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Review: Leper’s Caress by Arsis

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The life of an Arsis fan is one that teeters between guarded satisfaction and maddening disdain. Since releasing a world-crushing debut A Celebration of Guilt and accompanying EP A Diamond For Disease, Arsis have embarked on one of the most volatile, frustrating career journeys in recent history.

Upon the release of A Celebration of Guilt back in 2004, James Malone and Michael Van Dyne were hailed as the saviors of melodic death metal. Now, this is a subgenre that seems to be constantly clamoring for salvation—whenever Insomnium or Ominum Gatherum puts out a half-decent record, hundreds of clingers climb out of the woodwork to lay stake to the “melodeath ain’t dead!” claim.

(Trouble is, melodic death metal is dead, and it has been for a while. While there may be some solid albums that pop up here and there—New World Shadows being the most recent—the subgenre’s self-imposed restraints lent it a limited shelf life. Gothenburg-style melodeath was just a decades-delayed cross-continental reaction to Bay Area thrash, and, as such, carries similar stylistic limitations.)

Arsis held more promise than any other pretender to the throne. Malone’s leads were more Schuldiner than saccharine, and the band employed a cynical fury that eluded their European counterparts. Also in the band’s favor was the undeniable fact that ACoG contained some of the decade’s greatest riffs.

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Arsis – “The Face of My Innocence”

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But it didn’t take long for things to get weird. With United In Regret, the band sophomore-slumped their way out of their Willowtip obligations; the unloving, predatory hands of Nuclear Blast were waiting to catch them. (This is the heavy metal equivalent of an NFL team backing into the playoffs, or Nick Diaz nabbing a title shot coming off a loss and a twelve-month suspension.) The over-Cesca’d, hyper-technical We Are The Nightmare found a new subsect of fans—carpal tunnel nerds—that roundly rejected Malone’s death-tinged 2010 paean to glam rock, Starve for the Devil.

Amidst this pinballing of quality and style, Arsis went through roughly 62 lineup changes. (Most notably, lead guitarists Ryan Knight and Nick Cordle were farmed out to The Black Dahlia Murder and Arch Enemy respectively, threatening to permanently relegate Arsis to Triple-A ball.) Malone—founder, lead guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter—was the only constant member. That is, until the band embarked on a 2011 tour without him.

It was enough madness to make even the most ardent loyalist doubt the band’s future. Then, a few weeks ago, Leper’s Caress happened.

This free EP from the fine folks at Scion A/V is a throwback to the style that made the band so revered in the first place. Their shred-heavy melodeath sounds as potent now as it did when it first dropped eight years ago, while Zeuss’ crystal-clear production brings the band up to the moment and renders them eminently accessible. Essentially, this is Arch Enemy for adults.

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Arsis – “Veil of Mourning Black”

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Proving that this is the true roots-rooting that fans have been clamoring for, Arsis have sneakily slid the classic demo track “Veil of Mourning Black” into this six-tracker. It fits seamlessly. Heretofore available only on the “As Regret Becomes Guilt” demo collection, this is has always held court as one of Malone’s strongest main riffs, and it’s cool to see it on a proper release. Elsewhere, the band’s propensity for killer riffage is less overt. As a rule, rippin’ guitar solos are only as good as the rhythm riffs that ride beneath, and “A Tearful Haunt, Condemned” and the raucous “Carve My Cross” (which boasts two doses of Malone’s trademark sloganeering) hammer that point home.

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Arsis – “Carve My Cross”

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Leper’s Caress is a perfect EP. Not only does it function as a more-than-serviceable stopgap between the disappointing Starve For The Devil and the long awaited Unwelcome (slated for a 2013 release), but it assures the band’s remaining fans that they’ve survived their tribulations. It’s a statement of intent and a reinforcement of faith.
Arsis is very much alive, even if melodic death metal isn’t.

— Jordan Campbell

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Scion A/V (stream or download)

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