Few things are as enjoyable as a debut record. No matter how bad or good the record eventually turns out to be, the excitement that stems forth from that unabashed enthusiasm is invigorating, like a new car smell. This first impression is amplified by the absence of expectations, where every passing moment is compounded with surprise and curiosity. So as you may expect, Seattle’s Izthmi seriously bring this energy on their impressive debut, The Arrows of Our Ways. The attention to detail throughout demonstrates a careful passion for sharp songcraft as well as technical prowess. But does the love buzz wear off?
Not really. Now, it’s not a “perfect” album with nary a wasted second on your ears. There are, in fact, moments where your mouth won’t be left agape in complete revelatory awe. So, let’s cut to the chase and get to the critical point of contention with this album: the ‘ludes. For capital Album enthusiasts who cannot fathom skipping a track, you’ll be tested early and often. Opener “Chasm” isn’t much more than a noisy way to settle listeners in than a tone-setting three-minute intro. Similarly, midway checkpoint “-” and later palate cleanser “(The Angels Are Lost)” are ambient detours, pieces more effective establishing a mental break than anything else – a compliment as much as it is a criticism. These pieces are vital to flow and pacing, and without them, longer pieces may very well bleed into one another a bit as they share a common restlessness and wanderlust (“To Traipse Alone…” and “…This Listless World” blur these lines quite literally, not suspiciously coming off as one giant track rather than two separate entities). Truth be told, the buffers are functionally effective, but the album’s “proper” tracks just carry a different kind of weight, command a different level of attention, and inspire a wider range of emotions. ‘Ludes will be ‘ludes. /shrug
Fortunately, the demands of their longform material will be met with pleasure. Izthmi’s progressive tendencies are anchored to a texturally varied and dynamic nature, ricocheting with an unpredictable, kinetic energy. It’s a lively, spirited affair that’s often technically dazzling but still memorable. Direction changes drastically and frequently, where the next acoustic dirge or emotive outburst can arrive at any time. The emotions on The Arrows of Our Ways run high, like each fleeting moment has to happen at that specific time because they’re so overwhelming and need to be dealt with immediately. It’s a compelling and gripping tactic, and they wield this without an air of kitsch. “Useless is the Song of Man, From Throats Calloused by Name” and “A Shout That Bursts Through the Silence of Unmeaning” are among the most volatile compositions, quickly shifting tempo, nestling into quiet areas only to escape moments later with unexpected vigor. This urgency, however, doesn’t spew forth as goldfish-minded progressive showmanship or temperamental experimentation, but rather of delicately orchestrated songcraft, where lyrics and emotion are skillfully tailored to song (or vise versa) and progressions – in spite of their fleeting nature – bloom organically.
There’s definitely a classic-era Opeth vibe to their disposition and dynamic range, but this is also augmented with a heaping of uplifting, hopeful energy. The album’s pristine production emphasizes this, creating a place where this progressive and atmosphere-heavy black/death fusion bears strength, polish, and clarity throughout the mix. The neck-wrecking melodeath, visceral blackened bits, and optimistically beautiful threads intersect and interact with equal potency. As these landmarks are hit frequently, Izthmi is wise about becoming too formulaic in their approach. Variety is a virtue for these dudes, and everyone’s individual performance plays up to maximizing each proper track at every turn. The vocals are impressive, spanning enormous roars and pointed shrieks through both quiet, subdued moments and epic, dense climaxes. The solos are ever vibrant and tasteful, with an abundance of leads, melodies, and harmonies that pull at the heartstrings. The rhythmic glue holding everything together is so much more than a sturdy foundation on which to build. Abrupt tempo and time signature changes are abundant, and the power of the riff is not forgotten along each windy journey. The songwriting displays a curious maturity and balance; if there’s one takeaway to be had from The Arrows of Our Ways, it’s that Izthmi have a firm grasp on feel, flow, and pace.
Izthmi find success in pretty much every phase with this release. The production is splendid and showcases the group’s technical ability as well as their range. Their songwriting is consistently on-point. Each piece is truly an achievement unto its own with a depth that encourages listeners to excavate and relish each passage. Their aesthetic is well-developed and honed, coming off as well-seasoned vets who pull the strings with such skill that it’s easily forgotten that this a debut freaking record. An enthralling listen, The Arrows of Our Ways is as impressive a debut as you can find, and there’s little doubt that this record will end up toward the top of many listeners’ heaps by year’s end.
The Arrows of Our Ways is available for all you sweeties on Valentine’s Day via Within the Mind Records.