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desen tush

It’s really no secret; I fucking love Arcturus. There is nothing that can be done about this fanboyism of mine and I don’t care to fix it. Since the first time I heard The Sham Mirrors in 2002, I have not only loved them, but find Mirrors to be one of my favorite albums ever. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and, again, I’m not going to fix it. Sadly, bad things started to happen for the band after that release. Garm (or whatever the hell his name is) was replaced by I.C.S. Vortex in 2005. The same year the band dropped the disappointing Sideshow Symphonies. They broke up (and broke my heart) in 2007, and there hasn’t been any sort of release from them in ten long years. But now these lovable Norwegians are finally back. After a songwriting and recording process that lasted nearly four years (cut them some slack or we won’t be getting anymore Borknagar and Mayhem albums), 2015 brings us their new opus, Arcturian. Does this mean Arcturus will reclaim their rightful place at the head of the avante-garde table? Is this the comeback album of the year? Are there more ridiculous band photos this time around? Did Hellhammer actually eat Dead’s brains? All legitimate questions but let’s just focus on the first two.

Before we begin, let me be clear about something. My issue with Sideshow Symphonies is not the addition of I.C.S. Vortex. I absolutely love I.C.S. Vortex and own every stinkin’ album he ever appeared on. My issue is the lack of that indescribable beauty that makes Arcturus who they are. Without the passion and splendor in their sound, it becomes run-of-the-mill ambiance. Thankfully all is forgiven (mostly) and I can sleep easy again (seriously, this is why I haven’t slept in ten years). While not as grand as The Sham Mirrors, Arcturian does well to guide Arcturus on the right path after the aforementioned misstep. The weirdness of old Arcturus is present once again and Vortex’s confidence is through the roof as he finally gets the chance to be himself in boots once sported by Garm. And it’s oh so good. Vortex is on top of his game and in command of everything from his malicious rasps on “Demon,” his mid-range Peavy Wagner-isms on “Angst” and his ball-busting shrieks on “Pale.” There’s even some “yodeling” in “Crashland” and falsettos in “Warp.” No more comparisons to Garm need be made; Vortex fucking owns Arcturian.

Arcturus - Arcturian 02Another player that – not surprising – leaves his mark on this release is Hellhammer. I don’t even need to look it up to know that this relentless beating is the result of the thunder feet of this BM god. The way he manipulates his four (?) limbs does just as much for the signature sound of Arcturus as the creepy carny shit that finds its way into every release since La Masquerade Infernale (I direct your attention to Arcturian closer “Bane”). Vocals and drums accounted for, the orchestrations and keys soak this outing in an atmosphere so thick, no amount of sunshine would ever break through. Be it the soundtrack-like qualities of the outro in “Crashland,” the ridiculously catchy X-File-esque melodies of “Warp,” or the industrial machinations of “Demon” and “The Journey,” the mind-fuckery of Arcturus has survived and now wreaks havoc on Arcturian with full support from the other instrumentation.

However, the brain warping has mellowed out since the days of Masquerade and Mirrors. Arcturian (much like its predecessor) is more accessible than releases of old. However, the biggest difference between Arturian and Sideshow Symphonies is that the band brought along that old spark to ignite this new record. Spontaneity and flow is abundant as Arcturus tosses clean-guitar licks into “Game Over,” acoustic pluckings in the semi-instrumental “The Journey,” and some ethereal violins for “The Journey” and “Bane.” And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll also get an end-product dressed with a respectable DR7 rating and a solid balance in the instrumentation. The drums are crisp, the vocals are out front, and the guitars get to choose when to be muddled in the atmosphere or make their way to the surface as the electric axes are substituted for the acoustic ones.

Overall, we have a winner here that most disgruntled Arcturus fans can enjoy. Not to the levels of La Masquerade Infernale or The Sham Mirrors, but we can’t always get what we want. If this were to be Arcturus’ swansong, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: Facebook.com/Arcturus
Release Dates: EU: 2015.05.08 | NA: 05.26.2015

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  • Noctus

    This album is heaps of fun.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I thought you’d like it ;)

  • I love that Hellhammer still had the time and interest to speak against the Lords of Chaos movie that apparently got recently greenlighted. I hope they come back to Mexico later this year or perhaps the next, I sadly missed them when they came on 2013 with Cradle of Filth.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Yeah, I couldn’t pass up the brain thing.

    • Martin Knap

      I’m not expecting much from the movie. But originally Sion Sono was supposed to direct it, which to me would be a nerd dream come true… some things are just not meant to be I guess.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    3.5 sounds low for the amount of worship written. Great review though, it’s definetly going to end up in my end of the year list.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      It was VERY close… But with The Sham Mirrors being a 4.5 for me and Sideshow Symphonies being a 2.0, this was in between. Also, my review is smothered in “fanboyism” and I had to score it realistically.

      • Ernesto Aimar

        What I really love about this album is that some moments recall me of the icy atmosphere they had in “Aspera…”, but still they hold that awesome weirdness of later albums.

  • Malev Draizhen

    I’m pleasantly surprised with Vortex’s vocal styling in songs like Arcturian Sign and Crashland, he sounds like he’s having fun and at the same time doing stuff not regularly done in the genre.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Bingo. Turns out that is huge for him.

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    Great review, this definitely sounds better than Sideshow by a mile. I still can’t enjoy Vortex as much as Garm, but he did well from what I’ve heard. No Arcturus song will ever reach the height of vocal perfection that was “Nightmare Heaven” again, but this is good stuff still.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Agreed. I was just glad it was a step up and Vortex sounds pretty damn good.

  • AnnieK13

    Clip sounds interesting…and it’s available on Bandcamp at a decent price. Adding this one to my collection!

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    I’ve been waiting for this one for a loong time and it doesn’t disappoint! Arcturus is one of my favourite bands and I actually liked Sideshow Symphonies much more than I expected. I’m just super glad they’re back and delivering their controlled yet chaotic weirdness again :D

  • Eryops

    I like the song you posted (I’ve heard of Arcturus before, but never heard them), but I am bummed to find out that Hellhammer and his well documented homophobia are associated with it. As much as I am intrigued by the sound, my morality compels me to give it a pass.

    • Vega Magnus

      Go listen to Vulture Industries instead. They’re basically a high-quality Arcturus knockoff. Same-ish sound without the asshat drummer.

      • basenjibrian

        But the asshat drummer is such a GOOD drummer. :(
        Homophobia is rampant in metal, especially the extreme side, and I have to admit that I don’t look to black metallers as moral exemplars anyway. Look at the virulent racism in much of the Nordic scene.*
        * Not everyone, of course. And I even stop short of the NS stuff.

      • Shawn Cypher

        Without like, good vocals, yeah sure.

    • Martin Knap

      I aso like my evil satanic black metalists who might have sacrificed a rat or two on a pentagram back in the days to be politically correct…

  • tomasjacobi

    This album is great and I love the cover art. It reminds of some of the old posters for Tivoli (the amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark).

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Oh yeah! That’s cool. Thanks for sharing.

    • Martin Knap

      check out Costing Chioreanu’s profile on Metal Archives, he made tons of cool covers besides this one.

  • Merijn Kooijman

    I just saw them live 2 hours ago (I hadn’t heard anything of them before). They were a big disappointment. Vega Magnus mentioned Vulture Industries in another comment here, which were playing before Arcturus and they exceeded Arcturus big time. However, it was mainly the bad sound that took away the goodness for me. This track and your review make me give the music itself another shot.

    • Vega Magnus

      That must have been weird to see the knockoff playing right before the original.

    • ZEbyiUWvbe

      I was there as well … I found Vulture Industries very annoying (especially the mannerisms and Jello Biafra-sound of the singer). Arcturus was way better in my opinion …

      • Merijn Kooijman

        Matter of taste probably :). I liked VI’s theatrical clownesque style. And as I said, my major complaint was the sound. It sounded like one inseparable mess to me with glimpses of great music now and then. I can imagine things would be nicer, had I knew some of their songs beforehand.

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        Crazy! Gotta love opinions and all that subjectivity mumbo jumbo ;) thanks for sharing.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Oh bummer. Check out the album. Maybe you’ll like them.

    • André Costa Silva

      I saw them live two years ago in a fest where I went just because of them and same thing happened. They were not only phoning it in, their sound was awful and Vortex went out of tune like a MFer. 2/10.

  • Wilhelm

    To be honest I wasn’t expecting much – the last Arcturus album was pretty sub par and Vortex hasn’t given me anything to write home about for some time now. I’m really glad that I was wrong, this one really gives us the familiar, but still fresh, Arcturus sound and Vortex is on the top of his game. It’s probably going in my top ten – now I only have to find the CD at a decent price.

  • JL

    Nice review. The cover art is great. The album is a total letdown, though. I think 2.5 or 3 would be more appropriate. When you take into account that the band had ten years to do this, it’s really surprisingly average. Not close to TSM, which is easily their best record. I’m also sad to say that ICS Vortex sounds a little old and washed up. I must preferred Garm.

    There isn’t any weirdness to the songs, and the songs aren’t dynamic like they are on SS and TSM. It’s a much more straight forward approach on this one. Overall, maybe 2.5 sounds shockingly low, but it’s really just average so my ears. I’m a huge Arcturus fan. I was hoping for better. Maybe it will grow on me.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      It took me a few spins for sure. Being a huge fan and having high expectations, I could have easily written this off but the more I listened to it, the more I liked it and I more I understood it.

    • doode

      You do realized they did not work on this for ten years right??? It took ten years between main projects and time off before they got back together to make this. It’s not like they were working for ten years non stop on this you nitwit.

      • JL

        Yes I know. I didn’t mean to imply that they worked on the album for ten years. That would be ludicrous. I just meant that if they worked on some songs here and there and tweaked things now and then, over the course of ten years, I would have thought that they could have come up with more dynamic songs.

    • Martin Knap

      I have to say that it seems, unfortunately, that they ripped off a band called Quintessence Mystica for some ideas. Especially the song Angst seems to be a total QM rip-off…

  • I dunno. I actually think Vortex sounds kind of bad on this album at times. There are moments when he’s hamming it so bad that he’s going flat, and I really can’t stand it. It’s like this grating thing that happens.

    That said, I’ve not really liked any post-Garm Arcturus, so take that for what it is.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Yeah, I think if you’re a diehard Garm fan than Vortex really won’t do anything for you. They are quite different in their deliveries. And Vortex does “rock” it a bit on this album with I think is neat but different.

      • Ernesto Aimar

        Well, new Borknagar will have both of them ;)

        Can’t wait to hear Garm back again in Borknagar.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Can’t wait!

          • Barbacuprum

            Can’t wait!

        • Wilhelm

          Garm is back in Borknagar?? When did this happen?

          • Ernesto Aimar

            He will do guest vocals for 2 songs in the new Borknagar album coming later next year.

            In on of them he will sing along Vortex and Vintersorg :)

    • Shawn Cypher

      When I first heard it, I thought Garm did all the vocals on La Masquerade Infernale. Much later, I found out that the voice I loved (Vortex) was in 3 of my favorite songs on it.

      I’ve been a Vortex fan ever since, I liked the two Borknagar albums he was lead on, really appreciated his contrast vocals in Dimmu Borgir, and was ridiculously excited when I knew he was back in Borknagar.

      “Frostrite” is my favorite song on Urd, it’s freaking beautiful.

      Sham Mirrors is probably the best Arcturus album so far, but I liked Sideshow a lot too (except for that pesky volume issue with Shipwrecked)… I am still waiting to see how Arcturian is for me. I’m not disappointed, I’m just still trying to digest it.

      Between multiple bands, there are 3 great vocalists.. Garm, Vortex, Vintersorg… I can’t wait to hear the songs on the new Borknagar record.

      • Pascual Villaseca

        Dont forget Lars Nedland, Borknagar, Solefald.

        The guy is a beast.

  • Wilhelm

    Is anyone else experiencing production/mixing issues with Arcturian? The DR is fine, so that’s not the problem, Hellhammer’s drums sound characteristically flat, so that’s not a big deal – but the sound is just kind of dull and muddy, not enough to ruin the album but does make an impact. Since I saw nobody addressing the issue I thought I might as well. I posted this to the band’s Facebook and the band responded that they wanted it to sound this way.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      It is different. I used the word “muddled” because that’s how it sounds at time. But I believe it is totally intentional and I think it’s a new “weirdness” approach for them.

    • Barbacuprum

      and if you listen with elevated attention you will realize random beats and tunes dropping all over the place.. they really went for that chaotic storm effect I think

    • tomasjacobi

      I think this album sounds great. I have no issues with the mix whatsoever and the mastering is just fine; sure it could be more dynamic, but it’s above the Dr5/6 that most music has so I’ll take it!

    • doode

      Production is perfect IMO. Part of Arcturus’ sound is the production and for them to have given that up to please more mainstream mix tastes would have been against everything they do. I actually enjoy when bands purposely try not to sound like what everyone else is trying to.

    • André Costa Silva

      Incredible how their production quality kept dropping after The Sham
      Mirrors. Sideshow Symphonies had come kind of problem happening during
      mastering or something, but now, in an era where loads of bands make
      huge-sounding albums on a budget, these guys put a record out that
      sounds like a demo tape from the 90s.
      I really like the songs themselves, but I’m not spending my money on something so obviously half-assed as this.

    • Nico CreepymaryHeks

      Definitely there’s some kind of mastering issue. No dynamic range and lacking of crispness in the high end of the spectrum.

  • Feytalist

    You know what? I liked Sideshow Symphonies. I think Vortex is perfect for Arcturus. Like the review mentions, they’ve always had this psycho circus thing going on, and he has a natural high-pitched voice that goes in and out falsetto effortlessly that works so well with that.

    Arcturus has always been a bit inconsistent from song to song, and Arcturian is no different, but yeah. Even if it’s been 10 years, I’m more than happy with the result.

  • Barbacuprum

    on the first listen I wanted to shout “disappoint”
    on second listen, the album whispered things to me that I didn’t hear before, things so beautiful..
    on I can’t count how many times I have been listening to this album multiplied by that many days I’ve lost myself, and I’m sort of in love!

    definitely not Sham Mirrors, Garm > ICS but heck this was what I have been waiting for for years!

    thank you ye olde masterminds of nordic metal

    • Cuz

      I had the same experience. While I fell in love with some songs immediately (Crashland and Game Over), it took me some time to fully appreciate the others. There still some ups and downs, but overall it is a solid album, with good songwriting and great atmospheres.

      Is this the best album by Arcturus? Definitely not, I still think that LMI and TSM are masterpieces that won’t be written again (and AHS is one my favourite album of all times, but not very “Arcturus”). But it is extremely enjoyable. 3.5/5 is too low, 4/5 is a bit too much. This is a 7.5/10.

  • OzanCan

    Whatever they are drinking and/or eating, I want some..tasteful and delicious..

  • Celaeno

    Yaaaaaaaaay! I’m so excited about this and reading all the comments just makes me more excited! The Sham Mirrors is definitely my favorite (followed closely by The Old Man & The Spirit). Holy smokes on the vocals and drums. Fucking talent out the ears. The vocal range, in both frequency and style, absolutely blows my mind. Gah. So happy.

  • JimminySnakeTits

    Loved the Sham Mirrors and if The Arcturian Sign is fairly representative of the new album (still waiting for the NA release), then I know I’m going to enjoy it. I wasn’t aware they were putting something new out this year, so this is a pleasant surprise!

  • basenjibrian

    Count me in as another fan of Vortex, and I think he sounds insane here! (Without denying that GARM is still GOD).
    I can see the complaints about a touch of flatness in the sound. But…I am enjoying the diversity in songs here, even though there were one or two that stood out as too AOR radio (believe it or not).
    And, as much of a dick as he may be, Hellhammer does anchor this album in an inimitable way!

    • Shawn Cypher

      It’s quickly growing on me too. The first day I wasn’t terribly impressed (but not disappointed, I had high expectations)… I think I’ll be happy with it the more I listen to it.

  • JL

    reading all the comments is fun. it brings me back more than a decade ago to when i first heard the sham mirrors. i was shocked and stunned that music could sound like that. classic record with perhaps the best atmosphere ever captured on an avant garde metal record. only problem is the record’s too short.

  • joshgreen

    Didn’t know this was in the works, and I’m very pleased to see that the reviewer mentions that it approaches/captures some of the magic or magical cheese of Sham Mirrors, which is my favourite :)

  • Dark Self

    Then you should fucking hate this album… or maybe not, too stone to remember what the great Arcturus of the past was capable of.

    D

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Coming back to this post because I think Acturian is a bit under rated here. Despite the at times very ‘dull’ sounding drums and the sometimes odd choices they’ve made during mixing. This is a really compelling album which over the last month i’ve been continually going back too. I think it’ll be a favourite for me this year!

  • Erik Cornell

    You must be on crack Slide show is there best album yet to this day what crack are you smoking lol wow dont do drugs kids.

  • Hideous destructor

    Your intro echoes my sentiments exactly. Sham mirrors is such an amazing album. This one’s not on the same level but its good to have them back. Crashland is a great track.

  • Martin Knap

    I have a bad feeling that Arcturus ripped of Quintessence Mystica on this album, specially the song Angst, there ideas which seem to be lifted directly from QM. kind of spoils the overall good impression…