Arx Atrata – The Path Untravelled Review

Arx Atrata - The Path Untravelled 01The sound of birds chirping is, for me, both calming and therapeutic. My response to birdsong is not an unpopular one. Sound experts claim that “people find birdsong relaxing and reassuring because over thousands of years they have learnt when the birds sing they are safe, [and] it’s when the birds stop singing that people need to worry.” Thus, I truly felt relaxed and at peace listening to the chirping birds, soft synths, and gentle acoustic guitar in the opening moments of Arx Atrata‘s new album The Path Untravelled. I sat in awe thinking about how profoundly sounds of the natural world, when combined with black metal elements (in the case of Arx Atrata‘s latest album), can alter our emotional state. I felt eager to see what sort of emotional journey the rest of the 53-minute long album would take me on.

Hailing from Nottingham, England, Arx Atrata is the solo atmospheric black metal project of Ben Sizer. A game developer by day since 2006, Ben has been honing his skills as a vocalist, instrumentalist, and synth aficionado since Arx Atrata‘s inception in 2010. Much like his debut release Oblivion (2013) and follow up Spiritus in Terra (2016), The Path Untravelled is designed to pierce your heart with sharp, icy winds, invigorate you, and sweep you up on a wild journey of imagination. Overall, the sound on The Path Untravelled is not unlike ColdWorld‘s melancholic, atmospheric black metal, and the ambient swaths scattered throughout the album harken to the lush soundscapes of EldamarLustre, or Skyforest

As expected, the beautifully tender acoustic picking and chirping birds kicking off opening track “MCMLXXVII” eventually give way to loud tremolo picking. The transition into track two “To Be Reborn” is smooth and is a continuation of the melody in the first track. But forty-five seconds into this track is when disappointment began to set in for me. The emergence of Ben’s goblin-like shrieks sound thin, tinny, and even uninspired. Whether the way his vocals sit in the mix was a conscious choice or not, the outcome led to his songs failing to pack the ferocious punch that they would have with a better mixing job. The simple but muscular title track starts off with what Arx Atrata does best — an epic string arrangement followed by an uncomplicated piano line hovering over more tremolo picking and thin squawking. If I had to pick a favorite track off of The Path Untravelled, I’d have to go with “Elmet,” largely because I caught brief glimpses of a shimmering blackgaze Kodama-style sound. I did my best to not just hear what I wanted to hear, and I remain steadfast in my belief that Arx Atrata demonstrate promise on this gorgeous composition.

Arx Atrata - The Path Untravelled 02

While I’ve still only been officially on the AMG Staff for a hot minute, I’ve already reviewed a fair share of new atmospheric black metal releases, enough to start recognizing how common it is for bands in this genre to recycle the same themes over and over again. Left and right, black metal bands slap evocative acoustic guitar over nature sounds and sing of phenomena of the natural world. This caused me to question why music fascinated with themes of nature is so consistently lovable. The answer is simple. It goes back to why I find birdsong soothing. Nature decreases stress, relaxes us, and causes us to feel more alive. It is no surprise then that bands regularly gravitate to and are inspired by themes relating to the natural world.

My criticisms are in no way intended to suggest that The Path Untravelled is an unenjoyable record. The epic instrumentation does have its moments, but overall the results are lukewarm. I struggled to find anything on this record that truly dazzles. Though it is not likely I will listen to The Path Untravelled again, fans of ColdWorld or Paysage D’Hiver who don’t care as much about vocal production quality might still be interested.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Release
Website: arxatrata.bandcamp.com | arxatrata.com | facebook.com/arxatrata
Releases Worldwide: October 11th, 2019

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