The first day of fall, my favorite season of the year, is just around the corner. That means the Seattle drizzle has made an appearance, advertisements for Oktoberfest litter the streets, and the most basic of drinks (step aside White Claw), Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, has already been available in stores for almost an entire month. Coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers alike, including those who consider pumpkin spice a season and not just a drink, came in droves to get their first PSLs on August 27th this year, the earliest launch ever. Thankfully, mid-September also means the release of Arctos‘ highly anticipated debut full length Beyond the Grasp of Mortal Hands. After experiencing this album, I am fortunate to reveal that their new 48 minute long stunner is the perfect pairing to the impending crisp autumn weather and colorful fall foliage.
Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, the five-piece group of veteran musicians play a savage brand of Northern Black Metal. Inspired by the Godless wastelands of Northern Alberta and the jagged monoliths of the Canadian Rockies, Arctos‘ music seethes with melody and atmosphere and occasionally ventures into thrashy crags (“Shattered Tomb”), folky crests (“A Realm Beyond”), and melodeath valleys (“The Ancestors’ Path”), thereby creating a distinctive sound that is wholly their own. After forming in 2014 and writing in secret for three years, Arctos unleashed their debut EP, A Spire Silent. On Beyond the Grasp of Mortal Hands, they prove that their well-received initial output released just two years ago was no fluke. Arctos is here for for the long haul.
Arctos‘ pivotal strength is their mastery of the transition, a skill many bands flail their instruments at and simply hope for the best. The way the theme in short instrumental “The Spectre” bleeds into “Autumn’s Herald… Interitus” is a demonstration of this as is the way Arctos moves from one dramatic section to another almost unbeknownst to the listener on “A Realm Beyond,” my favorite track on the album. Also on the long list of impressive qualities that make Beyond the Grasp of Mortal Hands stand out is the smorgasbord of unique and interesting but cooperative sounds Arctos spreads out to keep the listener engaged. From the sound of waves lapping up on a shore in the opening moments of the album to bird chirps (“The Spectre”) and from ethereal voices (“Autumn’s Herald… Interitus”) to reverb-heavy piano (“A Realm Beyond”), I was constantly bombarded with new and compelling sonic elements to digest. Save for Amiensus, I can’t actually recall many other black metal bands employing piano quite like Arctos does on their new album, and I hope pianist Nick Wilberg is kickstarting a new trend here.
The production on Beyond the Grasp of Mortal Hands is extremely well done, and their exquisite attention to detail is noticeable. I particularly enjoyed the lucid combination of rain, strings, and rippling sounds of a crackling record in the final two minutes of “Autumnn’s Herald… Interitus.” In addition, Dan Wilber’s vocals sound grandiose, multi-layered, and cavernous just like Niilo Sevänen of Insomnium. One of the only signs of weakness holding Arctos back from the elusive perfect debut is that a few of the tracks feel undeservedly drawn out. The lethargy in the latter half of 10 minute long opening track “The Ancestors’ Path,” for example, briefly took me out of the music and interrupted my enjoyment of the emotional arc of the album.
Beyond the Grasp of Mortal Hands will surely be claiming a spot on my growing autumnal metal playlist I’ve been maintaining. I think it will fit in quite nicely sandwiched between the ColdWorld‘s ambient black metal and Empyrium‘s dark symphonic folk metal. So I invite you to go for a stroll and feel the bite in the air and the crunch of fallen leaves under your feet or snuggle up in your favorite blanket with a PSL at your side (if that’s your jam) and give Arctos‘ breathtaking new album an uninterrupted listen. I am confident you won’t regret it.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Northern Silence Productions
Websites: arctos-northernsilence.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Arctosofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 20th, 2019