Sound: Arcturus were one of the few bands that feature black metal royal ICS Vortex of Dimmu Borgir fame as a front man. They were known for their theatrical stage performances and music as well as their cosmic concepts and influences. For those who've never heard of Arcturus, its a little hard to describe their sound in a few sentences, however, those who know of ICS Vortex know that he is undoubtedly one of the best vocalists in metal. His opera-style, uplifting vocals may have earned Dimmu Borgir the 'mainstream' stamp, but I can hardly see why that should be. Anyway, for this album, Vortex is joined by prominant musician Hellhammer as drummer, although despite his usual balls-to-the wall style of playing, in Arcturus it is more restrained, yet refined, with a more progressive edge to it.
To describe the music, it can be said that these elements melded together could bear a resemblence: The general dramatic nature of Black Metal, the space/cosmic atmosphere from Symphony X, the powerful, uplifting vocals and the more technical and harmonic playing style of many swedish melodic death metal bands. The sound could be called Avante Garde, but its not really as fast paced as a band like UneXpect or Ephel Duath. Its more like Opeth, where long sections could be one style of death metal and then suddenly switch to a more ambient style of space rock. A case in point is the 2nd song on the album 'Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer'.
Recording wise, many would expect a black metal rooted album to be pretty shoddy. However, Vortex and the band have obviously made sure not to follow this route. I could compare the quality to being the same as Opeths 'Deliverence', although the guitar distortion is a little on the thin side.
Another thing to say is, although rooted in black metal, there are few similarities. This might be offputting to those more into the full on sound of other scandanavian bands, but none the less, Arcturus are monumental in their sound.
Although it is difficult to fully sum up the sound of Arcturus, I could definitly say there is nothing close. While many bands along the same skein of music use opera vocals and what have you, there are few that have their own personal atmosphere to it. While lacking in the general 'cheesyness' or bombast showmanship of bands like Scar Symmetry or Wintersun, they make the music more about mood and feeling rather than straight forward headbang material. I can firmly say that this is the best black metal off-shoot I've ever heard. // 9
Lyrics: Arcturus's general theme as a band is along the ideas of fantasies and misadventure. This can be seen in their previous albums. This particular album revolves around a space theme, more particularly what seems to be living aboard a space craft. The songs are based around disasters that occur on the ship, each very bleak in their own way. The song titles also are named after the events that occur. An example from the song 'Nocturnal Vision Revisited':
The echoes of a dream I dreamt
In a distant past is here at last
Drowning me fast
Why are the ripples so old and vast
Catching up to me? what did I see?
The tower of life, or was it death
Erected by the sea
The spawn of the earth was flocking to
Some went to the top others halted up
The song describes a dream experienced aboard the 'ship' of the storyline. Vortex actually makes it sound like he is in a particularly depressing opera such as 'Tusca' with his more manic sounding performance.
While lyrics are a bit cliche in that they sometimes border on the death metal style of repetitive sylables ('mass strangulation, hysteric conjuration, macabre infestation, worship defecation' for example, from Bloodbath) they are balanced between describing the actions being performed in the story and the mindset of the character describing it.
Vortex, of course, is reknowned for his opera vocals and soaring voice. In Arcturus, it further exacerbates the dramatic style of the music, and he sometimes adds some Immortal-esque black metal vocals from time to time. Scandanavian singer Silje Wergeland also makes an appearance in two tracks, 'Shipwrecked Fronteer Pioneer' and 'Evacuation Codes Deciphered' adding a female touch.
Although the themes and lyrics are a little over the top which some might find a little on the 'cheesy' side, the mood and music make up for it. // 7
Overall Impression: I've read about Arcturus before on UG, and many claim the previous albums were better with their former vocalist Garm are their best. Although I've yet to fully hear the previous albums, I've found this particular one to be one of the best listens I have ever had and its quite surprising that I've never heard of them until recently. There are few things that I would say have a similar sound, although they all constitute under progressive/avante garde music. It is a shame that the band have bee split up, although rumours have spread of a revival in the future.
Although some may find Arcturus to be a bit more on the softer side of the often bleak and aggressively paced Black metal style, there is little that detracts from the albums monumental sound.
There are very few things wrong with this album. The major one, which isnt particularly major at all, is the recording which, while is miles better than many artists of black metal fame, still has some flaws, such as the guitars having thin distortion and a more background tone and the vocals are mixed so that they somehow sound a little distant from the instruments but this hardly takes away from the impact. My favourite sonds are 'Shipwrecked Fronteer Pioneer' for its dynamics, 'White Noise Monster' for its Borknagar feel and funny laughter effects and 'Daemonpainter' for its somewhat mellow sound.
In conclusion, there is little further to look than this band for one of the best musical experiences possible. While many other bands can be faster or heavier or more overproduced or more operatic, there a very few with their own specific feel that just sets this band apart from every other. (and apologies if this entire review comes off as a little over the top). // 9