Arcturus - Arcturian
Atmospheric Progressive Metal
10 songs (47:47)
Release year: 2015
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

Considering the obvious name choice for this album was simply 'Arcturus', it says much for the eccentric proclivities of Hellhammer, ICS Vortex, and co that they named their fifth album essentially 'like Arcturus'. Because it is; you shouldn't expect any significant changes from the Arcturus sound that we've come to know and love, although this is different enough to be interesting. It seems to be Sideshow Symphonies part 2 on initial listens, although it is more impressive than that, borrowing the spacey aesthetic and mixing in the progressive splendour of Sham Mirrors with a touch of the madness of La Masquerade Infernale. Arcturian is something of a missing link between the three albums in some ways, having elements of all but most firmly following the footsteps of its predecessor album. I remember Sideshow Symphonies being regarded as a disappointment on release, but in retrospect the 'lonely astronaut marooned on a moon' sci-fi vibe was an enjoyable one, mixing the astronomical and melancholic aspects of the band's atmospheric sound well. Arcturian builds on this; perhaps imagining the said astronaut as being rescued by an alien spaceship and describing his adventures thereafter is a good selling point?

However you'd like to imagine it, there's no denying that Arcturian comes across first and foremost as a better, deeper version of Sideshow Symphonies – the songs more complex, the melodies more infectious, the experiments more adventurous and the electronic elements better integrated. Opener The Arcturian Sign is flamboyant with electronica and percussion all over the place, before introducing the blackened riffing with symphonic backing that we know and love – by the time the vocals arrive, it's like some forgotten track from ICS Vortex's 2011 solo album Storm Seeker, albeit much more interesting, and with a launch into black metal speed and aggression, more memorable. Indeed, it's the most instantaneous track on the album with the most obvious hooks but seems sped-up, as if the band were eager to get past such frippery and onto the meat of the album. This starts immediately with Crashland, a more mid-paced track that explores the band's atmospheric, storytelling side with the symphonic elements taking point. The following Angst is faster and more aggressive, with Vortex's black metal screech working overtime atop a powerful symphonic black metal base, easily heavier than anything from Sideshow Symphonies.

Vortex doesn't seem to have the respect of say, Garm in the underground metal world, so it's worth taking a moment to appreciate him here. His clean singing is distinctive and (perhaps) an acquired taste, but it works wonderfully for the more atmospheric moments, while his infrequent blackened screech is singular and rasping; and when married with the progressive instrumental moments such as in Warp his voice is very effective indeed. An eccentric voice like his could break a lesser band, but whatever your tastes it's not hard to be enthralled as the album continues. Aside from Hellhammer's obviously superb drumming, Vortex's voice is the most notable element about Arcturian, and is what sells it to casual listeners. The more you listen, of course, the more you appreciate the hugely complex synthwork of Mollarn and Sverd, while their subtly brilliant guitarwork is equally good, if buried by a production that mixes everything together in a fuzzy morass. The main effect that said production has is to age the music, like this is some forgotten album from the 00s that you're just rediscovering. It makes for a strange listen, especially given the band's retro version of futurism...

That's the one criticism I'd really make of Arcturian; although it fits the atmospheric nature of the music, it would be nice to hear all the instruments equally for once on an Arcturus album. It's not a huge criticism, as you quickly grow used to the production with more listens; on the likes of Game Over the lead guitar is enjoyably spectacular, and although the electronic elements may take point on Demon with some downright weird lyrics ('I don't give a fuck/so suck my cock' – did the band forget to write proper lyrics and just throw in the first thing they thought of?) the following Pale more than makes up for it with a more muscular metallic structure. My favourite track on the album at the moment is Journey, which has the best usage of electronic elements on the album, with a sound radically distinctive from previous Arcturus outings, closer to a metallised Massive Attack than anything, with acoustic guitar and violin for added richness. But picking favourites is hard; the following Archer is the most Sham Mirrors-esque piece on the album as if the band were deliberately playing with their audience, the track traditional in its keyboard dominance atop doomy guitars and the lyrics spacier than ever ('last transmission from a dying bloated swollen star'). All in all, this is a worthy album from Arcturus, a well-written set of songs that are simultaneously more accessible and more eccentric than Sideshow Symphonies. I'll keep coming back to this and could easily see it making my end of year list; it's an easy album to fall in love with, and an album deserving to sit alongside the band's previous masterpieces if one not quite as good.

Killing Songs :
The Arcturian Sign, Angst, Game Over, Pale, Journey, Archer
Goat quoted 87 / 100
Other albums by Arcturus that we have reviewed:
Arcturus - La Masquerade Infernale reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Arcturus - Sideshow Symphonies reviewed by Daniel and quoted 90 / 100
Arcturus - The Sham Mirrors reviewed by Alex and quoted 75 / 100
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