“I don’t know if it could really work out”
Speculations of Synergy
A few years ago (seems like a lifetime ago now) I was privileged to conduct an interview with Jason Wisdom (Becoming the Archetype/Death Therapy) around the release of his second Death Therapy album Voices. At the conclusion of the interview – in true “fan-boy” manner – I posed the following question:
On a lighter note, the million-dollar question … when is the Becoming the Archetype reunion, LOL? In all seriousness (because I understand and know that life, family and practical matters are paramount) is this even a consideration, and if so, is this something the original members have discussed? You guys were blessed with a chemistry, giftset and power that few enjoy…
… and the million-dollar answer…
“Only time will tell. I think it would be fun, but I don’t know if it could really work out.”
I remember thinking at the time, that it was a safe answer – and a smart one – but all the while had a gut-level feeling that day would come…
…and that day has arrived! Original members Seth Hecox (guitars/keys/vocals), Jason Wisdom (bass/vocals) and Brent “Duck” Duckett are back … and in full form and fury!
Recollections of Recording
While Becoming the Archetype was blessed with a way-too-short 7-year run (2005-2012), what a run it was! For me, and many other fans who were disillusioned with the “sameness” of extreme metal circa early 21st century, BTA was a breath of innovative fresh air. Their debut album Terminate Damnation (2005) was such a metal anomaly. Honestly, in retrospect, I don’t think most of us knew what to think about it … but in time the genius began to emerge, and the brilliance shined forth. Below are just a fraction of the emotional responses evoked in my brain when it was released:
Mix Living Sacrifice with Tourniquet and you have an idea what this extremely talented new “real” metal band sounds like. This is not nu-metal, nor is it metalcore or any other variation of emo/screamo. No, these guys are playing an extremely tight, progressive death metal that finds its origins in old school metal and you will not find another album on the commercial market like this one right now … This music is replete with organs, pianos, acoustical guitar interludes, blistering guitar solos and technical leads ala Tourniquet, throbbing bass leads, thundering kick drums, syncopated tom pounding and loud, I mean loud, knock you off your feet crunchy guitars … Spin after spin, this has got to best debut album of 2005, and one of the best new metal bands in a long time, period!
And then, just two years later, guitarist Alex Kenis now in tow, Becoming the Archetype unleashed Physics of Fire upon the world. Below are a few excerpts from my original published review in HM Magazine:
An archetype is defined as an original model on which something is patterned. So, for those familiar with this band and their stunning debut, Terminate Damnation, you know that they have already “become” a metal archetype. While it’s entirely possible the band’s name has more to do with “becoming” like our archetypal Lord – that is, more Christ-like – than being a prototypical metal band, there is no denying that their penchant to “forge their own steel” has not been in vain. Hemorrhaging two guitarists and grafting-in singer/songwriter/guitarist Alex Kenis (Aletheian) – who injects just the right amount of melodic vocal and technical guitar – seems almost surgical. Adoring fans have nothing to fear because the band’s complex, creative, heavy yet melodic, uplifting and thought-provoking “we respect where metal has been” style of music – replete with uncompromising message – remains essentially intact. Hardly possible, but Jason Wisdom’s growl seems more intense, with greater clarity; he spews forth metaphorical tales and truths of spiritual fire with unrivaled conviction. Seamless, old-school solos gloriously soar over technical, yet heavy riffs, relentless bass pulsations and frenetic drum gyrations – all while “Count” Hecox masterfully weaves his piano into and out of the fray.
And then, just one year later (2008) came the near-perfection, Devin Townsend-produced Dichotomy…
If you are a fan of progressive death metal – and BTA in particular – then you may agree with me that everything this band creates is exceptionally good. And you may also agree that with each release they continue to evolve and expand. This time around the songs are shorter, more direct and more diverse – with a huge focus on Jason’s vocals. Metal genius Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend Band) co-labored as producer, so these tunes are layered and textured to the max, which gives every song a crushing, yet cinematic feel. Conceptual, the lyrics deal with the “dichotomous” struggles of machine vs. man and intellect vs. faith – a great reminder of how, to our own demise, we often negate the intangible in pursuit of the tangible. These guys are doing for Christian extreme metal what Living Sacrifice did in the 90’s – garnering credibility. With their commitment to brutal music that is technically brilliant yet spiritually provoking, they exemplify all the best qualities in metal circa 2008.
After a brief hiatus, the Becoming the Archetype exhaled a breath of change, transformation and maybe a bit of release. 2011’s Celestial Completion exuded a “we are comfortable in our skin and not just an extreme metal band” kind of vibe, not a bad one mind, but one with a bit of that proverbial “writings on the wall” outlook for the band’s future…
BTA may not look and act like your typical metal band, but the sounds that emanate from the speakers are extreme nonetheless. Their fourth – and most diverse – release in a decade is a balanced blend of death, progressive and metalcore styles, with some heavy experimentation thrown in for fun ala Between The Buried and Me. The outrageous ska-skewed tune “Cardiac Rebellion” is quite a shocker, but the 3-part requiem that precedes it hearkens back to the kind of composition we first heard on Terminate Damnation where the beauty is effectively juxtaposed with the brutal. Songs like “The Magnetic Sky,” “Internal Illumination” and “Reflect/Refract” are simply huge – the lyrics giving us the kind of spiritual depth and reverence so lacking in today’s art. The mixture of guitar tones and vocal styles throughout is reminiscent of progressive extremists Tourniquet (especially on “Path of the Beam”) yet BTA retains their distinct and unique flavor.
Not surprisingly, the infamous band break-up occurred soon after leaving Seth Hecox to carry on without his mates. Like a champ, Hecox succeeded in rounding up a crew of solid musicians to produce 2012’s swansong I Am, which was in its own right a very good release.
Amidst personnel changes, BTA forges ahead with more of their patented technical/progressive death metal. This time the subject matter is a discourse on the attributes and character of God. The most significant change is that Chris McCane has replaced Jason Wisdom on lead vocals. While it doesn’t significantly alter the band’s essence or style, there is enough of a difference that some fans might be turned away. After 10 spins, I’d have to say I still prefer Jason’s style over the new singer. Also, the mixing of clean and harsh vocals is employed here to a greater degree than on any of their past releases. Again, this may polarize purists. Regardless, the quality remains high, but I can’t help but feel a bit let down, at least in terms of the songwriting. All the songs are short and there is less diversity, less dynamic contrast and perhaps a less “epic” vibe overall. Of course, this was a direction that the band was already heading with Celestial Completion, an album that was extremely diverse, maybe almost to a fault.
Delusions of Decay
And then it was over, just like that. I remember at the time how I felt – the words to label-mates Demon Hunter coming to mind, “And when my heartstrings come undone/I will wait for you, pray for you/Before I make my final run/I will stay with you, decay with you…”
… and for me it just didn’t feel right, the whole thing, like this wasn’t the final run for Wisdom and company. Too much talent, too much insight, too much creativity, too many expectations? … too little time.
Time passed. Death Therapy healed old wounds? A contagion was released upon the earth. Time paused … Life paused. But out of the great extinction of social interaction came a resurgence of creativity, one which in turn spawned reconciliations of old alliances reannealed by the unbreakable welding of metal brotherhood.
Ruminations of Reunion
My initial thoughts when I heard about this release were, “Now how do you actually come back from all that?” (By “that” I mean, of course, the 7-year run of diverse metal brilliance). Do you return to your roots? Do you try something completely different? What about mixing it all together? What about lyrics? Direct or metaphorical? And don’t forget the spiritual applications, right?
One can only imagine the conversation…
How about a concept album?
Wait, what? (Um, even for a band in its prime, a concept album is extremely difficult to execute).
How about a concept album that mixes everything we’ve done stylistically?
Ok, musically possible, but lyrically?
Yeah, a space metal/sci-fi saga of interplanetary proportions, narrative-style, yet metaphorical and spiritual with a touch of timeless redemption and sacrifice thrown in for good measure, backed by an incredible soundtrack of highly discernible growling vocals, (cookie monsters are good story tellers too!) crushing guitar riffs, a few sweet solos from old friends, brutally crushing drum rhythms, some synths, acoustical interludes, some experimentation (just not ska, please) and one helluva sound mix! Sound like fun to you?
Oh yeah, and by the way, let’s take it one step further into outer space and not even put our band logo or title on the cover!!
Like who even does that, ever?
The art, man … its all about the art!
Uhh, one question … is this like Part I of II or III? And um, what kind of title (which won’t be on the cover, BTW) does this behemoth …
Come on, man, that’s two questions!!
Chronicles of Children of the Great Extinction
Chapter I: Shadows of Separation
“We have not forgotten! We have not forgotten!”
If you think this world is alive, just wait … the saga begins in “The Dead World” where BTA establishes that they are very much alive and well. Fast rhythms, pummeling double bass drums, sweeping atmospheric synths, the patented growls of Wisdom alternating with clear vocals squarely set the scene while simultaneously awakening the neural networks of thousands of listeners to the BTA juice.
And it only intensifies on the single “The Lost Colony” where the aural network starts to reconnect with the past – Wisdom’s intensity here so persistent, impossible to deny the power possessed by a single voice. Guest guitar solo by Daniel Gailey scores some shred points … and love when Wisdom slightly slips into the more melodic on “silence!” This track was surely chosen as a “single” for its brevity, but it’s best appreciated amidst the context of the entire album (Yeah, dude, internet singles suck, just like play the whole thing … it’s concept metal!)
“The Remnant” is classic BTA. Not only will this song be immediately recognizable in its structure, content and execution, it sets the stage for the turmoil which is to follow for the hero/traveler in the narrative. The djenty guitar riffs echo the era of BTA’s fading, yet here sparks a connection between the old into the new…
Chapter II: Dimensions of Deliverance
“All you’ve got to do now is survive”
As one world reaches out to another … there is “The Calling.” The ominous gothic, doom-infused riffage follows the Hecox keyboard meanderings which open the search (for the traveler). Wisdom’s guttural, throaty inquiry is nicely complemented by more melodic vocals. An old friend checks into the scene (Alex Kenis) with a guitar solo. This song contrasts the ethereal with the brutal.
The soft outro segues nicely into the instrumental “The Phantom Field” as our hero traverses the universe, the soft guitar strokes lulling him along in comatose bliss.
But in time he must face the inevitable – “The Awakening” – as he arrives at his destination … and is brutally revived by the reality of his surroundings, and Wisdom’s throaty alarm bell of awareness. The rhythms fluctuate between semi-consciousness and blistering eye-opening urgency. I love the tom-accents in the middle section just right before the song explodes into an immersive dive into the “ocean!” as our protagonist arrives upon the forgotten world.
Chapter III: Echoes of Extinction
“I’m letting go of the lifeline/I’ve never felt so alone … this world is hollow”
Not finding what he expected, the traveler awakens in trepidation as he realizes the nature of the world he has come to save? “The Hollow” begins the final four-track run to the end, featuring the first song of what I would call, “the new BTA.” What are these melodic, almost catchy, hooks and melodies? The middle section breaks down to melodic guitar leads and a smoking guitar solo in an almost bluesy-rock fashion at which point it seems hard to reconcile the extreme metal world of BTA with such almost laid-back meanderings … but it’s so cool.
Never fear. “The Ruins” represents the most progressive track on the album, and probably the “newest” sounding song as well. This shouldn’t be surprising as within the context of the narrative, our protagonist finds himself face-to-face with something he never could have expected or imagined. Electronic samples and guest vocals of Demon Hunter’s Ryan Clark amplify the frenetic energy propelling our hero to his denouement.
“I cannot comprehend/What my eyes have seen/Are these the children of men/That I was sent to redeem”
“The Curse” defines the problem more deeply – “Welcome to the world of deadmen … a parade of corpses/Moving closer to extinction…” The brutal death vocals of Wisdom (intensely clear) define the problem and direct the course of action.
Chapter IV: Rumors of Resurrection
“This death will not define you”
“The Sacrament” represents everything BTA has been and may be striving for musically and lyrically. Not only does the song represent a point of redemption for the fallen world of “The Lost Colony” but it makes a huge statement about the band itself and everything they have to offer creatively.
What remains to be discovered is where will Becoming the Archetype go from this point? In the meantime, fans of the band and of progressive death metal in general should be put on notice – BTA is back in a very big way. While I wouldn’t be ready to escalate this beyond what they’ve accomplished to date – especially on those first 3 releases – I am confident in recommending Children of the Great Extinction to the world as an amazingly innovative and engaging reunion of extreme metal forces.
Chapter I: Shadows of Separation
1. The Dead World (4:49)
2. The Lost Colony (3:49)
3. The Remnant (4:48)
Chapter II: Dimension of Deliverance
4. The Calling (4:59)
5. The Phantom Field (2:45)
6. The Awakening (6:15)
Chapter III: Echoes of Extinction
7. The Hollow (4:53)
8. The Ruins (3:58)
9. The Curse (4:12)
Chapter IV: Rumors of Resurrection
10. Sacrament (8:35)