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Arcane Roots: Unlearning Muscle Memory On 'Melancholia Hymns'

Thursday, 21 September 2017 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Arcane Roots are survivors. That might seem like a big statement when you consider the long line of UK bands who have been beset by label troubles, the loss of key members and relentless touring with little reward.

But the Kingston trio’s own story is more winding than most. Their new LP, ‘Melancholia Hymns’ is only their second in a decade together, but they have been described by the mainstream press as one of the best British bands on the circuit. So where’s the hype coming from?

Arcane Roots first formed during a period when the alt-rock scenes in the UK and Ireland were brimming with talent: Muse and Biffy Clyro were at their peak and Oceansize and Reuben still had serious underground clout. Labels like Alcopop! and the Richter Collective were set up to release records by a wave of bands that sought to follow in their footsteps.

“All we wanted back then was to sign to one of these alternative labels,” frontman Andrew Groves says. “It was the catalyst for us moving to Kingston Upon Thames. Looking back, there’s a habit to romanticise that period. Some of those bands really stay with you. I wouldn’t say ‘rock is dead’, but I do think a lot of it is to do with being in the right place at the right time.”

The scene struggled to survive the industry’s wholesale shift to digital platforms and the rise of landfill indie. Bands and labels duly disbanded. But Arcane Roots’ unique style - a sophisticated amalgam of post-hardcore and technical hard rock - meant they kept on growing. Support slots with Muse, Biffy and Twin Atlantic not only served as mainstream exposure but also as an education in how to refine their craft.

“What we took away from those shows was how hard they worked,” Groves says. “The sheer athleticism of their performances really struck us. There are all these strange notions of being ‘rock n’ roll’ and how you should behave, but we learned the value of putting on the best thing no matter what, whether it’s an album or a show.

“We’ve now passed 10 years of being a band and I think a big period of re-evaluation was involved. Did we just want to be a stadium rock band and go for magazine covers or was there more to what we can do? We had close to 250 demos after our first album. We decided to scrap them and start again. We decided to follow the rabbit down the hole and see where it led.”

The rabbit hole led to ‘Melancholia Hymns’, a record that Groves says is the most progressive they’ve produced. The anthemic hooks and complex guitar lines are still there, but they also make use of keys, electronics and ambient sections to articulate their substantial conceptual goals.

Allusions to progressive rock might make Arcane Roots sound like perfectionists – and to be fair, Groves admits “a quick Arcane Roots record is cursed” – but they’re certainly not writing about dungeons and dragons. If anything, Groves believes the band took a more delicate approach to songwriting this time around.

“I think at heart we’ve always been a fairly proggy band,” he says. “By definition, our song structures are ever increasing and less linear. But when you use that word it’s hard not think of the ‘70s. I’d say there was more of a soundtrack element to this album. We backed away from having to always use the space – we turned off the pedals sometimes.

“Writing outside the box like that is like unlearning a muscle memory or forming an entirely new vocabulary. When we finished the record we felt like we’d only just started. This feels like our first album in French where we only just got fluent by the last song. That’s both exciting and annoying, but we’re determined to break the spell and be quicker from now on.”

One area that has markedly changed this time around is Groves’ vocals. Much like Muse’s Matt Bellamy, one of his chief influences, he began as a reluctant frontman but later developed a reputation for his distinctly melodramatic style. ‘Melancholia Hymns’ sees him playing with deeper and softer tones for the first time.

“I’ve always taken my voice for granted,” he says. “I’m precious about looking after it as we’ve learned from touring how easily it gets damaged. But this time around, so many parts of songs were made in different ways and had me hunched over a piano or sitting in the studio surrounded by lovely synths and sounds. Songs fell into the area where my patented chest voice and singing loud and high wasn’t applicable.

“Going into the studio I was quick to undo anything that was a ‘go to’. Songs on the album like Indigo, Arp and Fireflies – I hadn’t really sung like that before. So vocals are something I still worry about a little bit and it took a long time. It’s like giving a right handed person a pen to write with their left hand. The shape is just different.”

Despite the many delays and mini hurdles, Arcane Roots appear to be pressing the right buttons. Upon release, ‘Melancholia Hymns’ is on course to land in the upper reaches of the UK album chart and it’s testament to the fact that patience and pedantry aren’t necessarily bad qualities to possess in this day and age.

“We are always self deprecating in our acknowledgement of it,” Groves says. “We never think anybody’s going to come to our shows. During periods of quiet it’s easy to think: ‘Is that it? Have we peaked? Do people not care anymore?’ But we’ve tried our best to be honest with output and I hope that comes across. We never want to be a tribute act to ourselves.”

‘Melancholia Hymns’ is out now through Easy Life.

Arcane Roots Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu October 05 2017 - LONDON Scala
Fri October 06 2017 - WOLVERHAMPTON Slade Rooms
Sat October 07 2017 - MANCHESTER Academy 3
Sun October 08 2017 - GLASGOW King Tut's
Mon October 09 2017 - BELFAST Empire Music Hall
Wed October 11 2017 - DUBLIN Whelan's
Fri October 13 2017 - LIVERPOOL Arts Club, Loft
Sat October 14 2017 - BRIGHTON Haunt
Sun October 15 2017 - BRISTOL THE FLEECE
Tue October 17 2017 - LEEDS Key Club
Wed October 18 2017 - EDINBURGH Mash House
Thu October 19 2017 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Fri October 20 2017 - PETERBOROUGH Met Lounge
Sat October 21 2017 - STOKE Sugarmill
Sun October 22 2017 - GUILDFORD Boileroom

Click here to compare & buy Arcane Roots Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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