ARSIS, Leper’s Caress (2012, Scion Audio Visual)
The Leper must have caressed too hard – all the skin came off. It’s cool that this skull opened himself up to the affections of the afflicted, but I guess what we have here is a case of “no good deed goes unpunished.” But, for a rubbed-raw skull, this sketchy guy is looking pretty good, classy even, on his faux-paper background. The giant car company logo probably stings a bit, but I imagine he’ll get over it eventually, especially if he gets a free, boxy, orange car out of the deal.
Of all the bands to spring up from the initial boom of melodic death metal, Arsis are easily the best remaining, and maybe the best ever, and they accomplished this despite arriving on the scene fairly late. Sure, there are a few albums in the genre I prefer to any random Arsis disc, but these are the stone classics, like Slaughter of the Soul, Chainheart Machine, and The Mind’s I, and while while Dark Tranquillity has mostly made a career out of “good enough” and Soilwork has spent most of their time being downright shitty, Arsis have never released a bad album. Some are better than others, but they’re all pretty great, and the best of them are absolute masterpieces. My least favorite of their albums is probably the full length that immediately preceded this EP. Starve for the Devil somehow came off as too cheeky, even for a band who never took themselves too seriously, and so I had begun to wonder if the end had begun for Arsis, but Leper’s Caress turned out to be my favorite of their releases since their classic debut. James Malone, the guitarist/vocalist mastermind of the band, is an astounding player who shits out great riffs at such a prodigious rate that one suspects sorcery or other supernatural aid. This EP seems to have been written and recorded at the same time as the full-length that followed (and in fact all of the tracks from the EP, which was itself a freebie item from the weird Scion A/V promotional juggernaut, were tacked onto that album as bonus material) and you’d be hard pressed to draw a line between the killer and the filler across the sum of 16 tracks (6 of which appear here), but if I had to pick just one, I’d take the EP over the album. It’s fun while not being unserious, the songs are superbly crafted, and the guitarwork is brilliant. Like all Arsis releases, the weak link is the drumming – Malone seems to have a hard time holding onto drummers, and the ones he ropes into recording all appear to have tenuous relationships with tempo and naturalistic tones. The kit on Leper’s Caress, as on basically every Arsis release, are quantized and triggered to all hell, sounding downright fake in places, but these are not the worst-sounding drums in the Arsis discography (those would be the outlandish three-snare kit played by Darren Cesca on We Are the Nightmare), and really, aside from the clicky kick, these almost approach natural-sounding, at least by Arsis standards. I can live with them, that’s for sure, because the music is so great that even a drum machine couldn’t ruin it. If you want a physical copy of this disc, you’ll have to see Arsis live and buy a shirt or something – they’ll give you the EP for free. It’s totally worth doing, even if you already have the tracks on Unwelcome because Arsis are one of the only death metal bands who are as fun on stage as on disc. Top to bottom, Arsis rules, and you need to be listening to them.
— Friar Johnsen