronically driven and furiously drummed, it is an exceptional work and will fit nicely on the shelf for any music fan with an appreciation for original and slightly unusual music. Highly recommended.