Arcturus - Arcturian

Another group that is not exactly unknown, but this being a solid release and their first in 10 years...

Arcturus is a group from Norway that dropped its first LP in 1995...roughly 19 years before I even got around to listening to a single one. While this is sad on my part, it is worth noting that they have not released anything since 2005's Sideshow Symphonies. Despite not being a long time fan, Arcturian fills me with a sense of nostalgia. I get the same feeling from this album that I did listening to my first Dark Tranquillity CD's in high school. This may be in part due to the contributions from ICS Vortex, a musician I have respected since my formative metal years listening to Dimmu Borgir. While musicianship is a good indicator of an album's quality, it is often these elusive, qualitative aspects that will stand the test of time.

Even so, this is certainly not to say that Arcturus is lacking in the songwriting department. To the contrary, the many elements at play are quite remarkable. The plentiful string arrangements throughout deserve particular attention. Tracks like “Angst” and “Pale” showcase a level of pomp that is dark and foreboding without a hint of cliche. Similarly, the subtle synth and electronic elements take songs to new heights of atmosphere and appeal as with “The Arcturian Sign,” “The Journey,” and “Warp.”

While the guitars and drums often do little more than help fill out the sound and create a heavier aesthetic, they too have the occasional spotlight moment. “Game Over” features a fittingly classy solo while “Crashland” and the opening track have their share of thunderous double bass, tom fills, and snare rolls. But the real accolades here go to Mr. Vortex. I have often said that this man is possibly the most talented vocalist in metal today, and his work here with Arcturus is no less impressive than classic contributions to Death Cult Armageddon or Borknagar's The Archaic Course. His voice is operatic in its sheer power and command of melody without ever becoming gimmicky. And while there are not many harsh vocals to be found in Arcturian, Vortex's presence is no less imposing.

Alas, similar to Sigh's Graveward, the only major problem I have with Arcturian as an album is that the production feels rather flat in comparison to its lively compositions. The more “classical” moments (i.e. the first half of “Bane”) really pop, but it seems like things go wrong whenever the guitars gain prominence. Crunchy distortion seems to bulldoze peaks and valleys into a uniform plain that lacks grandiosity. The drums feel particularly lackluster in these times, but I think that the most egregious crime is that the stunning vocal performance is not given the depth it deserves. With all of the posh ambiance, I crave a sound that feels more nuanced and vital.

Fortunately, the clear passion and professionalism exuding from the very pores of this LP are more than enough to forgive issues in the studio. Advertised as “The new magnum opus from Arcturus,” Arcturian is the rare comeback album that delivers on its promise. Between the tasteful classical elements and perhaps best vocal performance so far of 2015, one would be foolish to pass on at least a few spins of this accomplished piece of art. Coming May 8th, don't be one of those fools.


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