Released: 2015, Self-released
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Twenty-five years after the “Gothenburg sound” emerged, the Swedish city continues to produce melodic death metal bands. Amazing. Archaea, who've actually been around in one form or another since 2007 and are just now releasing their debut full-length, bring a progressive/symphonic flair to that familiar sound and kind of turn it on its ear.
Keyboards aren't all that unusual in melodic death metal, but they aren't usually slathered on with the abundance they are on Catalyst, where they often are a main ingredient instead of a mere accent. The trilly synths of “Vacuum” give it an almost black metal hue, a la Dimmu Borgir, whereas the jaunty piano/synth combo and freewheeling arrangements of “Cryosphere” or “Pyrochrysalis” recall Arcturus or bygone Kovenant – all of whom hail from Norway. The grand piano and rollicking cadence of “Salt” even has a folk metal feel to it, whereas the closer “Sol” is done as an a cappella chorale and doesn't bear a hint of metal at all.
So while Archaea may hail from Gothenburg, they obviously aren't satisfied with just being another At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity or old In Flames clone. Good on 'em for that. There are enough of them already – and most from somewhere other than Sweden! Yet Archaea still embrace the rudiments of the sound that made their hometown famous – gritty melodies, crunching riffs, tense rhythms and a gruff vocalist in Nils Bossius who carries a tune like a lion.
“Quad Damage” and “His Wanted Position” are more straight-up melodic death metal, full of crunch with a splash of catchiness and comparatively muted keyboards. Even though “Position” is quite complex, it's still a barn-burner. “Helios Ascend” brings the keys forward again and offers a nod to Finland's Children Of Bodom with its engaging, almost poppy hooks countered by Bossius' abrasive vocals and plenty of rhythmic sock.
It might have taken Archaea all eight years of their existence to develop the sound they have now, but it has been time well spent. Catalyst is a lively, engaging debut that is full of real surprises. And while Archaea may actually cover a bit too much ground here – the album at times can feel a bit directionless – you've got to admire their ambition and sense of adventure. That they've got the chops to, for the most part, pull it off is icing on an already pretty tasty cake.