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Arms - Blackout album art


30th January 2016 – Self-released


01. Wolfspit
02. Ceremonial Monster
04. Loner Wolf
05. Triune Brain
06. Deer Slayer
07. Ill
08. Covert Messiah
09. Psalms Muted
10. Charlatan
11. Mountebank
12. Pardon Our Dust

In a genre as niche as mathcore, likening newer artists to the bands that have broken through to more mainstream recognition is usually both lazy and completely fucking incorrect. A lot of people have heard of current genre big daddies The Dillinger Escape Plan. More than a few will have a passing familiarity with Botch. Dig deep and you might gets some faint glimmers of recognition at Coalesce or The End, but your options for comparison are normally broad strokes at best; inaccurate and lacking nuance.

Paul Hundeby, guitarist and vocalist from Orlando experimental duo City Of Ifa, is the brains behind Arms, for whom these sonic touchstones are actually pretty accurate – but with caveats. There are sections that pay tantalising and immediately recognisable homage to the greats – “Deer Slayer“‘s stabbing Escape Plan of an opening gambit; the Botchy “Framce” quality of “Loner Wolf“; the strident Cave In-esque tone of “YOTFM” – but they aren’t direct lifts. Instead, they provide the brain with a spark of recognition to elicit a positive response, before spinning off in a direction of its own, either springing from the same starting point, or indeed arriving at a similar junction, before yanking the steering wheel sharply, stamping on the clutch and drifting round the corner into whatever’s waiting: oncoming traffic would be appropriate to the metaphor, but anything from a lamppost to an unlucky flock of pigeons would be admissible.

As much as wonky time signatures, Blackout‘s M.O. is wrapped tightly in dissonance. From the howling, bendy main leads of “Ceremonial Monster” and “Loner Wolf“, flailing over a chasm of bludgeoning riffs, to the squeals of feedback in “Ill“, it’s never a comfortable ride – but Blackout is not just a disharmonious record; it’s also fucking aggressive. Pace aside – and the thirteen tracks whip by at a brisk twenty-nine minutes or so - Hundeby’s vocals are belligerent to the point that you can almost see the smoke from the album’s figurative nostrils: the terrifying titular refrain of “Blackout” is absolutely bellowed – a kind of demonic, stomach-clenching cacophony – while in “Loner Wolf” he recalls Jacob Bannon at his most throat-shreddingly impunitive.

Speaking of Converge, there are some familiar touches in mid-album pairing “Covert Messiah” and “Psalms Muted” too: the former is a pounding, abrasive track with occasional trademark Kurt Ballou guitar squeals, slowing its pace every few bars until its heaviness is almost crawling; the latter descends into an insistent, dischordant riff half-way through, with a menacing twang reminiscent of Axe To Fall‘s “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast“. The aggression is offset by small, shimmering moments however: the dichotomous opening passage of “Wolfspit“ and the outro of “Ceremonial Monster” stand out, offering small hope like faint rays of light shimmering down from the distant water’s surface above a drowning man.

For small one-man projects, it’s never the worst idea to take heed from more recognisable names, but Arms have done so in such a way that fills your head with nostalgia and familiarity, all the while berating you almost ceaselessly with its own brand of relentless hostility. Blackout strikes a potent balance between paying reverence and carving its identity, flinging a psychotic, granite-hard ill will against a wall covered with complicated long division sums, and coming up with all the answers – even if you can’t quite figure out how it did it.