Artist: Arcade Messiah
Album Title: II
Label: Stereohead Records
Year Of Release: 2015
A mere 363 days after releasing the self-titled debut album, Arcade Messiah return with sophomore release ‘II’. When I say ‘Arcade Messiah return’, I more accurately mean John Bassett has returned because Arcade Messiah is simply the title given to the latest solo project by the highly gifted and prolific musician. Better known for his endeavours under the KingBathMat banner, Arcade Messiah is the latest project from Mr John Bassett. And, whilst I enjoy his other output under differing monikers, this has to be his best work to date; unquestionably so, as far as I’m concerned.
In my review of the first Arcade Messiah album, I mentioned my normal apathy for instrumental albums before going on to suggest that ‘Arcade Messiah’ bucked this general trend. Moreover, I confidently stated that it was one of the best and most enjoyable instrumental albums of 2014. I still stand by this assertion. With ‘II’, my assertion is slightly different however, as it isn’t one of the best instrumental albums of 2015. It’s the best.
Aside from being a talented musician, a man in command of his instruments, Bassett is also a highly skilled song writer. It’s not easy to write music without vocals that can capture and keep my attention for relatively long periods of time, but Bassett once again manages the feat with ‘II’. The blend of clever and subtly complex time signatures within a range of tempos, rhythms and the mix of light and shade throughout is really interesting. And, when joined with a somewhat unique sense of melody, the final product shifts from interesting to compelling. The moods and textures that are explored throughout the eight main tracks are delightful and only get better with each and every listen. In fact, I had to scrap my early review notes as they are no longer relevant to how I feel about this album.
To these ears, the blueprint of Arcade Messiah remains largely the same; an intense rawness, heavy riffs, walls of sound, progressive tendencies and flirtations with a myriad of different influences from post rock, to classic rock and from all-out metal to ambient sounds. I hear fleeting similarities to other acts, such as Katatonia in some of the lead guitar tones and perhaps a touch of Alcest when those more ambient soundscapes are explored.
If anything, those dense layers and big riffs that dominated the debut have been joined by a little more variety on ‘II’; a greater exploration of more sombre and introspective sounds and tones that help to create a greater contrast, allowing those big churning and swirling riffs to sound even more powerful than they otherwise might.
With the greater amount of variety comes a wider range of moods and emotions. ‘II’ proves that a lack of vocals does not mean that the remaining music is devoid of a message. With Arcade Messiah, it is fascinating how eloquently Bassett can convey a whole myriad of different feelings simply with the pick of a guitar string, via a well-chosen synth sound or the crunch of a big, hard-hitting riff.
On to the songs themselves, and the album wastes little time in getting going. After a serene melodic clean guitar and synth opening, ‘Moon Safari’ suddenly explodes into life with a huge riff that is overlaid by a surprisingly hook-laden lead guitar line. At once, the track is heavy and powerful yet inviting as well as occasionally veering into all-out groove territory. Worthy of a mention too, is the intense drumming that underpins everything with great precision, holding the closing swirling maelstrom of music together when it threatens to completely unravel.
‘Red Widow’ is another favourite thanks to more gigantic six-string action and an energetic tempo. There’s an almost power metal or at least classic metal influence buried deep within the song too but before you can place its origins, the song plunges into gentle and sensitive ambient territory before increasing the tempo to the close.
‘Read The Sky’ is a behemoth of a track, over six minutes of fine heavy progressive post-rock/metal, whereas ‘Black Dice Maze’ is more of a multi-faceted beast that builds from quiet and modest beginnings before delivering any number of musical ideas within its framework, making it one of the most progressive-sounding tracks on the record. On the other hand, ‘Gallows Way’ is stunning; sorrowful yet upbeat, its charm is its simplicity and the way that it speaks right into my soul.
The album, or at least the CD version, closes with ‘The Four Horsemen’, an 18-plus-minute epic cover of the Aphrodite’s Child track. For some reason, it’s only available as a bonus track on the CD version of the album, so I urge you to buy the CD. Do not miss out on this piece of music. More heavy riffs feature but they are interspersed with a dreamier, synth-led quality, almost Hawkwind-y or E.L.O.-esque at times without ever sounding anything like either of them if that makes sense? In fact, this is arguably the most KingBathMat that Arcade Messiah have sounded during within these two albums to date. The cover version even benefits from some vocals. Heavily sampled and layered with effects they may be, but there are a few vocal lines to enjoy which add another dimension to proceedings.
As I said at the start of this review, there is no question that John Bassett has created the best instrumental rock/metal album of 2015. ‘II’ is a brilliantly crafted piece of work, deserving of your attention and, ultimately, your affection.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar StormVanden 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