Welcoming "Unwelcome" - An Interview With Arsis

Following years of tumult and unrest, with multiple rotating cast members, Arsis has settled into a groove for the release of the upcoming record "Unwelcome." For the first time, band leader James Malone feels like he has a lineup he can count on and an album that he can really use to launch the band into the fray. We sat down with James to talk about his band, his music, and the conventions of genre labels.
M.DREW: Describe “Unwelcome” to the folks at home. What’s new on this record, what makes it different than previous efforts?
JAMES MALONE: Unwelcome is without a doubt the most irresponsibly brutal album we have even recorded. The riffs are there, the tempos are quick, but there is a huge difference in the crushing production and in the drumming. With Shawn, this is the first time there is just straight up unrelenting death metal annihilation in the drum department. Mike Van Dyne had a very thrashy or hardcore style, Darren play weird shit, but this new album definitely has the most relentless death metaled-out drumming of any other Arsis record.
M.D: What’s the central theme of this record? What do you want listeners to take away?
JM: I guess there is a central theme, but it’s probably not THAT different from other Arsis albums. We wrote this album is a very short amount of time, the songs really just flowed out. As result, I really feel this is an album that the listener can listen to from start to finish and appreciate as a whole. To me, it feels like one continuous piece of music and not individual songs. I hope others feel the same.
M.D: What inspires your songwriting on the whole? Corollary to that, “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” is about the movie “Beetlejuice” right?
JM: Personal experience is the main muse usually, and yes that is a “Beetlejuice” allusion. The song has absolutely nothing to do with movie, but the words ‘recently deceased’ are in the lyrics. I thought it would be fun to name the song after the book in the movie just to see how many people got the joke. It was amusing for me [laughs].
M.D: I think most people hear “Technical Death Metal” and think it’s a contradiction in terms. Describe the genre, and how you envision it, in your own words.
JM: Technical Death Metal, huh? When we started Arsis, I didn’t know what technical death metal was, nor did we set out to create it. I do understand that we get labeled as ‘technical death metal’ more often than not but I have a hard time putting Arsis into a genre other than ‘metal’ or ‘extreme metal’ because I feel it hinders creativity. I feel that people get too caught up in subgenres and what genre traits their music "needs to have" to make something original. At the end of the day, if the genre name has 3 or more words in it, you probably need to relax [laughs]. If I had to nail down ‘technical death metal’ into words, I would probably describe it as forward thinking, extreme metal.
M.D: In your songwriting, are there ever moments when you wonder if you’re trying to force the technical aspect? Do you sometimes have to sit back and let the music come to you?
JM: Like I said, we didn’t start Arsis with the intention of being ‘technical’ but there was certainly a time when I did stress or force the technical aspects of our music. That album was called “We are the Nightmare,” and it was certainly forced. With “Unwelcome,” we really just wrote songs and didn’t really worry about how ‘technical’ they were. It was very refreshing for me and I think the album came out sounding ‘sincere’ for lack of a better word.
M.D: How much consideration into each aspect of your music? Do you analyze everything down to guitar tone and bpm? How much tinkering is done in post production to get everything the way you want it?
JM: Honestly, I am fairly lazy when it comes to the production side of things. I pay as little attention as possible throughout the recording and let the producer do their job. When it’s finished, or close to finished, that’s when I will take a close listen and maybe make a few suggestions if I feel strongly about something. Otherwise, I put a lot of trust in the producer, that’s what they get paid for after all. I focus more on writing and trying to play well during the recording.

M.D: For the first couple records, you did all the writing and played most of the music yourself. Do you find it easier or harder to be part of a writing team? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks?
JM: While I did enjoy writing the first few albums by myself, I can honestly say that I enjoy working with group of guys we have now MUCH better. It’s always good to have fresh ears and fresh ideas and it keeps me inspired for sure. Everyone brings something different to the table and it’s fucking amazing. It’s like going to a really badass potluck dinner.
M.D: After years of lineup fluctuations, how solidly confident are you in the band’s current makeup?
JM: Everyone in the band is on the same page for the first time ever and it really is going great. We are all pulling our weight and things are finally getting done and in a timely manner. I feel so lucky to be playing with all of the guys and feel certain that this will become the definitive Arsis line-up.
M.D: Do you feel that the difficultly in cementing a lineup for so long hindered Arsis’ development or emergence onto a broader stage? Have you experienced any struggles that you feel most bands haven’t?
JM: Not having a solid lineup has always hurt the band for sure. We didn’t even have a bassist when we recorded the first album and after it was done, we basically went straight into touring with no lineup [laughs]. I am kind of an idiot, so I just kept pushing forward instead of just slowing down, putting something solid together, and really being able to kick ass. Being a touring musician isn’t easy on any level, but its especially difficult for underground bands. With this in mind, I can’t say that we’ve had any easier or harder than anyone else. It’s been an awesome ride, although challenging at times.
M.D: Where a lot of people would have given up, you persevered and kept trying to form and re-form Arsis. What inspires you to believe so strongly in this band and your music?
JM: I just love creating music and having the opportunity to tour and share this music and life with everyone we meet at shows. It’s a great adventure and the fans really have made whatever hardships we’ve faced worthwhile. I couldn’t imagine being content with a different lifestyle.
M.D: How has Arsis evolved over the years? I saw you open for Arch Enemy at the Palladium in Worcester a few years back, how is that Arsis different from this new Arsis?
JM: Honestly, a lot of the past 8 years is a blur for me, I am sure I killed a lot of brain cells during this time. Arsis is now a super focused, tight knit group of guys. I was a mess on several levels when we opened for Arch Enemy a few years ago and I am sure this negatively spilled into the band as a whole. I can assure you that I have my shit together now and so does the band. Things are working out a lot better, imagine that.

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