Arcane Roots’ Blood and Chemistry is quite possibly my surprise album of the year. Whilst their debut EP Left Fire was a solid outing that was saturated with potential, I would have never for one moment expected that they would fulfill so much promise so fast. For an upcoming young band from the UK they display an unusual amount of maturity in their songwriting, but this is exercised alongside a youthful passion that gives the listener the impression that they both have absolute confidence in the power of the music they play and are having a huge amount of fun performing it. For those unacquainted, they play an upbeat version of alternative rock (think Biffy Clyro) but combine this with a strong post-hardcore influence, which displays itself through infectiously off-kilter rhythms and through scathingly heavy breakdown sections and adds a very distinctive edge to their sound. Take into account that vocalist Andrew Groves is never anything less than excellent, whether he is belting out an endearingly heartfealt chorus or screaming his lungs out, and you have a winning formula that comes across as original and very talented.
The dynamic range of the album is immediately showcased by opener Energy is Never Lost, Just Redirected, which introduces Groves’ crooning vocals over near-silence before erupting into a riff massive and murky enough to come close to being labelled simply as ‘noise’. From here, the song twists and turns through soaring choruses, violent breakdowns and determined verses and leaves the listener under no illusions of exactly how powerful this album will be. After such a striking opener, the rest of the album does not disappoint; from the mile-high chorus of Belief to the earth-shattering first section of Second Breath to the acoustic outro of Slow (a vocal tour de force if ever there was one) to the general quirkiness of Triptych (a bizarre song that includes an extended rhythmic spaz-out almost reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan), there are surprises in every song and the only moment that the quality slips slightly is in the overlong – but admittedly very nice – ballad Held Like Kites (which is one of the few chances the listener gets to catch their breath). Special mention must be given to the towering bombast of Sacred Shapes and to You Keep Me Here, which slips into the niche of ‘epic closer’ and makes it its own.
Blood and Chemistry does have its fair share of flaws, and they aren’t too hard to find; certain songs feel somewhat oversaturated with ideas. For example, the instrumental bridge at the end of Belief and the clean outro of Sacred Shapes are both good in their own right, but fail to add much to songs that are already borderline perfect and could easily have ended convincingly without their addition. I know that I praised the band for mature songwriting earlier (because, on the whole, they earned it), but there is definitely room for further refinement. However the ambition, confidence and sheer sense of scale that pervades Blood and Chemistry is almost overwhelming and makes for an album that leaves a strong mark on first listen and continues to reward. A must-have for 2013.
Highlights: Sacred Shapes, You Keep Me Here, Triptych, Belief, Energy is Never Lost, Just Redirected