Arcade Messiah II: Perfection without Words

A review of ARCADE MESSIAH II (Stereohead Records, 2015).  Release date: November 27.


I’m honestly not sure that John Bassett is 1) capable of doing anything only part way; and 2) capable of doing anything that is not masterful and perfect.

The evidence is rather clear for the above two claims.

Kingbathmat reached the highest heights of progressive metal with their last two albums, offering a full-bodied Rush-like sound, and absolutely scathing (and true) lyrics.  This was especially true of 2013’s OVERCOMING THE MONSTER, one of the ten or so best albums of the last twenty years.  While it could have been the follow up to Snakes and Arrows, it was decidedly Bassett-esque, especially in its longest and finest piece, “Kubrick Moon.”

When Bassett decided to release a solo album, UNEARTH, he gave us the best singer-songwriter album of 2014, another scathing (and true) critique of mass society.

John Bassett Promo 5
No Muppet. One of our greatest living artists–in word and note.

When I asked him how he came up with such witty social criticism, he merely answered, “I don’t know, Brad, I’m really just a Muppet.”  Far from it, Mr. Bassett.  Far from it.

When it comes to real and deep criticism in the rock world, Bassett rivals the master himself, Andy Tillison.

Now, Bassett has found an entirely new voice, the instrumental only act, Arcade Messiah.  Some of have described this as instrumental progressive metal, and I suppose this is as good a label as any, should a label be needed.  ARCADE MESSIAH I came out last year and received rave reviews.  Just now, Bassett has released ARCADE MESSIAH II.

For better or worse, I’m generally worthless when it comes to reviewing music without lyrics.  Lyrics always have been and will almost certainly always remain my focus and my passion.  Please stay with me. . .

ARCADE MESSIAH II is a thing of glory.  Bassett may not be employing his magnificent voice and mind to promote his usual social criticism lyrically, but I can still hear his voice in the music itself.  A look at the titles reveals that while I might call this album a thing of glory, it probably belongs as much to a Johannine apocalypse as to an Easter morning.  The cover reveals a muscular horse, deprived of skin and hair.  Though beautiful in its own way, it looks like what I might think of as a horse being ridden by one of the four riders of the Apocalypse.  And, lo and behold, track no. 9, the extra track, is entitled “The Four Horsemen.”  (And, surprisingly enough, it does include vocals–which sent me into heaven.)  Other titles, however, such as “Red Widow,” “Black Dice Maze,” “Gallows Way,” “Fourth Quarter,” “Via Occulta,” and “Start Missing Everybody” seem to suggest an ending–a big one–of some kind.

With an instrumental album, the artist must pay extra special attention to the overall flow of the album, hitting the highs, recovering from the lows, and allowing a certain amount of lingering for the listener to breath.  Bassett provides all of this and with intensity and intelligence.

So, while I miss hearing John’s views of the world, I can still hear him in there–somewhere next to the guitar, above the bass, within the drums, and behind every beautiful and eerie note of this work of perfection.

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