01. Forced to Rock
02. A March For the Sick
03. From Soulless to Shattered
04. Beyond Forlorn
05. The Ten of Swords
06. Closer to Cold
07. Sick Perfection
08. Half Past Corpse o'Clock
09. Escape Artist
10. Sable Rising
Opening out of the gate with a snarled "let's rock!" and a relentlessly catchy, pop-structured song that wouldn't sound out of place on a CHILDREN OF BODOM record, ARSIS jettison their dense technicality for shout-along choruses and airy, wide-open arrangements on "Starve For the Devil". It's a bit more... I dunno... rock and roll? A bit more thrash? A bit more accessible? All of those things, and quite a confounding first listen, certain to alienate as many old fans as it entices new recruits.
First of all, don't get the idea that James Malone has suddenly forgotten how to play guitar like a total bad-ass. Check out "Beyond Forlorn", with its swollen DRAGONFORCE power metal opening and ridiculously catchy chorus right out of the late '80s. The solo in this song is a thing of serpentine beauty, flowing and flaring with an otherworldly grace, a shred-tastic reminder that the guy can still play like a motherfucker. If anything, the simplified arrangements and more rock-and-roll attitiude only highlight Malone's solos, framing each one in a flattering — and undeniably more accessible — light.
With a title like "Starve For the Devil", and Malone very clearly growling things like "I am the prince of emaciation" during a breakdown, it's impossible to escape the backstory of Malone's struggles with anorexia. Perhaps it's supposed to give us some kind of insight into the band's change in direction, a winnowing down of the band's sound into its skeletal essentials. But that doesn't really hold up, because while the structures of the songs are indeed more straightforward, there's no end of frilly licks and lush soloing going on, to say nothing of the fairly ornate main riffs the songs are built on. Hell, maybe it just means "I'm more healthy now so it's time to rock out" — who knows?
It's not all froth and glitter. For every melody right out of Andrew Lloyd Webber snaking through songs like "Sick Perfection" and "From Soulless to Shattered", there's relatively heavy, head-down thrash like the verse of the ludicrously-titled "Half Past Corpse o'Clock" and the speedy "Sable Rising". Even here, though, the section before the solo is full of heady, soaring melodies that could send some into a diabetic coma. It actually gets a little fatiguing after a while, in the same way that too much deathly, speed-picking technicality could — a little goes a long way, and at times, it seems like there's not much substance beyond the flashy licks.
With "Starve For the Devil", ARSIS enter the same realm occupied by the likes of ARCH ENEMY and TRIVIUM — still extreme by mainstream standards, and heavier than their detractors will ever give them credit for, but leavening their death metal roots with a major dose of accessibility. Some would derisively call it entry-level DM, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It'll take some getting used to — after all, the ARSIS of 2010 scratches a totally different itch than their music once did, and fans can't be blamed for being confused. But while one lunch table full of dudes in AT THE GATES longsleeves will probably extend ARSIS a middle finger as they scamper off to THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER's chatroom, "Starve For the Devil" could one day be seen as an essential, transitional step that led to a world of melodic death metal possibilities.