Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
Melancholia Hymns is the latest full length release for the three-piece rockers Arcane Roots. Their last album was 2013’s Blood & Chemistry, after which they released a five-track EP, Heaven & Earth, in 2015. I listened to both of these albums quite a lot, enjoying their heady trifecta of math rock, post-rock, and orchestral instrumentation. Now Melancholia Hymns is out, we can see if Arcane Roots are testing the waters that they’ve created for themselves.
The album begins with Before Me, an overture-esque beginning. It’s quite lovely to hear, like a timelapse of the Sun rising over misty pines. It’s rich, and similar in tone to the anthemic, choral post-rock of bands like Sigur Ros and Mt. Wolf. It’s a build-up, with frontman Andrew Groves singing ‘Feeling our way, we are/ Lost in the fray, but burning bright/ Feeling the same/ Lost in the dark, we are so light’. It’s a wonderfully light opening to a band who are very much at home in the heavier side of post-rock, where their sound borders upon the post-hardcore and melodic metal.
The second single and second track on the album, Matter, is similar in tone. Groves sings with various effects giving his already ghostly voice sound ever more the ethereal. Punchy riffs alternate with electronic dub samples, which is a combination heavily used in today’s metal scenes, from hardcore to metalcore. The final verse serves as a place for Groves to really use his voice, hitting the highest notes, and then switching into a seemingly tortured cry. This all ends, with Matter transforming into this space-age synth outro, which while sounding interesting, it doesn’t exactly fit with the feel of the album.
Tracks like Indigo and Off The Floor are also quite interesting and fun to listen to. , ‘Just say the word, I’ll go, if that’s what you’re saying’ repeats Groves like a mantra on the archaic-sounding Indigo, whose percussion, vocals, and driving, futuristic organ don’t exactly fit together at first, making it seem stilted and badly constructed. The crescendo of this track is its saving grace.The one thing that impresses me about Arcane Roots is their ability to fit a lot of sounds into one track, and Indigo completely changes towards the end. It’s almost filmic in its composition, something out of Blade Runner, not exactly dystopian, not exactly utopian, something in between. Off The Floor allows the boys from Arcane Roots to open up their sound to incorporate a slightly funky yet also dark guitar riff. This in turn opens the final verse to be an absolute blinder, where the lyrics become overtly political, but in way that isn’t specific. ‘Sing out for change/ And feed all the news to the poor/ We fall down the same’
While the combined efforts of Groves, bassist Adam Burton, and drummer Jack Wrench, is impressive, it sometimes doesn’t hit the mark. Their steady formula of riffs, crescendos, and electronic backing can fall a little flat and unimpressive, as if they are trying to make something profound but aren’t actually incorporating the substance and weight into their music to create this poignancy. The tracks Solemn, Arp, and Fireflies are subject to this.
The latter half of the album isn’t the stronger one, which fails this theme of crescendo that Arcane Roots are trying to perfect. Although Melancholia Hymns does end on a strong note in Half The World, this lack of build-up in previous tracks makes it fall a little flat. The track itself at 7:18 is an easy-crowd pleaser, driving, punchy, emotional, and easily relatable. Arcane Roots have a knack to creating stirring music, and this is no exception. One can imagine this being a gig-ending track, it is easily anthemic enough.
The earlier work of the band was more rooted in the heavy and intricate guitar work, whereas now they have toned that aspect of themselves in favour of electronica. It mostly works on Melancholia Hymns, sometimes seeming pointless (i.e. does every song need an outro?) That being said, this is an enjoyable album, and does represent some of the best work of Arcane Roots.