I don't know what it is about extreme metal bands that start to become popular. Something seems to motivate them to take themselves less seriously and become more accessible, in what I assume is a misguided attempt to sell more records, etc. After I saw the somewhat juvenile title of Arsis' latest release, Starve for the Devil, and one of its songs, "Half-Past Corpse O'Clock," I was instantly reminded of tongue-in-cheek song names like "Bodom Beach Terror" (Children of Bodom) and "Keep On Rotting in the Free World" (Carcass) and the associated mediocrity of the albums they belonged to. The thought of a band that catered to such a dedicated niche with their extreme technicality selling out seemed extremely uncharacteristic to me. Needless to say, I approached Arsis' latest hesitantly, expecting to be disappointed.
I was introduced to Arsis by way of We Are the Nightmare, a record that, while sometimes sacrificing catchiness on the whole for indulgent technicality, contained some of the best songs I've heard from a melodic death metal outfit ever. Despite my initial tentativeness toward the record, Starve for the Devil mostly follows the archetype of its predecessor. The technicality is all their on every front - from drums to riffs, and the signature, masterfully woven melodic leads and solos are just as quality and omnipresent as ever. All of this is kept together by the articulate and clean production of Zeuss, of Shadows Fall fame.
However, the band has noticeably made a point to bring up the level of songwriting across the board. While previous releases might have brief bursts of something really catchy, they were typically short-lived, only to be followed up some frantic, oddly-timed interplay between the drums and rhythm guitar, never to be heard again. Starve for the Devil tempers that technicality in a way that makes sense within the structure of a song, providing a far catchier, coherent experience.
While this is mostly a good thing, the album being more consistent from song-to-song than those that came before it, it ultimately fails to be as dynamic as those same albums' peak moments, as well. There are no stand-out tracks contained here, but there really aren't any duds either.
Overall, Arsis' latest is a solid, more accessible offering in the realm of technical extreme metal. I wonder, though, what direction the band will take next. Their use of campy and less-sophisticated song titles worries me, as how a band decides to name their works can often be indicative of their creative mindset. (Don't believe me? Look at some of the albums where you favorite bands began to "sell out" in your eyes.) However, if you were turned off to Arsis in the past for the over-abundance of technicality, I'd recommend giving them another chance and give Starve for the Devil a spin.