It’s a fine balancing act, not letting precision lean too far into clinical. There’s a difference in temperature, between the ability to feel the intent behind the cascade of notes and surrendering to the dull numbness of the cascade washing over you with barely an imprint made. Chicago’s Arriver seem to be well aware of the tightrope act needed to pull off the precision required to tackle the angular, progressive and yes, precise metal that inhabits new album Emeritus and fortunately for us they pull it off with a confidence that belies the depths waiting inside.
Taking a trip through the band’s history it may not be immediately apparent how these guys could come together to create the tones and aggression Arriver bring to bear, but it’s there if you listen. Drummer Joe Kaplan and guitar/vocalist Dan McAdam were in Viza-Noir back in the day, a spazzy math rock outfit taking inspiration from seminal post-punk acts like Wire and Mission Of Burma. Rob and Dan Sullivan on bass and guitar/vocals paid their dues in the late Jason Molina’s indie/alt. country outfit Songs: Ohia, even playing on the now-classic Magnolia Electric Co., which also featured McAdam. Combining that angular aggression with a conceptual storytelling component seemed like a natural fit, and while debut album Vanlandingham and Zone still leans heavily on the more punk/hardcore sounds from Viza Noir you can hear the beginnings of what would morph into the heavier mix of doom, death and Voivod dissonance on 2012’s Tsushima and now Emeritus.
Using the disaster of Chernobyl filtered through a lens of magical realism, Emeritus kicks off with “Liquidators,” its atonal riff modulating back and forth over a rolling drum track that shifts in and out of time. “The Demon Core” rips directly into blistering thrash territory, featuring some great death vocals from Rob Sullivan, everything moving at a frantic pace, riffs piling on top of one another until about 2:45 when they lock into a groove and just let it loop, inviting subtle permutations until it becomes hypnotic. “True Bypass” ladles on the doom while “URSa” stands out as a major highlight, feeding directly from the vein of progressive classics like Voivod’s Nothingface and D.B.C.’s Universe: there’s a similarity in tone and syncopation to that album’s “Genesis Explosion” that immediately hooks you into the riff and doesn’t let go.
Closing out the album is the epic 14 minute title track, which summarizes everything that came before it and really emphasizes the spaciousness in the production. In other words, you’re going to want a good pair of headphones on for this one. More than any of the other songs, the title track understands the value of dynamics in songwriting, and the segues between song ideas show a strength and confidence in the meeting between structure and improvisation that makes for a thrilling ride.
Even a casual listen through Arriver’s discography shows a sense of growth and adventure that’s needed, now more than ever, in the metal community. Emeritus is never content to rest with a given set of rules, and the mix of musical backgrounds come to the front here to craft a powerful statement declaring that sticking to a blueprint might get the house built, but it’s the beauty in the odd angle that will set it apart. Let this one wash over you, folks…it’ll leave you far from numb.