Arcturus - The Sham Mirrors
The End Records
Post-black avantgarde metal
7 songs (43'13")
Release year: 2002
The End Records
Reviewed by Alex

Whenever a talented group of people gets together something beyond ordinary is bound to happen. Such is the case with Arcturus . These formerly black metallers are determined not only to push the envelope. They are determined to push it very far. They call themselves "progressive", but I think the name "avantgarde" is more appropriate as all genre boundaries have been transcended. Herein lies the risk. In the word of Arcturus themselves "Our enterprise a success as return is no option" ( Kinetic ). I know I have taken this out of the context, but is the ENTIRE enterprise a success? There are some elements on the album that are, no doubt, masterful, but there are also moments when I was completely lost at what they were trying to accomplish.

Some people said that this album is completely devoid of guitar music, with maybe one or two interesting hooks per the whole album. While I agree that it is not a riff-oriented music and guitar is indeed very low in the mix, the goal for The Sham Mirrors , at least the way I see it, is to create this out-of-space and out-of-time atmosphere that has no dimensions. For this keyboards of all kinds carry the day and ... succeed in my opinion. Drumming is pure work of art. What else did you expect from Hellhammer? While loud and bottom heavy it infuses just about every song with trippy subtle rhythm changes. It makes some of the compositions chaotic like Ad Absurdum and gives nice flow to others. Case in point - the opener, Kinetic , which should have been a hit on a Metal radio station (if there is such a thing) with its atmosperic catchy melody and progressive feel.

Vocals deserve a special mention. Much has been made about Trickster G. Rex (formerly Garm) adding falcetto range to his voice. I have not been put off by a few times he slips into it. The "travelling circus" style of singing displayed on the previous excellent album La Masquerade Infernale is one of a kind and instantly recognizable. To my ear, Garm continues to use it quite a bit. The vocal addition I didn't like is the voice box processed metallic "robot voice" on Kinetic and the closer For to End Yet Again . This makes it sound too techno. And the techno tilt is to me an Achilles heel of The Sham Mirrors .

In Nightmare Heaven after a few riffs and the ever-present keyboard melody one can hear sounds similar to a needle scratching a piece of plastic. Is it really necessary for the "atmosphere"? Or is it necessary for almost a full minute? The whole album has this inconsistency about it. Sometimes it is a symphonic post-black metal of the highest order, but sometimes it is keyboardist and main songwriter Sverd showing he knows his way around synthesizer. Frozen apocalyptic galloping chords of Collapse Generation and epic morose sound of Radical Cut (Emperor's Ihsahn donates the only brutal vocals on the album here) leave me speechless. Long drawn out whistling sounds on For to End Yet Again (must be solar wind blowing) make me lose focus. Even beautiful grand piano on the latter track does not make up for that.

While techno addition works very well for another avantgarde Scandinavian band ... And Oceans it somewhat irritates me with Arcturus . Instead of adding to the atmosphere it detracts from it.

Killing Songs :
Kinetic, Collapse Generation, Radical Cut, and please lose the techno
Alex quoted 75 / 100
Other albums by Arcturus that we have reviewed:
Arcturus - Arcturian reviewed by Goat and quoted 87 / 100
Arcturus - La Masquerade Infernale reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Arcturus - Sideshow Symphonies reviewed by Daniel and quoted 90 / 100
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