Sound: Combining jazz-like grooving rhythms, djent-style chugging riffs, 7 and 8 string guitars, ambient keyboards, and a smoothly flowing progression of headbanging songs, Keith Merrow's The Arrival has raised the standard for solo artists around the internet.
On my first listen to this album (Which can be downloaded for free at the artist's personal website, along with guitar pro tabs for you 7-string players) I couldn't get my head to stop bobbing. These rhythms are more infectious than the plague, and stick in your head. In what I would consider one of the most creative uses of a seven-string since Emperor's Prometheus and Tosin Abasi's Animals as Leaders, Merrow has constructed an album full of surprises. Nothing here feels forced or out of place, it all seems natural.
The guitar work here is wonderful, keeping riffs somewhat simple yet carrying twists and variations that made me smile uncontrollably. Clean effects are very well adjusted, while distortions are kept tight and sharp without the excess fuzz that could potentially have ruined some of the more harmonic sections of the album. Merrow shifts styles from the fast-paced string-skipping and uncanny melodies of songs like Pillars of Creation to the blast beats and blues-style riffs of pieces like Abducted, and further through a whole spectrum. I almost guarantee that at least one of these songs will have you coming back over and over.
The drums are a bit less exciting to me, if only because I am not a fan of drum machines. However, it's perfectly understandable in the case of an unsigned solo artist, especially with the complexity of the percussion. In terms of the actual drumming, it is clearly fit to the guitar part like a doc marten is fitted for a foot. In the apparent theme of minimizing excess complexity and technicality for the sake of technicality (nothing wrong with that though), the percussion seems to exist solely to backup the guitar. The djent-like punch given by the bass kicks and the jazz-influenced grooves carry you from one riff to the next smoother than a waterslide filled with WD40.
As far as the mastering and production go, this album acts as a testament to Merrow's experience with recording. The guitars feel like they're right against your ear drums, loud and present but not clipping or overwhelming anything else. The drums sound realistic for a machine, something akin to Bulb or the Animals as Leaders album. The bass is balanced in very well, matching the guitar part but giving the punch and bridging the gap between percussion and treble. Merrow used a variety of custom guitars, many of which can be seen in use on his youtube channel (just look up Keith Merrow, then dream about having more money), as well as a POD X3 Live and a fully functioning home recording studio. This album sounds like it was produced in a major recording studio, rather than a suburban basement. // 9
Lyrics: This album is purely instrumental. Just as I felt Periphery's instrumental album was the better of the two versions, lyrics in this album would just distract or cover the impressive musicianship Merrow has dedicated himself to. I couldn't really imagine lyrics working with music of this style, but maybe that's just me. // 9
Overall Impression: With the advent of Youtube, soundcloud, bandcamp, soundclick, and countless other media sharing sites on the internet, combined with the ever increasing ease of recording and mastering tracks on personal computers, solo artists are becoming more prevalent by the day. Keith Merrow is one such artist, and far from obscure. With three solo albums now released, all instrumental and two of which are free to download (and include guitar pro tabs, for those of you with 7-strings), Merrow has shown a sense of spirit towards the free sharing of quality artwork.
With all albums beautifully produced, Merrow has shown a dedication to quality. His riffs stay in my head for days, and the ingenious guitar riffs have kept me baffled yet entertained as I try to learn them on my own Agile.
All in all, I would recommend this album to anyone who likes something fresh and new. It's free, it's fun, and gives you the feeling of witnessing innovation in the making. So if you don't mind drum machines in your metal and a bit of groove, check it out. // 9