It has been over two years since the last proper Archabald release. Relativity surfaced in early 2016, followed by a few acoustic and live sessions. For the most part, however, there has predominantly been radio silence – apart, of course, from the members’ individual projects (most notably, Lowercase Noises and Stemson).
Understandably, a lot can change in that amount of time. While the band will provide more details on the background of the EP as time goes on, suffice to say Carcosa is conceptually darker, musically heavier, and ultimately more immersive. An accompanying short story provide another lens on some of the thematic elements in place, and videos and documentary material will be released shortly.
Carcosa is a concept EP: the tagline of “There is no hope here” serves as the philosophical foundation, as the band flirts with nihilistic rhetoric across five heavy-hitting tracks. Arguably, Archabald also seems to pull from literature here as well – the EP borrows its title from a short story by Ambrose Bierce published in 1886. Carcosa was also a locale in Robert W. Chambers’ “The King in Yellow”, which just so happens to also share a namesake on this release. It’s fair to say that elements of the Carcosa mythology are present both in the musical content of the EP and the accompanying short story to varying degrees.
Undeniably, Carcosa is heavier than anything we’ve seen by Archabald to date, but fans of “Cannibal Heart” off Relativity will ease into the new songs quickly. This certainly isn’t a metal release by any measure, though there is a bit of screaming and some more aggressive instrumental segments. There’s still a fair share of what fans have come to enjoy from the group, and their commitment to hardcore is somewhat dilettante. Essentially, the notion of a heavier sound should not deter listeners. Much of the EP seems to fall within the realms of indie, post-hardcore, and hard rock, though there are some more chaotic moments thrown in for good measure. Of course, there are the staples fans have come to expect – Stefan Tomlinson’s spoken word stylings, Andy Othling’s reverb-drenched guitar prowess, Randy Bowen’s delicate croon (which surprisingly pairs well with the heavier segments for the most part), Ethan Hall’s driving bass grooves, and Jacob Fox’s mastery of the drum kit. Writing responsibilities were a bit more open this time around, with several tracks being written predominantly by different members. The album was recorded and produced by Othling, with mixing by Beau Burchell (Saosin) and mastering by Mike Kalajian. The extra care on this end truly shows, as the EP has an incredibly balanced sound.
“The Demoiselle Crane” wastes no time unleashing its fury, warranting some comparisons to New Language, Norma Jean, and He is Legend. Bass and detuned guitars serve as the backbone of the fundamental musical motif. Verses are a bit more subdued, though rhythm is truly at the heart of this track. Bowen’s vocals float lightly over the cacophony, introducing a bit more grit as the track funnels into a wall of noise. Again, fans of “Cannibal Heart” will find much to love here.
Tomlinson takes lead on “Dark Door”, one of the most surprising tracks on the EP. Gnomic spoken word overlays an ephemeral ambiance that is quickly replaced by crushing guitar chords. This too is short-lived, as Bowen’s vocals join the mix over a melodic segment. The two continue to trade vocal responsibilities for the rest of the track as the music shifts between melodic and harmonic tendencies. Bowen’s screams are an unexpected treat that help round this track out even more.
“Ichabod” is the EP’s single, and it’s certainly the most melodic of the bunch. There’s a traditional post-hardcore foundation here, but the bass mix and Othling’s diverse set of pedals give this track of distinct edge and prevent it from being simply counted as a Thrice clone.
“The King in Yellow” is a mixed bag; Tomlinson takes lead on the intro, and his staccato poetry pairs seamlessly with the track’s underlying groove. It’s incredibly satisfying and a bit akin to “Miss Leigh and Finding the Way” in this sense. There’s a theme of lament for failing love compounded by dependency, conveyed in a manner that is anything-but-cliché:
I’m afraid, that these words will sound petty at best.
I’m afraid someday my thoughts will dry up and there will be nothing left.
I’m afraid of what you’ll think of me and when you won’t remember me.
If you do remember me, please remember me kindly and if I lose myself along the way, please gently remind me of who I am.
I’m afraid someday I’ll scream these words into an empty room and the only response is reverb bouncing off the back that compounds and consumes, that excites and exhumes feelings of doubt.
Is it worth it?
Is it worth it?
Can you still feel it when the cold hits?
When the cold snap hits the back of your neck and all you feel is regret?
Unfortunately, the track dabbles with a bit of the modern hard rock sound and some cinematic chord progressions that feel somewhat out of place. It’s not long before hazy guitars seem to wash over the mix like a tidal way, ultimately receding into a quiet bed of reverb and synths. A lyrical nod to “The Glassy Sea” caps the track off. Ultimately, there’s a lot to enjoy here but there’s perhaps a bit too much going on.
Carcosa closes on “Stay On”. This song feels like a spiritual descendant of the aforementioned “The Glassy Sea” or perhaps even “Dissolution” – a majority of the track sees Tomlinson singing over minimalist instrumentation. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say it’s quite a twist. Lyrically, it seems to revolve around a failing relationship due to one partner’s personal struggles, summed up well:
You laid there balled up on the kitchen floor.
Through short breaths you got out; “What’s the point anymore?”
With all this considered, there are some overarching pain points throughout the EP. I certainly appreciate the underlying concept of Carcosa and the multi-channel execution of these themes is ambitious. However, Archabald traditionally isn’t a heavy band and even the members’ other projects lean toward the indie side. As such, some of the heavier moments are very hit-and-miss. There are sections which are a bit more generic and, while certainly not prevalent, hurt some of the songs a bit. The other main concern is connected: there’s plenty of the classic Archabald sound in place, but contrasted with some of the heavier elements, it does feel like they haven’t chosen to fully own any part of the spectrum.
Ultimately, Carcosa is very welcome return to form for Archabald and is an interesting musical and conceptual experiment that manages to tackle some difficult topics without being depressing or overly-academic. The rhythm sections truly shines here, resulting in some incredible grooves and solid song foundations. The vocal variety is enormous and enticing. The compositions are diverse and complex, ranging from radio-friendly to hazy and dissonant. The risks may not always pay off, but Archabald has boldly stepped beyond their comfort zone here, resulting in an EP that showcases musical technicality, conceptual dedication, and polished production.