Starve For The Devil
posted on 2/2010 By:
When a beloved band puts out new material and your first instinct is to question their motives, it’s usually a bad sign.
Unfortunately, a lot of Arsis fans were put in exactly that position by the emergence of Starve For the Devil’s two singles. After the technical shitstorm that was We Are the Nightmare, the bouncy Arch Enemy-isms of “Beyond Forlorn” came as quite a shock. Was this really the same band that produced face-rippers like “Wholly Night” and “Sightless Wisdom”?
But the shit didn’t seriously hit the fan until leadoff cut “Forced to Rock” appeared on Arsis’s MySpace. The track’s pop pacing, quasi-hair metal riffs and cringe-inducing lyrics sent up plenty of red flags by themselves, but its attendant video really got people’s dander up. Main-man James Malone sporting eyeliner. Guitars with hot pink highlights. A somewhat gross metal mama (really, Nuclear Blast, you couldn’t find a hotter babe?) awkwardly hip-pivoting along to returning drummer Mike Van Dyne’s peppy backbeats. Arsis, it seems, has decided to gun for arena-metal status.
Fickle metal fans were screaming “sellout” before Starve For the Devil even dropped. Such claims are no more warranted now than they were then. Malone has never been shy about expressing his love for big-chorus 80's metal, both in interviews and in Arsis’s songwriting (this band has covered Alice Cooper, for fuck’s sake). There is little question in my mind that the increased prominence of this influence has nothing to do with commercial calculation and everything to do with Malone’s glam-lovin’ heart.
So Malone is pursuing his interests. That’s great. Starve For the Devil, unfortunately, is not.
Nor is it as bad as a lot of people have made it out to be—the two singles are possibly the weakest songs in Arsis’s catalog, but there are a couple of gems here too (“Closer to Cold,” “Sick Perfection”). Overall, though, Malone’s decision to focus on simpler, catchier songwriting has done away with a lot of the rhythmic intricacy and intensity that have historically made Arsis so appealing. Most of Starve For the Devil is composed of straightforward, thrash-tinted bangers that neither impress nor appall. The band regularly tries to float middle-of-the-road cuts like “Ten of Swords,” “From Soulless to Shattered” and “Escape Artist” with lots of soloing and flashy licks. But every time Malone and fellow axeman Nick Cordle attempt to prop up a track with their admittedly-massive guitar dicks, the tactic becomes less effective.
Then there is the matter of Malone’s lyrics. The man has always been fond of retaining thematic continuity by using same cryptic slogans in multiple songs, but he’s taken the practice to an absurd extreme on Starve For the Devil. At times it seems as though this album’s lyrics are comprised entirely of phrases copped from older Arsis releases, and spliced together with thinly-veiled references to Malone’s much-publicized eating disorder. Even though lyrics definitely aren’t the focal point for this band, they contribute to the impression of laziness that taints this album.
Nobody wanted Arsis to put out another killer album more than I did, especially after Malone’s gutsy public acknowledgement of his psychological issues. For the last five years, Arsis were one of the very few melodeath bands who didn’t just flop around uselessly like a landed fish, and I’ve come to expect more from them than they show on Starve For the Devil. These guys have recovered from a mediocre release (United In Regret) before, so I’m not quite ready to call a code on them just yet. Still, Starve For the Devil serves notice that Arsis, like so many of their peers, may yet lapse into complacency.
posted on 2/2010 By:
I am constantly dumbfounded at how a great band can cause a much larger uproar than, say, the criminal fact that Six Feet Under are still allowed to enter and utilize a recording studio. Pick your battles better people. In case you missed it, Arsis are back with full length number four, and it’s got everyone ALL fired up. If you listen to the protestors, the Arsis we know and love are completely gone on Starve For The Devil, replaced by some bland and emo (really?!) version of solo James Malone (oh my GAWD the title refers to his health problems!). So why even review it? Most of you already have an opinion right? Everyone has effectively made use of their Jump to Conclusions Mat? Contrary to popular belief, a lot of fans actually do wait until they read reviews before buying albums. Others even hold judgment until they’ve heard an album more than once. With that in mind, this is for those who are a little more patient, far more reasonable, and way less on-the-rag than the assholes of the vocal minority.
What does this so-called “new” Arsis really sound like? A lot like the Arsis you’ve known for half a decade now, that’s what. To get a good idea of Malone’s slight veer on Starve For The Devil, imagine a less techy We Are The Nightmare mixed with a fair helping of Swansong-era Carcass, some classic metal rocktitude, and a whole shitload of shred. The album is incredibly self indulgent (FYI, so is everything else they’ve released) and borderline death metal cock rock at times, but it’s fun as hell, and I challenge you to say otherwise (many already have). Letting up on the ultra technical aspects of their previous long player can undoubtedly be attributed in part to the return of original drummer Mike Van Dyne, who plays relatively straightforward compared to the oft-maligned Darren Cesca. But the desire to play a more arena-friendly form of melodic death metal is everywhere, and immediately apparent as “Forced to Rock” kicks off the festivities.
The songs are mostly of traditional rock structure, more so than on past Arsis albums. The verse-chorus-verse format is used throughout, constantly splattered with more guitar solos than even Eddie Van Halen would dare to cram into these 45 minutes. At times this makes things predictable (“A March for the Sick,” “Beyond Forlorn”), but at other times the songs are too bitchingly Arsis in nature to derail (“Closer to Cold,” “Sick Perfection,” and the wild “Escape Artist”). In general, the first half of the album is good-not-great, and the second half smokes. Complaints include the continual lyrical in-references (the lyric tank is obviously not as deep as the riff tank), and the lack of any real “holy shit” moments in the vein of “A Diamond for Disease” or “Failure’s Conquest.” Still, most of it maintains a quality similar to the lesser tracks on We Are The Nightmare. Last time I checked, this was not a bad comparison, and you’ll still find some of the wildest, most infectious riffs known to metal-kind. All is filtered through the production of Chris “Zeuss” Harris, who gives the album a decent balance but ultimately leaves the presentation of Starve For The Devil lacking the ballsy thickness and forward punch that it deserves.
If you can qualify a couple conditions you will find plenty to enjoy on Starve For The Devil. The first is coming to grips with the fact that Arsis are never going to equal the genius they produced on A Celebration of Guilt and A Diamond for Disease. It just isn’t going to happen, so either let it go or walk away. The second is being able to accept that bands have a right to make stylistic changes if they so choose, especially considering that this particular change isn’t all that stark. Get past this, and you should have a melodeath’n’rollin’ good time. Has Arsis done better? Without a doubt, far better; but they’ve also done worse. In the end this is a good record by a great band. No more, no less.
So to the extremely vocal minority who choose to microscopically overanalyze every little thing James Malone and countless other artists do: get over yourselves, you’re not that important. The rest of us are forced to rock.
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We Are The Nightmare
United In Regret
A Diamond For Disease
A Celebration of Guilt