Formed just a few years ago in Philadelphia, metal foursome Swarm of Arrows bring monolithic, doomy ground-pounding riffs and commanding vocals that have inspired comparisons to iconic bands like Mastodon and Kylesa, all the way down to challenging song structures, sludge/doom menace and dark mythical themes. While all those similarities are clearly there, along with a hearty dose of old-school thrash, that particular sonic niche is still open for much more exploration, and this mighty quartet has the skills to scope out their own plot of land alongside their influences.
Vocalist/guitarist Keats Rickard brings a powerful presence as frontman, with Greg Frisenda providing intense but tightly controlled lead guitar; the ultra-heavy bottom end gets its extra beefiness from bassist John Voegle and Tim Lynam at the drumkit. The thundering, monster-scale production on The Great Seekers of Lesser Life is deftly handled by William Yip, whose credits include FEARnet faves Cradle of Filth... and if I hadn't known this eleven-song opus was the band's first full-length studio release (following a self-titled EP), I would have assumed they'd been hammering away at their craft for decades. Either way, I'm glad I was introduced to this impressive debut, and I'll be tracking the band's progress closely from now on.
The album is wisely front-loaded with the crushing "Alive Like Death" (be sure to check out the equally sick video after this review), a short but sharp track that launches without fanfare into a gritty riff that rapidly slips into dissonant chords and back again; the Mastodon comparisons are inevitable as Rickard's vocals here employ the same dynamics, ranging from gravelly snarls to a smooth, clean baritone in the style of Bret Hinds, while the following cut "Chasing the Deathstar" features a chugging, epic coda reminiscent of Mastodon's “Circle of Cysquatch,” but with a sweet galloping rhythm and doomy buildup destined to get the pits swirling. "The Sky Will Save Us All" balances low, sinister talk-sung verses that give way to commanding multi-tracked vocals as the main chorus riff rushes in, building to a frantic, lightning-tempo finale. Swarm's own signature fully shines through in the shifting tonic colors of "Rustmaker,” which rumbles with the might of Voegle's bass and features the spookiest vocal harmonies, while Lynam's gunshot snares dominate the shifting time signatures of "Illuminate.”
More sinister and aggressive elements enter mid-record in "Floaters," a bubbling brew of '80s thrash riffs with old-school horror metal vocals to match, and the infernal screams and whiplash stops and starts of "Hollowcast.” A pensive riff drives "Gravel and Gold,” escalating in intensity before slicing itself up into thrashy chunks. Serious drop-tuning and exotic rhythms arrive with "Little Marching Vipers,” an example of how well this band can integrate truly terrifying elements into their sound as well as an opportunity for Rickard to expand his vocal range into more melodic dark rock; this track also proves the band can find their own way in the progressive metal field. The velocity is quickly cranked up to speed-punk level for "Damage Generator,” providing one more moment of mosh madness before making way for the slower, doomier closing cut "Breath of the Hourglass,” which sends us out in a storm of fuzzed-up dual guitar chords, a humming muted bass line and a flurry of shimmering crash cymbals.
As you've probably figured out by now, fans of the Godzilla-sized riffs and mind-blowing themes crafted by bands like Mastodon and Kylesa (I'd also include High on Fire and Clutch in that mix) will find much to love in this band's first full-length offering; sure, these tracks would weave seamlessly into a playlist with those other bands' best works, but they also maintain their own distinctive personality while kicking ass with the best. If you need proof, seek no further than their music video for opening track “Alive Like Death,” which itself is both brutally awesome and a hilarious satire of occult-themed metal visuals.
You can listen to and purchase The Great Seekers of Lesser Life at Swarm of Arrows' official BandCamp.