Arcadea by ArcadeaRelease date: June 16, 2017
Label: Relapse Records
It’s very refreshing to know that we live in a world where the drummer of a metal band at the top of its game can take time out to record an album of synthed-up wig-out psych rock. Mastodon obviously haven’t got enough on, what with world tours and all, and so drummer Brann Dailor has formed a three piece – completed by Core Atoms (Zruda, Gaylord) and Raheem Amlani (Withered, Scarab) – to launch a spaceship out of the Milky Way, possibly with a healthy supply of mind-expanding pharmaceuticals. Because this is Mastodon on acid, with the psych setting turned up to 11. The overall impression is of a masterful (but insane) synth-rock lead out with complex, out-of-this-world drumming and spacey, synthesised and distorted vocals, leading us heaven knows where via Monty-Python-meets-Salvador-Dali landscapes and the odd electro-soundtracked 80s sci-fi movie for good measure.
Arcadea‘s self-produced, self-titled debut starts as it means to go on, with opener ‘Army of Electrons’ pushing virtuoso synth riffs to the max within 20 seconds. The striking elements of the music, besides the keyboard acrobatics, are the drumming and the vocals, both courtesy of Mr Dailor. The drums are used as a major instrument rather than just to mark time. Never overbearing, they create interest, adding texture to the music, creating patterns and filling the gaps between keyboard stunts. One track, ‘Infinite End’, actually has a mini drum solo in the middle of it, unusual outside of a live show but which fits perfectly. The vocals are spacey, highly synthesised on a lot of tracks – in a Hawkwind meets Danava vibe – but still carry Dailor’s remarkable ability with complex and unusual vocal melodies, as showcased on numerous Mastodon tracks.
The jaunty, fast-paced ‘Gas Giant’ brought to mind a high-speed night-time air car chase through a futuristic cityscape in some 80s sci-fi flick, and ‘Rings of Saturn’ continues the mood of excitement. The squelching synth riffs are many and varied, holding the interest and begging the question, just what are these guys on?
A slight change of pace with ‘Neptune Moons’ introduces a female vocal with a more wistful air. The big fuzz of ‘Infinite End’ – complete with aforementioned drum solo midway – builds and crashes into subsequent songs that continue the space party atmosphere, with the tempo varying but rarely flagging. The lyrical theme of fantastical space travel and the limitless possibilities of astrophysics is kept going throughout, too, “Deep in the heart of Andromeda … On a stellar ship they’re sailing, Through the crust of the cosmos” (from ‘The Pull of Invisible Strings’), “Through the corona of the sun, 1 trillion joules of starlight march the path to war” (‘Army of Electrons’). It’s great to have a theme, and it matches the music perfectly.
‘Through the Eye of Pisces’ has a more more contemplative feel, with the pulsing throb of the synth riff striking a sombre note and a more early 80s poppy feel. Interlude ‘Worlds Can Go On’ features ominous noises, like a Dr Who alien building up to devour its prey, before being saved by the swaggering groove of closer ‘Magnificent Facade’ (complete with synths, of course).
All in all, it hangs together fabulously well, with the vibe, theme, feel and pace continuing from beginning to end. For lovers of Mastodon it will be familiar yet very different at the same time, and Arcadea showcases the breadth of talent and virtuosity in the drumming and vocal abilities of Brann Dailor. Full speed ahead to the edge of the galaxy, Arcadea is our soundtrack!