Ironclad/Machinations has been a long time coming for me. It’s been well over a year in the making for Arbiter, and it has been one of my most anticipated albums in recent memory. There’s many levels to this album, and in the end it’s really a tale of two Arbiters.
On a production level, we’re presented with two sides, and on some level this may be a comment on the nature of the metal scene as it stands right now. On the Ironclad side we’re presented with a more natural way of recording an albums, using actual drums, less produced guitar tones, and an overall more raw feeling. On the Machinations half of the album we get digital drums (digital as in it’s an electronic drum kit, not the ezdrummer program that many bedroom djent projects use), djenty guitars, and a more technical feeling.
The idea behind the two recording styles was to let the fans choose how the band would progress in the future, if the Ironclad album sold more and was generally more liked then the band might head in that direction, and vice-versa with Machinations. I’m not sure entirely of the exact details of that idea, but it’s a pretty unique one none-the-less. If they are still running with this idea I’m pretty torn. Having bought the physical album I didn’t actually help advance the ‘war’ for either side, in terms of sales, and I’m not sure I’d actually be able to pick a favorite side because both sides of the album have really great aspects.
On the other side of things we get the intricately formed story. I don’t recall if their debut album Colossus had any details about the story behind Ironclad/Machinations, but this album is certainly a step forward in my eyes in terms of lyrics and cohesiveness and that’s definitely thanks in part to the story crafted by them. What’s accounted for in this album is the war between the natural humans, under the title of Ironclad and their war with the out-cast enemies, the Extropians, who are humans who have altered themselves with technology, through Machinations. It’s a vividly told story, and it definitely makes reading the lyrics with the album a more fulfilling experience than normal. Going back to the sales of the album, the future of this story was also dependent on how well each side of the album was received. It’s definitely a unique idea and I’m curious to see how it goes in the end.
Now from a musical standpoint they’ve undeniably grown overall as a band. What we get here is the pinnacle of their sound thus far. I know that’s a bit of a statement for a band that hasn’t been around for all that long, but even with the splitting of sounds this album has a better flow and the writing has certainly taken a great advance. The change from djenty/more produced to rawer/more natural tone doesn’t feel disjointed in the least because the overall sound of the band remains the same. Both sides are undoubtedly Arbiter’s style. There’s a boost in technicality too, the guitar work is better, and the drums are more technical on both sides of the album, and the vocals are rawer and deeper than ever. Not to knock Colossus in any way, I still love that album, but this album is a very solid step forward for the band.
As for the split sides, I must say it’s hard for me to pick one side over the other. I want to support the Ironclad side of things because even though I love technology, I do feel like bands today should step away from worrying about making everything absolutely perfect in post. However on the other side of things I’m not a blind elitist. I understand that in today’s music landscape if you aren’t perfect sounding, you get lumped in with the sea of other bands out there trying to make some kind of a statement. Plus I have no problems with djent, and while djent can definitely sound ‘samey’, I think that lends itself more to a bands writing than the tone itself. There are plenty of bands out there today that use djenty tones and are doing perfectly fine.
I’m very excited to see how things pan out in the future. I suppose that I would be fine with either side winning this war, as I’m fine with either side’s production and I think either side proving victorious story wise would make for an interesting story arc. This album has definitely lived up to my expectations, and exceeded them in some ways. I’m curious to see how the story presented blossoms with future releases and how things turn out with their sound in the future.