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Formed in 2000 by a violinist and a double bassist, Virginia-based death and thrash metal outfit Arsis — a musical term that relates to the original concept of "arsis and thesis," meaning up and down beats, to be more exact — got their start in Boston by Berklee College of Music students and friends James Malone (the violinist) and Michael Van Dyne, arguably more as a time filler rather than a serious project. With Van Dyne taking up drumming duties (he'd spent time studying drum performance) and Malone handling all the other duties of the group, Arsis recorded their first demo in 2001, and a follow-up in 2002. After playing a handful of live shows and getting some exposure for their well-received demos, Arsis became a full-time — not to mention serious — project, signing their first record deal — with Willowtip Records — in 2004. Their debut for the indie label, A Celebration of Guilt, won them high honors in the metal music press, even earning comparisons to genre legends At the Gates — specifically their final album, Slaughter of the Soul. Arsis also began their first bout of touring in support of their work at this point, filling out their live ranks with session musicians — a setup that would continue for a number of years. In 2005, Arsis released the EP A Diamond for Disease, which not only won them even more critical praise, but whose title track was requisitioned by a ballet company in New York, the Ballet Deviare.
Arsis began recordings on their next full-length in 2006. The album, United in Regret, was a more technical affair, produced by Daath guitarist Eyal Levi, and would help secure the band a deal with Nuclear Blast. Although the band had now reached new heights in the national metal scene, including shared stages and tours with such names as Enslaved, Goatwhore, and Cephalic Carnage, drummer — and founder, it must be noted — Michael Van Dyne decided to call it a day. Although down to just one official member, Arsis were ready to push forward. Composer, vocalist, and guitarist James Malone quickly rebounded, putting together a more standard-format full-time band, taking on drummer Darren Cesca, guitarist Ryan Knight, and United in Regret sessions bassist Noah Martin. (For a brief time, due to Malone losing his voice, Mike Parks took on vocal duties for Arsis. By 2007, Malone was back on the mike, and the band had decided to part ways amicably with Parks.) Arsis returned to the fore with their 2008 full-length, We Are the Nightmare, which followed in the footsteps of their previously recorded work, earning them critical praise and helping to shore up higher numbers in their nationwide fan base. A tour with legendary thrash pioneers Exodus was planned for January of that year.