Reviewed by contributor Kyle Smith
Becoming the Archetype is a band of many wonders. It is difficult to put into words all that BTA is as a band. Some might try, using labels such as “prog metal,” “tech metal,” or “death metal” but none of these truly capture the fullness of BTA’s essence. In reality, BTA is its own beast, and no one can tell this beast otherwise.
On their latest release, I AM, BTA proclaims this individuality loud and strong, once again taking the multi-faceted metal genre and making it their own. The album begins with a sweet instrumental intro that quickly gets off and running with BTA’s signature tight guitar riffs and technical drum beats. From the start it is easy to tell that I AM is a concept album. BTA, an explicitly Christian band, are playing around with ways to describe the Christian God. The first nine tracks are devoted to exploring the awe-striking attributes of this God (“The Time Bender,” “The War Ender,” “The Planet Maker,” etc.) and on the final – and title – track of the album BTA explores the name God tells Moses in the book of Exodus: “I Am.” This track speaks of how, while this God displays all these attributes, God somehow transcends them in unspeakable ways. These thematic elements add coherent structure to the album throughout.
Musically, the album is hard-hitting and quite technical. There are a few instances on this album where the band seems to fall into certain metal cliches: the extreme use of china cymbal on “The Eyes of the Storm” and “The Sky Bearer,” and the full speed drum fills on “The War Ender,” to name a few examples. However, upon further listening, these musical instances are not metal cliches, but rather staying true to the metal genre – and perhaps this even presents another example of reinterpreting metal to fit BTA’s individual identity. For instance, listen to the speed fills on “The War Ender” mentioned above. The fill extends to about double the normal length of such fills. At first this may seem out of place, it actually fits well into the flow of the song, and is simply BTA doing what it does best. Another example of this type of individuality is the outro on “The Sun Eater.” This outro has a definite breakdown feel, but this is accomplished, not by slowing down rhythms, but rather by playing short blastbeats and opening up space in between them. BTA takes two metal standards – the breakdown and the blastbeat – and mashes them together to create an interesting effect.
One of the treasures on this album is the fifth track, “The Machine Killer.” This song is a short instrumental piece laced with various electronica influences. BTA pulls this track off well, and some of this influence seems to creep into some of the more metallic songs throughout the album – especially in the intros, and the middle of “The Weapon Breaker” leading up to the guitar solo. BTA uses these type of tasty extras in ways that mesh well with the song instead of taking away from it, and I appreciate the creativity and maturity displayed through that.
My main critique of this album would be the melodic vocals throughout are not as tight with the rest of the music. The low growls and other screams fit well with the instrumentation, but when more melodic vocals are introduced into the song, it does not mesh nearly as well. This is especially evident on “The Planet Maker.” The vocals have a bit of nasal flair to them and it sticks out of the mix like a sore thumb. I will confess that due was due, in part, to the speakers I was using at the time (Oh Apple, the one thing you can never get right on your laptops…) and the problem was lessened greatly when I switched to a good pair of headphones. However, the vocals still stuck out weirdly and the nasal flair was still quite present, and it did not seem to match well with the rest of the song. This is surprising, because BTA has pulled off melodic vocals quite well before (listen to “The Magnetic Sky”).
Even with this critique, I would say that I AM is a good album. There is coherence in both musical and thematic elements throughout, and definitely has BTA’s stamp of individuality. They present a combination of both technical speed and a excellent sense of groove that demonstrates the skill and talent put into this album. It is an album that requires multiple listen-throughs to begin to appreciate the beauty and artistry that went into I AM, and if you are willing to give the album that chance, you will not be disappointed.