Time to turn over another rock for yet another black metal garage project! Yet another slice on the Australian Metal Genre Roulette Wheel, Arkheth is a self-described experimental black metal project coming off an eight-year hiatus. “Experimental” as a subgenre label can be vague even at the best of times (that is, when it’s not an outright lie by marketing), but it’s still a head-turner for fans of strange music. A cursory examination of their back cataloge unveils only a debut EP of traditional melodic black metal and a mammoth double album of the same, so the long break has clearly prompted a shift in style, so what, exactly, are Arkheth offering, and is it actually any good?
Overall, Arkheth’s new sound is best described as an inverted Shining (Norsk edisjon); where Shining is firmly jazz with a black metal ‘roid injection, 12 Moons is black metal with stretches wading into the depths of jazz. Narrowing the field to the metal component, the black metal side of the album is well performed courtesy of sole original member and everything-but-the-sax guy Tyraenos, offering a varied sound at times evocative of Taake or Akercocke, at others of Enslaved or even Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vestua series. Song structure varies a lot less, generally consisting of self-contained movements rather than anything as banal/approachable as a verse-chorus structure, but the sheer adaptability of style on display keeps things engaging. Further, Arkheth consistently prove they know the value and limits of repetition, as no sections overstay their welcome, even when less engaging than the material they precede or succeed. Providing assistance is saxophonist Glen Wholohan; the frequent sax-led sections shake up the sonic palette of any given song, and Wholohan himself offers skillful sax riffage and solos to challenge or complement the guitar, the best such example of which comes at the end of opening track “Trismegistus.” Said guitar work frequently takes a turn for the jazzy itself, often shifting back and forth from that to black metal, as on “Trismegistus” and “Dark Energy Equilibrium,” and Tyraenos’ drums are consistently jazzy, with blast beats used sparingly.
Unfortunately, not everything is exactly rosy. That very variability is a serious double-edged sword; while nothing get stale, there’s not a lot of opportunity for the good parts to stick, either. Additionally, despite a crisp 41-minute runtime, there are a few sections of meandering guitar work that might be trimmed to strengthen the overall package. Amusingly, the best material here might well be from Wholohan’s saxophone, especially the wonderfully mournful solos on “Equlibrium” and “Where Nameless Ghouls Weep.” But here again there are problems, like the lumpy, carnival-esque “The Fool Who Persists in His Folly.” The whole track is too strange to be approachable, despite its memorability, and encapsulates a larger problem with the record. In general, the synthesis of styles never quite gels, leaving the final product strange and uneven in a way that I desperately wanted to love, but was unable to do more than like.
The production is perfectly serviceable, with a solid mix emphasizing the excellent sax work. The keyboards are at times a little high, but not overwhelmingly so, and everything else, bass included, is audible at the very least. As a final note on the performances, Tyraenos’ vocal work deserves a shout-out for its variability; while no virtuoso, the performance ranges across a variety of styles, and his black metal rasp is very solid, with some of the best enunciation I’ve heard from a deeply underground act like this.
If you like your black metal with a side of weird or you favor jazz fusion projects, this is probably worth at least a cursory listen, but this particular fusion never quite works. If nothing else, Wholohan got my attention enough to give a look for other work he’s done, but that’s not really in the purview of this site.