People often make the mistake of assuming that legacy is a matter of size, that the narratives which are hard to contend with deriving their power from mass, from sheer presence of the past. To be fair, it’s not an entirely erroneous assumption; bands which contend with a massive legacy, like bands who have been in operating for years or released immensely classic albums, do have a hard time shaking off the heavy weight of the past’s shackles. But legacies can also bother smaller acts, as the passion of their fans and their own, shorter career magnify the potency of their legacy, small but brutally powerful, affecting everything they’ll do in the future.
The bands emerging out of the nascent UK tech/djent scene suffer such an implosion of legacy, their often short but influential careers burning well past the point of their departure. The penultimate and most relevant exemplary in this case is SikTh who, after changing the way people looked at the sub-genre(s) way back at the beginning of the previous decade, attempted to stage a come back to mixed results (we loved both albums but many didn’t). It was, of course, impossible not to mention SikTh when approaching The Arusha Accord; not only did the former band influence their sound to an undeniable degree, they also, ironically, now face the same kind of career trajectory. But will Juracan, the band’s first album in seven years, and one marred by several departures from the band’s original line-up, succeed in re-capturing at least some of the power of their earlier releases like Opacities or The Future in Whose Eyes?
The answer, sadly, is mostly “no”. And believe me, I am very sad to say so; The Echo Verses remains one of my favorite albums from the UK scene. The band’s performance at Brutal Assault 2010 is one of my most cherished musical memories. Therefore, I was extremely expectant of Juracan and to listening, once again, to one of the most energetic bands in the genre. And, initially, I was pleased with what I heard; the most distinctive quality of Arusha for me are the insane bass lines, weaving constant chaos in the back of whatever they were playing. They lent their music a type of unstoppable ferocity that hasn’t really been equaled since. These lines are more than present on the first two tracks, “Blackened Heart” and “Vultures”; the math metal influences are alive and well and the two tracks are brilliant, fierce and powerful openings to the album.
But on the third track, “The Road(Amor Vincit Omnia – Part 1)” things start to go awry. First, the title foreshadows the structural issues of the album; The Arusha Accord, for some reason, have decided to release the material they have as four EPs. Thus, this “Part 1” probably references a future release but makes little sense in the context of this release as a result. We’ll revisit these “meta” issues further on. The main issue, however, with this track, is that it lacks momentum and is placed squarely in the middle of this release; in the past, such ambient interludes for the band had much more energy and a unique signature to them. Here, as well as on the following track, “Beneath the Dule Tree”, the type of approach can be characterized as Altered State era TesseracT.
Listen especially to the opening moments of the latter track and listen as the vocal melodies, combined with the much more restrained bass roles, attempt to channel this vibe (accomplished to a much finer degree on Spiritbox‘s debut record). It simply doesn’t work here; gone are the vicious, breakneck bass-lines, the tumultuous back and forth between clean and harsh vocals (which, though present, are way tamer and more separated from the rest of the track than usual, although that might have something to do with the band’s original main vocalist departing), airy, atmospheric synths, so common in the scene these days, attempt to prop up the track and fills the layers left orphaned by the restrained bass but fail to do so; their composition and tone aren’t engaging enough to be up to the task. Gone, in short, is everything which makes The Arusha Accord unique. Their execution of this style is not bad; they’re certainly accomplished musicians and the production does them justice. But it’s just not them; it’s not what they excel at and it shows.
Some of the power returns on the closing track, “The Dark Pane – Part 2” (although the decision to split these two tracks into two is inexplicable), as its possessed of fuller compositions and a more unique compositional structure, but any power it might have had is sabotaged by an unnecessary middle passage that feels confused about its own identity; is it ambient? Is it weird? Is it heavy? It attempts to be all those things in quick succession and thus robs the track of what it might have had, leaving the ending of it disconnected and disjointed, leaving us with the feeling that the album ended way too soon, before it gets a chance to “say” anything, unintelligible beneath emotional, but ultimately flat, vocal crescendos and choir parts.
The question of the “meta” still hovers above us, here at the ending of this review. A possible answer to all of the criticism above is that this is a smaller part of a bigger picture, that the four EPs, when put together, will make more sense; that the ambiance and more tamed tracks on this album will be met with a torrent of aggression on forthcoming releases, bringing forth Arusha’s masterpiece. To be honest with you, as a longtime and fervent fan of the band, I certainly hope so because Juracan is just not good enough on its own. For now, left with this singular EP and having to contend with it, we are left with a desire for more; its certainly not bad but it’s also not very good, mostly made up of ideas that never reach fruition. We shall see what context brings it.
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Juracan was released on September 28th. Head on over to the Bandcamp link above to listen to it for yourself.