Arbiter – Ironclad/Machinations (2013)


Cold, salty spray splashes against your face. The bitter, chilling wind pierces your armor and penetrates your bones. The only thing keeping you warm is a fierce, burning passion–a scalding manifest of loathing for your enemy and pride for your race. Hateful words at the tip of your tongue, ready to burst through pursed lips. Shard rifles or polearms pressed tightly to your palms, you ache for battle and yearn for war. Whether you find yourself an Extropian soldier, poised to complete your dominion over Humanity’s dwindling kind, or an Ironclad warrior–the last line of defense between your family and an Extropian onslaught, you are in the midst of progressive deathcore act Arbiter’s newest set of EPs, Ironclad/Machinations. Ironclad tells the story of humanity’s last stand, defending not just Eos Lux or the Azuren Shores, but their way of life. Meanwhile, Machinations illustrates the efforts of the Extropians, a race who, under the will of a divinely inspired machine, MechaGod, have imposed a mass extinction effort over dwindling Human forces. While the degree of sheer creative fortitude and attention to detail Arbiter poured into the set of EPs is hard to comprehend on it’s own, it is dwarfed by the unimaginably fluidity by which the band’s passion for incredible storytelling, crushing heaviness, stunning dynamism and brilliant songwriting combine into a set of perfectly superimposed releases.

You are a dreadnaut–a fierce, visceral fighting machine in the ranks of the Ironclad Army’s Dreadnaut division. With no regard for your enemy’s feelings, friends or families, you exist for one purpose: defend humanity’s honor. Your enemy knows no kindness, it knows no love, it is nothing but an unyielding combine of oppression and hatred. To this, your heart must stay as stone. The Ironclad Army on the shores below struggle, motionless in a battle which they have neither the resources nor the willpower to win on their own. With a fierce, sweeping motion, your division strikes: inspired by the words of your leaders and driven by the need to endure above all else, you attack. Nails ripping into flesh, hot blood steaming and coating your armor. You refuse to lose. You cannot fail. You will turn the tide. You can do no wrong.

Arbiter’s Ironclad story begins with the influx of the Dreadnaut division onto the battlefield to aid the lion-hearted but stagnant Ironclad Army. Like the Ironclad Army, the Ironclad half of the dual release seems–almost intentionally–to begin with it’s worst foot forward. Fresh off of the heels of the Machinations half, it is as if the instrumentals are slightly sluggish, and, at first, the vocals are whimsical and fleeting. However, halfway through “Dreadnauts,” the tide begins to shift. The listener grows accustomed to the different ambience, as Arbiter step their game up to meet the listener’s ears. Stunningly heavy guitars and pulverizing, quick drumming find their niche alongside heart-felt, fierce vocals to spark energy and potency into the EP. Exponentially, the energy skyrockets, and throughout the remainder of Ironclad, every syllable is dripping with near-tangible emotion and feeling, as if the listener is alongside the ranks of soldiers fighting on Eos Lux’s coastline. The screams range from shrill highs to grinding, guttural lows and hit almost every tone in-between. Meanwhile, the instrumentation reaches from the unfathomably heavy–akin to breakdowns in “We Will Speak” and “The Divide”–to moments of subtle, ethereal beauty, like those found the first half of “Ironclad” and the introductory sequence to “Triumph Over You.” Indeed, where many other artists are stagnant in content, feeling, or raw instrumental prowess, Arbiter find themselves triumphant over many of them.

You are a machination. An Extropian warrior, hellbent on the possession of Eos Lux. Determined to dominate over the likes of Humanity. With ideals instilled by the MechaGod, weaponry crafted by your kind, and skills honed throughout an entire lifetime spent exterminating human kind, you will not fail now. Humanity’s pithy attempts at self-defense and survival, to you, are little more than a fascinating means to an otherwise dull and uneventful end. No human can obstruct your divinely inspired onslaught. No dreadnaut can turn the tide on your rampage. Your enemy does not have the spine it takes to stand tall. Your enemy doesn’t have the courage to do what is needed to win. Your enemy is weak. Your enemy is pathetic. Your enemy is Human. You can do no wrong. 

Machinations starts off strong and stays that way throughout it’s entire duration. Where humanity needed a wind-up–a figurative kickstart–the Extropians need no such thing. Grinding, groovy guitars with punctual, fill-laden drumming kick off this half of the storyline, with vocals and grooves that are bound to get stuck in the listener’s head. The bass guitar pops and snaps alongside the booming, dark and heavy drums, providing an exceptional foundation for bouncy, shredding guitars and the very same visceral, skin-rending, flesh-peeling vocals found on Ironclad. Perhaps slightly less bound to the true Ironclad/Machinations story-line, in parts, many aspects of the lyricism found in this half of the album could be just as easily applied to the world around the listener–a sort of social commentary. Where Ironclad is filled with heart and passion, the cold, shrill reality of Machinations is the EP’s real strong suit. While it has the same, driving storyline, the breakdowns and instrumentation just simply seems to hit a little harder, and need less vocal accompaniment to “hit home.” Perhaps key in this is the opening breakdown to “Colossus,” which is sediment-shaking, violent and exuberant even before the vocals kick the brutality into overdrive. This half of the release is much more rooted in the “extreme,” and prove that Arbiter are not a band who are content with being proficient at just one style of deathcore, but rather have an expansive mastery of all that the genre has to offer.

The two forces clash, and are, for a moment, one entity. Where one’s blood begins and where the others ends is unclear. The lines are blurry and the fusion between the two forces seems as if it is nearly complete–until they diverge asymptotically, flying parallel but opposite paths to their fates. The story of Ironclad/Machinations is mirrored in how the two EPs truly fuze to become a product greater than the sums of their already perfect parts. Whether it’s how the two main themes fit together as a whole which draws the listener’s attention and adoration, or the smaller details (like each sides repetition of similar lyrical themes and “We are all the Arbiter”) which win the listener over, Machinations and Ironclad complement each other where one might have otherwise failed. Ironclad brings feeling and passion when Machinations is cold and calculated. Simply put, Machinations is the systole to Ironclad’s diastole. So if you’re of the opinion that deathcore needs a stronger heartbeat, or a defibrillator to restart it’s heart, give Arbiter’s two new EPs, Ironclad/Machinations a listen and allow yourself to get lost in the band’s prolific mastery and the storyline within: I honestly cannot imagine how you couldn’t.


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By Connor Welsh ~ Me Gusta Reviews