Drummer Brann Dailor‘s career outside of Mastodon doesn’t particularly exist in this modern day. Aside from performances with technical death metal act Lethargy, as well as Gaylord and Today is the Day prior to Mastodon’s first release just after the turn of the century, Dailor has kept his focus on the thrash-turned-progressive foursome for the majority of his career. The other members of Mastodon have sought out endeavors in acts like Killer be Killed, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, Gone is Gone, PRIMATE, and others still lesser known.
It wasn’t until 2017 that we learned Dailor had recently teamed up with Zruda guitarist/keyboardist Core Atoms and Withered guitarist Raheem Amlani to form Arcadea, a three-piece electronic project driven by keyboards, drums, and Dailor’s recognizable vocals, if a bit distorted. No guitars, no bass—just the simple complexity of tickled ebonies and ivories crafting slightly familiar soundscapes.
Calling Arcadea “familiar” is both its blessing and its curse. Longtime Mastodon fans will know these ebbs and flows, especially if they delved deep with material between 2006’s Blood Mountain and 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun, with songwriting elements drawing deep from the latter, channeling heavy musical themes used in songs like “Asleep in the Deep. Fans of Dailor’s main project may not find too many original elements to latch on to in Arcadea, as songwriting structures are simply too tied to the already established Mastodon. That isn’t to say that Arcadea is not good, but there may not be enough “not Mastodon” to really sell it as a standalone project.
The slower, more droning nature of Arcadea’s music is certainly attributed to the overwhelming sensation the psychedelic keyboards provide. Though Dailor’s drumming is prominent and proficient, rife with skillful fills and pizzazz for days, the airy connotations in the keyboard interplay helms this proverbial ship. The best way to describe it would be a stripped down progressive-era Mastodon with a thin layer of The Algorithm and a touch of Arjen Lucassen‘s Ayreon in many places. Lead single “Gas Giant” best exemplifies the project’s sound in being “Mastodon, but with keyboards.”
Songs like “Neptune Moon” offer respite from the commonplace elements, jostling things slightly with female vocals and more highly distorted vocal sections, but end up returning to “form,” which is the aforementioned “Mastodon with keyboards.” Things don’t really shake up until the very end of the album in “Magnificent Facade,” the six-and-a-half minute trek through a psychedelic hellscape that culminates in a ripping keyboard outro. Unfortunately, moments like those in “Magnificent Facade” are so sparse on Arcadea that it almost doesn’t seem worthwhile to explore too deeply.
Arcadea is an interesting record, to be sure, but doesn’t do much to differentiate from Dailor’s work in Mastodon aside from stripping away stringed instruments in favor of keyboards with a layer of psychedelica. Fans of keyboard-driven music may find a good lot to love here, but listeners hoping to explore the depths of musicality outside of Mastodon are going to be left disappointed and may be better off more deeply delving into the more progressive era of their discography.
Arcadea’s self-titled debut will be released on June 16th, 2017 via Relapse Records.