Genre: Avant-Garde Progressive Metal
Label: Prophecy Productions
There is a weird obsessive compulsion among several bands, which forces them to release, at some point in their career, an album namesake (or almost) of the band (take for instance Voivod who did it 20 years after their formation, Paradise Lost who did it twice (the merits of a two-word name), etc). For Arcturus, it is their fifth album which satisfies the compulsion in question, released after 10 years of creative absence. I certainly did not expect much from the Norwegians, especially after the lukewarm “Sideshow Symphonies” and the subsequent void in the band’s timeline. Certainly not something equal to (or even better than) “Sham Mirrors”. “Arcturian”, however, proved to be a triumphant return, placing itself with ease among the pantheon of the band’s timeless creations.
Enter “The Arcturian Sign”, the first track of the album; trip-hop/electro loops give way to an atmospheric gathering of the band’s essential, throughout its discography, elements: fluid and highly distinct guitars, full of expeditious melodies and soloing that shines through simplicity; ICS Vortex in maybe the best performance of his career, dominating each composition, like each song was shaped upon his vocal patterns (a thing becoming more apparent as we move forward in the album); the omnipresent keyboards of Sverd, the band’s leader, always pushing the songs forward, and (of more importance) skywards; Hellhammer in freestyle navigation of his drum-kit, resembling a being floating in a field without gravity; electronic music parts imbued gracefully throughout the album. “The Arcturian Sign” is not even among the album’s best tracks, but it sweeps the listener off his feet with its magical atmosphere, not warning him however of the upcoming dual storm: “Crashland” and “Angst”. Probably the best of tracks, in a highly competitive terrain. Glorifying melody, Arcturus’ trademark progressive (not loquacious) logic(?), thick with stellar ambience reminiscent of “Aspera Hiems Symfonia” aurorae: that is “Crashland” in a nutshell, its starry feeling paving the way for “Angst”, enthroned in the midst of blastbeat storms (notice the highly addictive rhythm of the verses).
It is of not much usefulness to analyze each song, unless the word count overflows the review standards. The thing is, that Arcturus return with an album that not only overshadows “Sideshow Symphonies”, but also remains true to the band’s core and recognizable elements, managing to sound extremely fresh and progressive (in a meaningful way). ICS Vortex lays aside his love for exaggeration, giving a monumental performance (both in clean and extreme vocals), which disintegrates all notions of comparing him to Garm. The rest of the band are also among Norway’s elite, their mixture, after so many years being extraordinary.
Obviously, the album is not black metal, since the Norwegians have distanced themselves from this genre’s traditional sound since “Sham Mirrors” (or maybe earlier still one could argue). To be fair, even when Arcturus did play black metal in “Constellation” and “Aspera Hiems Symfonia”, they did so in a special way, quite apart from the rest of the Norwegian scene of that era, which [scene] was just taking its first steps towards the integration of experimental elements and structures in its sound.
“Arcturian” is a great band’s grand return, which in my opinion took by (positive) surprise even the group’s most optimistic fans. A monumental album of progressive, addictive and memorable music that won’t be categorized. Another wonderful comeback from Norway for this year.
Highlights: “Crashland”, “Angst”, “Game Over”, “Bane”