The Arcane Insignia, and its Debut Album, A Flawed Design
I'll start off by saying, I've been waiting for this album since 2015. I first became acquainted with The Arcane Insignia's frontman/composer/guitarist/vocalist on Twitter, of all places. We found a mutual appreciation for each other's music - he called "Slowly Scooting Closer" a "beast" of a song, and I fell in love with an EP (more of a demo) from 2013, which contained five songs: "Car(di)nail & (Sub)liminal," "Chapter 9: Trail of Extinguished Suns," "Panopticon," "The Violence Within," and "Vicarious Virtues." These songs had me chomping at the bit, eager for more; I was repeatedly told, "It's coming soon," referring to a full-length album that I anticipated would be heavenly.
The result, released March 16th, 2018, was more of a single composition than an album: it's arrangements of acoustic seven-string guitar, strings, and acoustic percussion are equally neoclassical and progressive rock, with the vocals more of an accompanying instrument, the lyrics a prose of metaphorical and spiritual poetry. The guitar is often used for percussive riffs, as often at it's plucked melodiously, with even a little metal-inspired flavor.
"Kingdom of Wolves" starts off the album as a lengthy prelude to seven additional "chapters" (that's the best description I can come up with) and after three listens, I already know I need a booklet of lyrics (incidentally, you can find the lyrics for each song at the band's Bandcamp page), to read along with the music. It's easier to hear the vocals as an additional instrument, and the lyrics are seldom repeating or rhyming, making the possibility of memorizing seem an intimidating feat. But that's part of their appeal: this is thoughtful stream-of-consciousness prose rather than your standard fair, adding to the sense that this is a musical epic. The lyrics are more of a companion to Alejandro's voice, guitar, and percussion; Noah Heau's cello; and Tina Chang-Chien's viola and backup vocals.
"Architect of a Flawed Design" continues the story, with a light neoclassical intro segueing into more percussive guitar and violently sawed strings. Metaphors of questions and statements is highlighted - unexpectedly and thrillingly - by a choir contributed to by Martha Stella Calle (Alejandro's mother, and a tremendous source of strength and support in his life), Allie Jessing, and Jamel Lee.
It is stated that "Chapter 9: Trail of Extinguished Suns" is the "song that started it all." It was one of the first songs that I became acquainted with, almost immediately finding tits way into two playlists in my iTunes: "Acoustic/Electric/Eclectic" and "Another Soundtrack for Another Life." And that's what it became: essential to the soundtrack of my life. Rereleased as an advance single for the album, I was excited to experience a new version that didn't disappoint. The vocals became overlapping and harmonizing, including backing accompaniment. It was a new experience with which I felt extremely satisfied, and increased my anticipation of the album, which I was again reassured was "coming soon" - I was hesitant, but so wanted to believe.
Another song, "Car(di)nal (Sub)liminal," was also appropriately used an advanced single, and again it was one with which I was already familiar, equally as important in my life as "Trail of Extinguished Suns." It offered up new delights, again in the form of overlapping and harmonizing vocals. New strings arrangements gave the song a more orchestral feel, yet it stands on its own as a progressive rock tune.
"Obelisk Pt 1: Fallen Shell" is the melancholy prelude to an epic of self-discovery, part one being what I interpret as a tale of a changed man who does not recognize his transformation as necessarily a good thing. However, part two, "Liquid Skies," changes perspective of this transformation, with adversity recognized as an ally to self-discovery; of the changed man being a step in the journey toward a being perfect in his imperfections, the metaphorical "obelisk." It speaks of a very Buddhist view of the self, which is a form of spirituality that Alejandro has embraced. A comparison of this song that comes to mind is Tool's two-part epic "Wings for Marie," though whereas "Wings" is more psychedelic ambient rock, this is more neoclassical progressive rock. Still, I think "Obelisk" is a kindred spirit.
Lastly (before a hidden bonus track you have to download the album to hear) is "Gemini Cycle," a song graceful is its entirety, guitar and strings playing off each other in classical fashion until the vocals join the fray,. Alejandro is yet again joined by Martha Stella Calle, Allie Jessing, and Jamel Lee, in elevating choral arrangements. The song's instrumental interludes are many and welcome, bringing it beyond the level of typical progressive rock. I have to say that every song aside from "Trail of Extinguished Suns" and "Car(di)nal (Sub)liminal" have a certain novelty for me for being new, and I'd be hard-pressed to choose a favorite, but this song's neoclassical grace, combined with the sublime choir, strikes a chord within me: my favorite qualities of eccentric rock are finally in a single song!
I had to confess to Alejandro that I was disappointed in the absence of "Vicarious Virtues," one of my favorite songs; but I was promised that it would be on the sophomore album, which I'm already eagerly anticipating. Hopefully I won't have to wait for three years this time, but if I do, it will undoubtedly be worth it. I know from past experience that The Arcane Insignia's composer won't do things half-assed, especially where his art is concerned. I think that all his fans will agree with me that we appreciate it, and that we've been rewarded for our patience and support.