All right, folks, let the metal mayhem begin. I'll admit: I was dreading this day. Despite the tough battles that have preceded it so far this Arsies, I would agree with the man himself that this may be the toughest. OK, here we go!
Let's start with Allegaeon, the first of our two epic contestants. These Coloradans bring it with Elements of the Infinite, which is undoubtedly one of the finest death metal albums I've heard in quite a while. They are firmly in the "tech death" category, pulling off songs about the origins of life (The Phylogenesis Stretch), Aristotle's golden mean (1.618, undoubtedly the catchiest song ever about a ratio), and possibly a fancy vacuum cleaner (Dyson Sphere). However, while their physics heavy song topics, eight string guitars, and passion for sweep picking might not separate them from the pack, where they stand out is their really strong songwriting, which is so often lacking in this genre. I was frequently reminded of classic Schuldiner in their skill at constructing insane, yet memorable riffs and song structures. While their musicianship is nothing short of insane, they also still manage to sound like a band made up of actual humans, rather than a swarm of robots! In addition, while the Arsies are judged by the music, I do have to commend them on their totally awesome videos, which show a welcome sense of humor that is nowhere present in the music itself.
OK, now to the competition! On Guiding Lights, our other prog supergroup Skyharbor manages to integrate their many proggy influences into a whole that sounds like nothing I've ever quite heard before. Unlike Soen, who apes Tool and Opeth to a T, Skyharbor melds elements of those bands among a host of others: a little Dream Theater here, some TesseracT and Cynic there, some Eno, a little Fates and Rush into a cohesive 60+ minutes in a style that ends up all their own. And unlike TesseracT (and many other djent bands), they avoid sounding sterile; on the contrary, the production is warm and this is a totally human affair, even when they enter the realm of electronica (e.g. the end section of Halogen). The only misstep is the overtly emo vocals of Idle Minds, which nearly lost me on my first listen to the album.
A matchup like this is what makes the Arsies such a brutal affair—the albums could both in the top brackets from where I stand! But alas, two bands enter and one must leave. As much as I love the Allageaon, and I really love it, Skyharbor was not exaggerating in their chorus: "this is evolution". Allageaon perfects a style, but Skyharbor creates a new one, and for that reason they are the victors in this beautiful fight!
Tonight: Arse chimes in on Beyond Creation against Godflesh.