In a musical world devastated by blatant knockoffs and recycled riffs, it’s always a relief when a band puts out an effort that is essentially a breath of fresh air. The newest effort by Oregon-based outfit ARKHUM, entitled Anno Universum, is exactly that. While not necessarily groundbreaking, it certainly strives to lift the jaded veil that has begun to plague the world of metal.
Released in August 2010 (yes, I’m a tad bit late writing this review!), Anno Universum features eight tracks. The great thing about this album is its ability to reach into different sub-genres of metal. It is sure to attract grindcore and black metal fans alike, and the band’s technicality offer the more experimental listeners a definite treat. It contains the occasional burst of harmonic metal, but it’s not overdone, and fits the album appropriately.
The first track, “Appellation,” starts off with something that sounds like it came out of a video game; you know, the one where you’re trapped in some desolate spaceship and there are aliens lurking around every corner, just begging to drain your life’s fluids from you. Yah, kind of like that. Downright creepy, but it goes well with the track, which suddenly bursts into a harmonic riff accompanied by some intense death metal/black metal vocals. It’s a good album opener.
“Grief Urchin” is next, and the band proceeds to immediately show off their skills. It’s a thrashy death metal song, which randomly goes into a Spanish jingle that sounds almost acoustic. The rest of the song goes on as normal, with some super-speed picking that will get anyone’s head swaying.
“Obviated Geocentrism” is a song that truly shows their musical prowess. While the previous song was good, it wasn’t particularly special. This track is more of a definition of ARKHUM’s sound; exactly two minutes into the song is a rip-roaring guitar solo that screams in your face with the force of a banshee. This is followed by a heavy riff that easily cements their place within death metal. Though they are difficult to hear, the drums on this track are quite fantastic. Definitely a song built for pits.
The next song, “Obsolescent Husk,” features some killer blast beats reminiscent of grindcore bands, while guitarist Stephen Parker shows off some furious fretwork. Oddly enough, this is the first song that you can actually hear the bass in, but its great that one can. Truthfully, bassist Matt Edwards is a rare illumination of what bass could be in the metal genre, instead of just background baritone. It’s not hard to guess his influences being the likes of Primus and Necrophagist.
“Bloodgutter Encircling” is a great example of the vocal range of the group. Though three people in the band do vocal work, it’s nice to hear such a blend of different styles. They belt out low grindcore growls, high-pitched death metal, and even some black metal screams. The guitar in this song is excellent as well, demonstrating that they can do more than just play fast and heavy; the melodic part of the song is still just as good as their more brutal stuff. It ends with a few piano notes, which go perfectly with the overall sadness of the song.
“Officious Hoverer at L-Point 2” is an instrumental track. Barely over a minute in length, it’s comprised of weird noises and other sampling efforts. While sounding odd, it’s not exactly interesting.
“Nilpulse” is arguably the album’s best song. It shows off everything that the band can do all at once. It has great guitar work, amazing bass (more Necrophagist status), the drums are fast and technical, and the vocal range is unbelievable. Every now and then, one of them sounds suspiciously like Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir, while other times there are some Cannibal Corpse-like growls that shake the foundations of the track itself. Easily the standout track of the album.
The last track is entitled “Expendable Biomass.” More black metal vocals feature on this song, but not without the accompanying grind vocals. Another meanass solo blankets this song: listen for the past plucking. This song more than the others sounds slightly deathcore, not unlike something one would hear from The Black Dahlia Murder. The tempo of the song is slowed around 3:30 for a melodic solo which, trancelike, trips you into the sudden jarring music, complete with another complicated speedy solo.
As was said in the beginning, it’s always nice to find a band that has the technicality to write their own music, as opposed to ripping off everything from their contemporaries. Depending on how they perform their next album (rumored to be in the works as this is being written), the band could easily become quite popular in metal circles. Once again, this is due to their ability to mix several metal genres into one cohesive sound. The way they mix the different vocals is particularly effective, and their allowance of the bassist to be heard is a definite plus to their musicianship. Seriously, this is one bassist I want to hear.
Still, it’s not entirely original; while it’s a blend of different metal genres, that’s exactly all it is. The music, while technical, is not experimental. The recording quality isn’t the greatest either (but this is to be expected from a band just starting out). This is especially true for the double bass pedals; they are so difficult to hear, so overshadowed by the rest of the instruments, that they are almost non-existent on the album. Another problem is the instrumental track; the one part of the album that I feel is completely unnecessary except to affect the mood and pacing of the effort as a whole.
Anno Universum is quite an album for a band’s first effort, and it’ll definitely be interesting to see what they do next. Hopefully they remain on the current path they’re treading and refuse to stray. If they do this, they’ll be on their way to becoming more known.
If you’re into death metal and grindcore and enjoy a bit of black metal thrown in, this is definitely an album to buy. Musicians will appreciate this too, particularly for the range of metal they cover. Not an album to pass by, rest assured!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Pros: Great vocal range, great bassist, good technical prowess.
Cons: Album is too short, unfortunate recording quality, boring instrumental track.
Words: Jeremy Bigelow