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Debut Arcana Coelestia album "Ubi Secreta Colunt" was a short work that gave folks an inkling of this Italian band's ambitions in carving out a distinctive occult universe of almost psychedelic blackened funereal doom with a cold yet bewitching space ambience. The second album "Le Mirage de l'Ideal" is a further advance in theme and musical style from that debut, so much so that even though only a few years separate the two recordings, the difference between the two in ideas, style and construction is huge, almost like a chasm. As far as I know, AC still draw on the 19th century playwright August Strindberg as an inspiration - he was known as a theosophist and alchemist as well as a writer - and also follow the work of Strindberg's fellow Swede Emanuel Swedenborg who lived 150 years earlier and who was also a man of many occupations: scientist, philosopher, theologian, mystic.
The arc that the AC men follow is established in the first track "Duskfall" - lush and dense musical textures that mix fierce black metal, near-epic and majestic doom, cold spacey ambient tones sculpted from portions of the night sky and dueting black / death metal vocals and operatic pure-toned voices. This is very rich and grand music that flows where it will depending on the mood and emotion invoked by the lyrics. As the six tracks proceed at much the same pace and are not very different from each other in basic style and even construction - I counted three songs in a row featuring middle passages of all-ambient quietude and music with telephone-like masking that made it sound faraway and otherworldly - they can be heard as six movements in one very long opus. Actually the whole album is not that long (just under 50 minutes) but because every track is so packed with melodies, riffs and effects to the point of being overloaded, it seems so much longer, about 10 minutes longer. Part of the reason is that the first half of the album takes its time to establish what's happening and what's going to happen and it's only after the halfway mark that the whole juggernaut lurches onto another plane, one more intense and delirious. Though there are lead guitar solos that get shrill and manic, the whole edifice tends to stick firmly together as it travels towards its goal.
The only track that breaks the mould of this musical monolith is the second-last one "Tragedy and Delirium II - The Delirium" which is dominated by a bloodcurdling black metal vocal singing Italian lyrics against a misted percussion backdrop. This is a mostly vocal track with normal human voices appearing early on talking about unicorns (unicorns?!) before the main one does. I'm amazed that the AC men can maintain a high level of menace, intensity and evil all the way through this 7-minute song. Then again, considering that these guys are Italian and Italy does have a reputation for intense stylised and theatrical horror and psychological thriller / slasher films, of which all decent Italian black metallers should at least have seen Dario Argento's "Suspiria" and "Inferno" and Mario Bava's "Kill, Baby, Kill" and "Planet of the Vampires" (this movie was an influence on Ridley Scott's "Alien"), I probably should expect no less from them.
I find the clean vocals on most tracks irritating and pretentious to be honest. I just don't find they suit the music which, often overblown and elaborate as it is, is still heavily steeped in black metal and doom. The smooth bland texture of the operatic voices doesn't blend at all well with the harsher tones of the musical tapestry and they seem to be very loud as well. The black / death metal vocal along with background demon gabblings more sensed than heard are really enough for this kind of music. Of course there are other kinds of singing, like evil screaming voices of babies and small children possessed by demons, that I can think of which might fit into the music ... and whatever happened to good old-fashioned choirs of angels? Another thing too is the operatic aspect is likely to make the music sound dated and old over time. I suppose that could be the intention.
Few songs really stand out in any way apart from "Tragedy and Delirium II ..." and I can imagine that for some listeners, boredom will set in quickly. The first half of the album tends to just coast along and it's easy to get the impression that the musicians are so awed by their own lush creation that they just wallow in it when they should be pressing on to their goal. The really interesting ideas and music are cooped up in the second half of the album. I can't see either that this album will stay fresh over time: when I hear this album I have a feeling that this creation, gorgeous and lavish as it is, is a static thing content to stay in its particular niche.