The fact that both the new Arcturus and the new Dodheimsgard albums are being released in the same year seems insane for me. On one hand Dodheimsgard had to take eight years in order to put out there latest, magnificent album A Umbra Omega, and just a few months later Arcturus would be releasing Arcturian, their first album in a decade. It just seems so fitting that these two releases would be available in the same year, from two of the leaders of the more experimental and daring side of the black metal genre.
The first encouraging sign for Arcturian was the statement of Knut Magne Valle, guitarist of the band, that Arcturus was trying to achieve a more organic sound for their music, with real drums, actual strings and improvised guitar parts. Apart from the fact that few bands choose this approach today, Valle went on to say that the new album will encompass elements of the entire Arcturus history. Now that was something quite interesting simply due to the diversity of their albums. Their debut Aspera Hiems Symfonia found them in the beginning of their career, trying to craft their sound and delivering a doom influenced black metal with a majestic twist.
Their sophomore release though would be what Arcturus would and probably will forever be remembered for. La Masquerade Infernale saw the band producing a twisted vision of avant-garde black metal music combined with the incredible musicianship of their members, resulting in an album which was one of the most difficult to follow and most ambitious records to be produced. From Hellhammer’s unstoppable rampage alongside Skoll’s low frequency charge, Sverd’s orchestral horrors with Valle’s inventive guitar playing to Garm’s baritone performance, the album did not miss. From the mysterious tones of “Master of Disguise” and “Of Nails And Sinners” to the explosive parts of “Throne of Tragedy” and “Alone,” the album is a masterpiece. ICS Vortex, current vocalist of the band, would also provide backing vocals for a few songs, as well as taking the lead in the unbelievable “The Chaos Path.”
Obviously La Masquerade Infernale was a very tough album to follow, but Arcturus still managed to put out a great record in The Sham Mirrors. The style was distinctly different, with the band appearing more melodic and less frantic and unpredictable, turning away from their mystical self and into a space exploration mode. The album featured great tracks and paid tribute to Arcturus primal past with songs such as “Radical Cut,” in which Ihsahn (of Emperor) provided the extreme vocals. Arcturus would remain in more or less the same mode with their interstellar investigations as their next album Sideshow Symphonies was released, with Garm departing from the band and ICS Vortex taking his place on the vocals.
But even though Valle’s statement might appear too good to be true, Arcturus actually deliver quite well on that one. Even though the main theme of Arcturian is clearly closer to the Sideshow Symphonies and The Sham Mirrorseras, there are parts that take the music further back. There are parts where Arcturus pay tribute to their roots with quite a remorseless sense in the album. “Angst” is an example of that mentality with the whole vibe of the track taking on that majestic black metal sound that the band started from, with the faster pace and the imposing background and both clean and extreme vocals. Apart from that, Arcturus also throw in that side of their sound when they want to achieve something more impactful, a technique they apply in the opening song and in the final minutes of “Pale.”
There are even nods towards the more twisted and sinister mentality of La Masquerade Infernale in Arcturian, something that was quite surprising. “Archer” definitely has something of that album’s essence, while “Demon” features the dark aura of La Masquerade Infernale but translated through the modern day Arcturus. The final song of the album though, “Bane,” is probably the closest the band has gotten to that sound in a long time. Even though the structure seems more solid than the works of their sophomore full-length, Arcturus are able to achieve a very nasty, unsettling and nervous wrecking sound to finish off the album.
Of course the rest of the elements that make up Arcturus’ personality are present here. The grand, majestic sound is being built from great synth sounds in the opening song managing to even get an aggressive sense. Sverd’s input can be ingenious, sometimes leading to strong moments as is the case with the build-up of “Game Over” while at other times to more ambient parts as it happens in “The Journey,” with the help of an acoustic guitar giving the song a really cool folky tone. The electronic influence also helps create a disorienting, industrial-esque tone for Arcturus’ work, giving more emphasis to their sonic diversity. Parts like the start of “The Journey” and moments in “Warp” see the band incorporating these elements steadily to their structures, while at other moments, such as “Demon,” the electronic part becomes the structure of the track, leading to some very trippy results.
What has always surprised me since I became familiar with Arcturus back in the days of La Masquerade Infernale is how this band was able to produce a work that was so dark and complex and then follow it up with works such as The Sham Mirrors and Sideshow Symphones and come up with such great melodies (even though the complexity still remained.) If that is the side of Arcturus that you prefer then Arcturian certainly does not disappoint with songs such as “Crashland” and “The Warp” really nailing it. But the album does not focus on just that aspect of Arcturus. The album is like its cover, the left side of the figure represents the masked Arcturus of the La Masquerade Infernale era, while the right side the more recent explorations of Sideshow Symphonies. The right side of the background seems similar to the patterns of the artwork of The Sham Mirrors, while the red would signify the bloody black metal past of the band. Or, I might just be reading too much into it, but it feels like Arcturus have thought of all that.
At first, considering that Arcturian follows a ten year break/hiatus from the band it might not seem as daring an album as one might expect. Some people might have thought Arcturus would go back to their earlier days, or create the follow up to La Masquerade Infernale. Arcturian is not that, but it is a great album. All the elements that made the band what it is are here, from the different parts of their history to the unbelievable performance of each band member. I do not think that much more can be asked from them.
8.3 / 10
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