Sunday, November 6, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Arctic Death - Arctic Death

In February of this year I saw Tokyo Police Club at Soundlab, a local venue in Downtown Buffalo. A few days prior to the show it was announced that the opener was a band called Arctic Death, and I made fun of their name something fierce. I assumed naturally that with "Death" in their name that it was some kind of testosterone-filled neanderthal music that couldn't possibly have any substance. I told myself: "I might as well not even go early, I'm sure they're going to suck".  I asked my sister if she was going to go early, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! YOU'RE GOING TO MISS ARCTIC DEATH!". The result of that night? I'm NEVER going to judge a band by their name ever again, it's simply not fair.

I didn't even intend on doing it but I still caught that opening act, and a funny thing happened: I loved them. John Crook's overpowering vocals just amazed me, this couldn't be some local band. They owned the stage and quickly won the crowd over in a way I've yet to see duplicated, every song ended in raucous applause.  On the heels of that show I naturally downloaded the Arctic Death EP, which I recommend highly. It's an easy 12 minute listen and all of the songs are abrupt bursts of catchy garage rock, it's even a better introduction to the band than the album I'm reviewing. It's such an energetic and powerful little EP, it's really a lot of fun. 

Side Note: After seeing this show I naturally googled the band, and stumbled on a website called Buffablog, who I now write for. 

Arctic Death's debut full length is also self-titled, but it's quite different: Where the EP feels incomplete and raw, the LP feels fleshed out and produced. At first this was disappointing as I wanted it to be light, fun, and relentlessly catchy. I didn't understand why the band I loved at that club date was intellectualizing their music. I didn't want Bossanova, I wanted Come On Pilgrim. Eventually that disconnect turned into complete and total awe. I understood what they were doing now: they were using their greatest asset to their advantage. It's a record that sounds like they were sitting around and saying "Hey guys, what do we have that other bands don't have?".

Oh, I'll tell you what they have that other bands don't: They've got a lead vocalist that can break your heart without breaking a sweat. So here's what Arctic Death did: they added some mellowness and they added some cheese. What's more powerful than a mellow break followed by an intense moment of catharsis? They're a band that is constantly playing with dynamics on their debut release, it sounds urgent: It sounds like an aging band trying to recapture their earlier greatness. Nothing about it screams: THIS IS A DEBUT ALBUM FROM AN UNSIGNED BAND.

April, the 2nd track here is a great example of how they play with dynamics. The song opens with a simple groove and John Crook singing quietly. 25 seconds in the song explodes with with loud chords and cymbal rides and John just explodes with powerful vocals. He screams "DON'T LAY YOUR JUDGEMENT ON ME, I HEAR YOU PRAYIN' FOR INDECENCY". Mere seconds later the song settles back into it's groove, ready to pounce on you again. This is a trick that's repeated many times on this release, but it doesn't make it any less effective. I don't want to bore you with more occurrences of Arctic Death playing with dynamics, because it happens on virtually every track here. I hate to keep bringing up the Pixies, but the Loud/Quiet/Loud structure here simply can't be ignored.

It's not often that an album cover can tell you everything you need to know about an album, but in this case it can. The music sounds like a brave leap of faith. From the intense chorus on The Morning to John Crook screaming "DEAD!" like he's fronting a screamo band in the middle of a sweet melody on Trivial Honesty, Nothing on this release feels safe.

Do yourself a favor and don't miss opening acts, you might just get lucky. Take a leap of faith.


You can stream Arctic Death's debut album below, please consider purchasing it for $5 from bandcamp if you enjoy it. 


  1. holy cow, you did an album review!

  2. I don't like reviewing things, so consider this a rare occurrence.