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Album Reviews : Arcadia – In Ruins

By on March 21, 2014

Metalcore isn’t what you’d call fickle. And I’ll tell you why. Here’s a question for you: which metalcore bands immediately come to mind when you think of the subgenre? I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you listed bands like As I Lay Dying, I Killed the Prom Queen or Parkway Drive. Now, while I do enjoy listening to those particular bands, there’s one thing about metalcore that continually seems to let itself down in the metal world and that is innovation. While these bands have released some good, notable tracks, very few of them can honestly claim to stand out from the rest of the pack when it comes to differentiating each from the rest purely in terms of the music and vocalisation used. And it’s this problem that seems to present itself all throughout the subgenre. Like other similar styles such as ‘djent’ (though I can’t claim to be as well-versed in this style), very few bands who play this particular style of music sound separate from one another. In fact, for the most part, they sound nigh identical. While music is a preference (and that’s any form of music, mind you; whether metal or otherwise), I don’t think preference should ever succeed over innovation and purely sticking to what seems ‘safe’. And that indeed is the other side of the coin here when concerning Arcadia’s debut full-length album In Ruins; which has since been labelled as both metalcore and hardcore, though if there’s any real difference between these classifications it’s at best subtle.

The reason I’m saying all this is because while listening through this album, I felt there was real potential for it to be awesome – great even – but it fell flat in my mind by repeating what countless other bands have done before it: a constant transition between clean and harsh vocals, interspersed with breakdowns and similar drum patterns. Stuff we’ve all seen and heard before. Pretty much every time signature you’ve heard in standard metalcore songs can be gleaned at one stage or another on this album. At times fantastic, at others it also feels tired. Like thrash metal, it’s a double-edged sword where innovation seems to become a problem when trailing behind what’s essentially become the standardised, ‘proper’ way to do things.

How do you innovate when all the signs tell you there’s only one way to do things?

One potential answer to this question is the vocals heard here on In Ruins. With what seems unusual in metalcore, the guttural growls heard on this album are actually far stronger and more pleasant to listen to than the clean segments. This is something I found intriguing and unusual from the perspective that it’s often seen the other way round. A vocalist may be highly talented in ‘clean’ singing, whereas by comparison their guttural growls can on occasion be cringe-worthy. And to be honest, it feels as if the clean vocals were unnecessarily forced in later on in the process, merely in an effort to correspond to the common tropes that segue themselves into metalcore, and done so to help justify the album’s presence in the metal world. Listening through In Ruins, the clean vocals used felt out of place with the lyricism and musical direction the band have taken here (which for the most part is an analysis of the meaning behind their own band name, such as how can a utopian world exist when humanity is so consumed by such things as war, substance abuse, physical and psychological distress, etc.). In Ruins would benefit, I think, from either removing this aspect from the album entirely or for Arcadia to simply work on improving the clean part of their music. I found myself thoroughly enjoying much of this album, with the killer riffs and growls stand outs in my mind. The other side of the coin, however, being the clean vocals, wasn’t as ‘aurally pleasing’ you could say.

To avoid some potential confusion too, I’d like to point out that I’m not trying to lean towards one or the other in terms of vocals. I actually quite enjoy clean vocals in metalcore/melodic metal bands. Feed Her to the Sharks, for example, use this part of their music to great effect and in their case it only seems to further heighten the power of their music.

While you may think it sounds paradoxical to note that they should just ‘work on improving the clean part of their music’, I can assure you I wasn’t trying to contradict myself. What I mean by that is that if Arcadia can find a way to effectively integrate this style of vocal practice without coming across as a ‘seen it all before’ type deal, then I welcome the change. As it stands now, it feels rather like cream unnecessarily shoved into what was otherwise a neat slice of cake.

While it mightn’t seem it, I’m actually on Arcadia’s side here. I want them to succeed. I like the direction they’re going but try as I may I’m struggling to find anything really unique about them. Unfortunately they feel like one of only many at the moment, though granted more melodically inclined than most. There’s great promise behind this band (for example, the opening of the title track, “In Ruins” alongside the mid-section of “Anchored”, immediately had me smiling and saying to myself ‘this sounds really cool’) but that alone I don’t think is enough to cut it. I feel Arcadia need to change quite a few things about their sound if they ever hope to rise above the dismal heights of ‘just another metalcore band’. What these changes may be is up to them, but it’s a step that I feel needs to be taken and one I think they should explore.

Band: Arcadia
Album: In Ruins
Year: 2013
Genre: Metalcore / Hardcore
Label: Independent
Origin: Adelaide, South Australia

www.facebook.com/ArcadiaMetal

www.reverbnation.com/arcadiametal

Track listing:
1. Begin
2. In Ruins
3. Fragile
4. Torn In Two
5. Anchored
6. 100 Days
7. Wake Up
8. Threads Of Life
9. The Blindness Of Privilege
10. All About The Benjamins
11. Interlude Pt. II
12. Skylines And Graveyards

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.