On December 2 of 2016, Arriver mysteriously dropped a surprise bomb on me with their album Emeritus. I had never heard of the band and upon listening to the first song for the first time, I wasn’t exactly hooked. But over a brief amount of time that lack of interest transformed into true admiration. So I’m going to share that story with you and then give it a high score.
Chicago’s Arriver include the following tags on their Bandcamp page: metal chicago heavy metal post metal post-deathcore prog metal Chicago (they sound proud of their city, and rightfully so). My description would be “progressive, grungy post-rock with some black metal vocals”, often exhibiting the inertia of high-energy rockers Lazer/Wulf! The reason that “Liquidators”, the first song on Emeritus, turned me off is integral to discussing the album’s strengths, and one of its main strengths is the variety of styles of music contained within this five-track journey. While I wasn’t initially turned on to their style of music, track number two caused me to do a complete 180 and fall in love. (Upon further listens I grew to appreciate “Liquidators” much more, considering its context within the rest of the album.) Because the record contains only five songs, I’m going to give it the ole’ track-by-track review in efforts of convincing you that “it is a good”.
“Liquidators” – What a unique sound and highly reminiscent of classic progressive rock Red by King Crimson! Seriously. They share a similar pace, they share a similar sense of quirkiness, they share a certain sparsity in their instrumentation. Fans of Red, I urge you to hop on over to their Bandcamp page and give that track a listen. Come back and tell me what you think. No I’m just kidding, here’s the embed:
“The Demon Core” – HOLY FUCK, THIS SONG. I can safely say that this song retro-actively replaces [whatever song was my Top Song of 2016], that’s how great it is. Starts off with a confident, raspy black metal shriek of “THE DEMON CORE…SILENTLY AWAITS ITS PREY!*” and then the riff kicks in. The riff. This catchy beast of an almost hard rock riff will lodge itself into your brain immediately, and the band uses it continually, twisting and contorting it in different ways throughout the eight-minute runtime; whilst played alongside a rolicking, thrash-like drum beat that is so consistent and precise throughout, you’re going to be curious how high drummer Joe Kaplan’s dexterity level is. Listen to “The Demon Core” if you want to be immediately wowed… or save it as a terrific surprise and reach it naturally after “Liquidators”, as I did.
“True Bypass” – Another complete chance of pace is found here, and that’s helps what make Emeritus so interesting! Track #3 is a complete post-rock throwback to bands like ISIS at their heaviest. The song progresses through different movements, at one point slowing down to a punishing tempo one would definitely associate with the doom genre. It includes a rather beautiful guitar solo, which is played during a long break of instrumentation: the folks in Arriver are jamming, man, and I love it.
“URSa” – It should be no surprise by now that song sounds nothing like the previous three. “URSa” comes in the form of a punky, new wave-y, rock song that I say contains equal parts Local H and Talking Heads. The vocals are used rather sparsely, metered out in a narrative fashion like that of Soul Coughing frontman M. Doughty. (If it sounds like I’m referencing a lot of 90’s bands in this review, your ears do not deceive you.) One way this song is similar to “The Demon Core” is in structure: they both pitch you a catchy riff immediately and stick with it throughout the song, guitarists Dan and Dan tweaking it ever so slightly as they progress along a carefully pre-determined path, sometimes returning to the exact point at which they began, but not necessarily. Here’s another one to listen sample, for those eager to listen to something fresh in the heavy metal universe:
“Emeritus” – Of course they decide to end the album with an epic, almost 14-minute, progressive rock behemoth of a song. The introductory minute and a half showcase Joe’s incredibly deft and precise footwork, before gently beginning this journey which takes us along a path of varying sub-genres of music including post-metal, doom, 90’s grunge, and jam metal (if that’s a thing… which it is now… natch). Guitar solos — nay, jam sessions — are traded back and forth to tell their own narrative in the middle couple of minutes. You’ll find some clean vocals (a first time on the record) about eight minutes into it, then on the final stretch it slows down to something that would sound perfectly at home to close out a live set, should they chose to end with this song. And strangely enough, it ends optimistically: the final two minutes sound… happy!
Emeritus is an oddball, but it’s an utterly fantastic one. No two songs may sound alike in structure or pace; but they do in tone and in mission, which is to say they were seemingly arranged with purpose. The shifts in direction are presented intentionally, carefully. In each and every track, the members of Arriver set out with a particular goal in mind and accomplish it. That’s how effective each piece of the puzzle is at being a separate entity from the others, making this album a perfect example of being greater than the sum of its parts. The whole package contains a few tracks that are spectacular and the rest are great; but they’re all performed with a passion and a mission that shine through at every moment. Emeritus receives
*At least I think that’s what I’m hearing.