Arcturus, the legendary pioneers of avant-prog metal, will appear live on the stage of Temple Athens on January 12th, making the perfect start for 2018 concerts in Greece. That was the ideal opportunity to look back at the five, quite different albums of the band.
Aspera Hiems Symfonia
[Ancient Lore Creations, 1996]
During the outbreak of Norwegian black metal, apart from the traditional albums of the genre, quite a few musical obscurities were released relatively quickly after the genre’s break. Aspera Hiems Symfonia is at the limits of this paradox. It’s based on symphonic black metal, but Sverd’s special way of composing makes it quite unique. The baroque element is paradoxically tied to the black metal compositions. The participation of a Malmsteen-ish guitarist like Carl August Tidemann on a symphonic extreme metal record would be a contract with kitsch in any other case. However, it is the high aesthetic level of Sverd that does not allow a single trace of cheesiness to appear. The impeccable way the pieces flow and evolve is the ace of Arcturus and it’s a characteristic that has been following them ever since. Garm’s vocals are close to the way he sings on the first two albums of Ulver. With his famous shrieks, but also with the special way he sings clearly, he manages to enter us in the harsh winter, the central theme core and the title of the album. A record that manages not only to justify its title, but also to be one of the scratch peaks of black metal history. And that was just the beginning for Arcturus…
La Masquerade Infernale
[Music for Nations, 1997]
The second album of Arcturus was released in 1997 and is a milestone in the history of metal music. Once again, extreme metal was the field of progress for a genre that discovered new horizons during the nineties, when unthinkable prospects became feasible. The former symphonic black metal gave way in an unexpected direction that only the term avant-garde is appropriate to describe what is happening in La Masquerade Infernale. Like an eerie story by Poe (Alone is a melody to his own poem), the content of the album is submerged in a dark fantasy world that could then be written perhaps only in Norway. Black metal platitudes recede – but never disappear from the background – to give plenty of space to progressive references (e.g. Magma), combined with electronic innovations, incredible samples into a work that still remains enigmaticly original. The intense theatricality resulting from the vocals, the classical instruments employed to give a lively atmosphere, the metal element that, although different, remains ubiquitous, all give the definitive mark on the album that still remains the absolute work that gave birth to the imagination of Arcturus.
The Sham Mirrors
[Ad Astra Enterprises, 2002]
Without much anxiety over whether to overcome the insuperable (La Masquerade Infernale), Arcturus emphatically invite us to the opener, the now mythical Kinetic, and thus they re-introduce themselves. But how can they be so cleverly differentiated from their previous albums and the result is “so” Arcturus ?! Without the dark and deliberate over-theatricality of the vocals in La Masquerade Infernale, Garm (as Trickster here) gives us excellent interpretations of pure rock melodic lines, oriental vocal tricks, while the black vocals we encounter at Radical Cut refer to the style of the debut and are undertaken by Ihsahn (Emperor). Hellhammer – as a great musician he is – alternates speeds and rhythms depending on the occasion, as does the guitarist and bass player. The composer of the album, Sverd, is the one who leaves his mark more than everyone else. Immense space rhythms in the overwhelming duration of the album, classical moments, impressive passages influenced by middle-eastern melodies and trip hop out elements of nowhere, all under the veil of intense metal mood. Their sham mirrors offer a true picture of the Arcturus constellation. Ad astra!
[Season Of Mist, 2005]
In their fourth album, Arcturus had to face Garm’s departure, and this was accomplished with the arrival of ICS Vortex, a move that at first glance showed that they would try to move on safer paths. On the contrary, they released a record based on the tradition they built in the past, which is avant-garde metal with technical playing and intense theatricality in the performance of the tracks, but they did not manage to surpass its predecessor, as they did before. This does not mean that the album is not good, since it has some great songs, such as Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer and Evacuation Code Deciphered, which look their previous discography in the eye. However, I think the long duration worked very badly, since they put a lot of weight on writing a lot of music and in the second half of the album, so there are some weak moments, making it unequal to its content. Nevertheless, it remains an Arcturus record, with less experimentation and novelty in the tracks, but also quality in the style only they know to write.
[Prophecy Productions, 2015]
Hearing the news of the reunion of the space-circus, I can not say that I was overexcited, as these Norwegians always seemed to exist as a super side-project of hyper-talented musicians, so disbandings and reunions would be in program. What came to give us a little bit of DNA from their new work was the first piece of Arcturian, The Arcturian Sign, which made me tear out of emotion as it compositionally contained all the elements that contributed to being considered one of bigger and more special, prog – avant garde metal bands mainly of the 90’s. This is a worthy album of their long prog history in the avant-garde metal field, in which I personally put them in the captain’s position, rightfully. The album has its peaks (Warp, Crashland, Demon, Pale), but it generally flows like a whole without a weak part at any point. It is compact and complete. In the marble of Arcturian, the ingredients mixed were Sverd’s genius and his incomparable writing, the magical way of creating images with his keyboards, Knut’s military discipline, Skoll’s giant technique, Hellhammer’s drumming virtuosity and the sometimes convincing theatricality of Simen.