Album Review: Arcane Roots – ‘Melancholia Hymns’

When a band heads into a state of reclusiveness there is the natural grow of intrigue as to what they will emerge with. Following the release of their Heaven & […]

When a band heads into a state of reclusiveness there is the natural grow of intrigue as to what they will emerge with. Following the release of their Heaven & Earth EP back in 2015, Arcane Roots seemed to have fallen off the radar. They would raise their heads now and then for the odd support slot or festival appearance but things had gone quiet for the Kingston trio.

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Hearsay abounds and the fevered anticipation almost met a crescendo when it came to the possibility of a new album. For the past 18 months the band has been locked away in the studio carefully crafting the long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s Blood & Chemistry. Fans were given a teaser of things to come with the release of two singles Curtains and Matter to signal a flavour of what was to come.

Never a band to play things safe, Arcane Roots have once again taken a bold step with Melancholia Hymns. Both singles feature on the latest full-length record and set the tone for the band’s next voyage on their eclectic career. There are notes of Sigur Ros here and a splash of contemporaries like Biffy Clyro as Arcane Roots take on the next evolution of their sound.

While Blood & Chemistry provided a crashing sound song after song, there is a measure of delicate restraint on Melancholia Hymns. The soothing synths of opener Before Me and the haunting tenderness of Andrew Groves’ voice opens listeners up to this more experimental journey we have embarked on.

Groves, Adam Burton and Jack Wrench seem determined to raise the bar as high as they possibly can with Melancholia Hymns. There is a driving desire evident throughout that this release should be ambitious as possible and push the boundaries of what people would be expecting from an Arcane Roots album.

There is a sense of daring from start to finish, challenging fans and casual listeners alike. There is an inspiration from each corner of the band’s back catalogue and that has to be admired. It is a hugely immersive experience as the ambient timbres are punctured by driving guitars and soaring melodies.

On evidence at the limited live shows, Arcane Roots had been hinting at the forthcoming switch in tone and ethos with their origins (and if you pardon the pun) rooted in post-hardcore slowly morphing into electronica. However, the band’s DNA is still coursing through the more sombre material and there is a nod to ‘conventional’ Arcane Roots track.

Off The Floor retains that blood and thunder punch that has been the cornerstone of the band’s earlier material and it sits well among this sea of drum tracks and reverb. Tracks such as Arp take another leaf out of Sigur Ros’ playbook but if you replaced the Icelanders’ passion for bowing guitars and replaced it with an elegant drum track.

Groves has a vocal tone of vulnerability that he has been able to channel through heartbreaking track Indigo and the delicate Fireflies. It is this sense of love and longing that makes Melancholia Hymns such an encapsulating and alluring album. You’re being led by the hand from a darkened abyss with only an ambient synth to guide you towards the light.

There are moments where Arcane Roots give nods to their previous sound with Everything (All At Once) providing that thrash and controlled chaos that we have become accustomed to. Therein lies the magic, Groves, Burton and Wrench want listeners to be challenged. They are looking to throw away any preconceived notions you have of this group and offer you the rebuttal.

They are not a band to play things simple or look for the easy option. Why would you want another Blood & Chemistry when there is the chance to try something completely new? There is always the risk attached that fans may look the other way but that is the beauty of taking such an ambitious step and if the sporadic shows can attest – something must be going right.

Melancholia Hymns is closed with the absolute huge Half The World. It feels like an almighty celebration of a record that has clearly been a huge labour of love for everyone involved but this soaring, almost ballad-esque, number with the haunting repeated words of “be yourself when you’re full of doubt ” marks a huge triumph.

The words are poignant and could not resonate more within this ambitious, bold and career-defining effort. Arcane Roots’ second full-length record is a marker of dogged progression, it is the sign of a band with a vision and, yes, it has certainly been worth the wait.

WORDS: TOM WALSH

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