Arcade Messiah – III – Album Review

arcade-messiah-iii

Artist: Arcade Messiah

Album Title: III

Label: Stereohead Records

Date Of Release: 25 November 2016

Prolific is a word often misused in music circles. If a band releases an album every two or three years then they can sometimes be given the ‘prolific’ tag. In which case, what descriptor can be given to a solo artist that releases three new albums in three consecutive years? The artist in question is John Bassett, he of KingBathMat fame and a familiar name to this Blog, having reviewed each of the two previous albums, the imaginatively-titled ‘I’ and ‘II’ released in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Then add to the mix the fact that Mr Bassett does everything himself in relation to an album. And by everything, I mean it – the hideously talented chap plays every instrument that features under the Arcade Messiah moniker; drums, guitars, bass, keys…you name it. He also twiddles the knobs in terms of producing the record. And, if that wasn’t enough, over the past year, he has thrown in a complete family relocation to Sligo, Ireland. In terms of productivity and drive then, Bassett puts most of us to shame.

So, here we are in 2016, with ‘III’ just about upon us.

The first thing to mention about ‘III’, is the artwork. The cover is very striking and quite different from the previous two, in that it is an intricate drawing that seems to depict either the human over-industrialisation of the world or makes a comment about how the entire world is now one giant man-made conurbation, pulled together under one identity due to greater technological connectivity. Or maybe it’s neither of these things. Either way, the packaging is bold and enticing, a real draw if like me, you’re a sucker for good artwork. It’s like a magnetic pull.

Musically, I must be honest and say that there are very few surprises to the core approach of Arcade Messiah on ‘III’. It is in no way a blatant repeat of what’s gone before, but if you’re a fan of the Arcade Messiah already, you’ll not be left disappointed or disoriented with ‘III’. It is more of a honing of the sound, a more refined and confident outing than its two predecessors and it hits hard.

Heavy riffs, strong rhythms and walls of sound are the cornerstones of the output, sprinkled with liberal amounts of post-rock, stoner rock, subtle progressive rock/metal tendencies and more ambient sounds and textures.

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As you may already be realising, ‘III’ is a very intense ride, one that feels like it is an assault on your senses from every conceivable angle. I’m also genuinely surprised how heavy the output is, in much the same way as I was with the previous two albums. For some reason, I always do a double-take when I hear the album for the first time but in a positive way.

I’ve gone on record many times to profess my usual apathy towards instrumental albums. However, as is the increasingly strong trend, Arcade Messiah is the exception that proves the rule. Once again my attention is fully kept throughout, meaning that the album offers enough variety and delivers something which more than sufficiently fires my enthusiasm. Once or twice may have been a fluke but given it’s the same story with album number three, I can only conclude that Bassett is a very adept song writer, able to convey much using a medium that can, on occasion, be restrictive and inhibiting. After all, a good vocalist can be worth their weight in gold.

Speaking of singers, the one stand-out difference with ‘III’ is the inclusion of some vocals this time around. It isn’t often and it’s not for any protracted length of time. However, Bassett’s voice does make an appearance on an Arcade Messiah album for what I believe is the first time.

Opening track, the aurally huge ‘Revolver’ contains a smattering of lyrics and the song is made all the more interesting and nuanced because of it. It’s another layer to add to an already multi-layered track where the guitars bludgeon with an immensely powerful riff, where the rhythms swirl and roil to great effect and where there’s just enough melody to seep through the otherwise impenetrable wall of sound to get a hook or two into your consciousness. In fact, for all its bruising power, it is the more subtle lead guitar embellishments that give ‘Revolver’ that little bit of extra magic.

If anything, ‘Citadel’ is even more brutal on the ears. Right from the off, a down-tuned and sludgy doom riff crawls along with the finesse of a drugged rhino whilst around it, the layers are built up cleverly to create a truly dense and almost daunting listen. Again the melodies are sparingly used and subtle but nevertheless beguiling after repeated spins. The shift in dynamics at the mid-point is a masterstroke, allowing a brief respite and the chance for a more minimalist, post-rock soundscape to be explored where the bass is truly king.

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Sitting at the centre of this impressive six-track album is ‘Deliverance’, the longest track on the record. I love the moody, almost cinematic intro where beauty and restraint take the place of the more in-your-face elements. The tones and textures created are wonderful, at once both bold and refined. Naturally, the composition doesn’t spend its entire 10-minute length exploring the same landscape; it builds, albeit slowly and majestically, to finally explode at the mid-way point with another giant riff and an outpouring of pent up exuberance. The pace changes tack noticeably, speeding up and slowing down to add to the drama and tension alongside the competing heavier and quieter passages that litter this ambitious, most progressively-structured piece of music. The voice of Bassett returns as well but is nothing more than another interesting ingredient, being highly sampled and almost buried within the music as it is.

‘Life Clock’ further removes the foot from the monstrous riff pedal, instead exploring much more introspective and gentle realms. And yet, I feel no real respite from the intensity as this remains a thought-provoking and densely-layered track that has a brutally heavy sting in the tail.

By contrast, ‘Black Tree’ is a doom metal-influenced work that contains arguably the heaviest and best riff on the entire album. It is so heavy, it makes me smile in spite of myself. And yet, the heaviness is interspersed and accented by moments of relative quiet that are really gorgeous and melodically-infused, something that’s carried into the more extreme movements within the composition really cleverly.

It is then left to ‘Sanctuary’ to close ‘III’ which it does in a slightly surprising manner. To my ears, the central melody is more pronounced as it steers its way through a much more relaxed and atmospheric post-rock aural landscape, ultimately conveying a sense of positivity and optimism that is all the more conspicuous given what has come before. And yet the moods explored within this vaguely wistful piece are entirely in keeping with the album as a whole.

And there you have it. ‘III’ is, for possibly the third year in a row, the best instrumental album of the year. It is bold, challenging, confrontational, and hugely rewarding; it’s a credit to the Arcade Messiah name. In fact, it is quite possibly my favourite release to ever feature the incredible talents of John Bassett. Yes, it is that good.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

A Sense Of Gravity – Atrament
Devilment – Devilment II: The Mephisto Waltzes
Maschine – Naturalis
Brutai – Born
False Coda – Secrets and Sins
Pretty Maids – Kingmaker
In Flames – Battles
The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream
Memoreve – Insignia
Enbound – The Blackened Heart
Blind Ego – Liquid
Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
Hammerfall – Built To Last
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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