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Aspiring towards a similar grandiosity as Emperor’s majestic In The Nightside Eclipse, but differing from that work in method of application regarding instrumentation and form, Arcturus produce a symphonic black metal album in the compositional tradition of progressive rock, featuring an abundance of celestial keyboards dominating in sound and presence over simple, melodic guitar riffs and active, intricate drumming that drives the flowing motion of rhythm, emphasized by a variety of vocal styles in melodically reflective phrases. Embellishments in instrumentation and formal divergence make these structures seem more complex than they are, though this tactic often has the opposite of the intended effect in that these songs aim for the sweepingly dramatic, yet the choices the band make in thematic elaboration and melodic ornamentation disturb compositional cohesion and expressive clarity, resulting in music that offers a few moments of aesthetic intrigue, and individual skill in instrumentation and technique in percussion, guitar solos, and vocal range, but ultimately fails to establish atmospheric and melodic continuity and significance or relevance of thematic content. Interesting and beautiful as it sometimes is, the album remains essentially atmospheric decoration to late night stargazing, with some fine musicianship on display and pleasing moments of melodic ascension, but never reaching anything great or profound in composition or expression.
Most impressive on this album is the finesse in execution which attributes to the fluid motion of the music and the atmospheric quality of crystal clear winter-nights; while the riff-work is nothing spectacular and secondary to keyboards, the guitarist’s sense of melody and ambiance makes for pretty solos, and the dynamically detailed drumming of Hellhammer provides energetic currents over which Garm voices ghoulish screams, operatic singing, and ghostly whispering. These rhythms are much more gentle than violent, as the band seek to maintain the atmospheric essence intended to spark cosmic wonder in a state of clarified environmental perception, a transcendent moment of universal awareness that could have defined this music’s spirit if not for its lack of compositional vision and presence, which is partly lessened by a thin production that is too generous to high-end components, particularly keyboards, which dominate the sound-picture, leaving this music too light in its sonic weight for the purposes of the power of metal music, no matter how sophisticated its design and execution.
The drummer known for the unrelenting merciless battering on Mayhem albums shows a remarkable diversity in style of beat-patterning and delicate treatment of cymbal accent on the beat which qualifies this performance as his most atmospherically inclined. It would be fascinating to see what this music in its orchestral union of instrumentation could be like if its elemental design was somehow cast into and spread across the night-sky in star-like adornment, as perhaps there, in that astral context, its individual components of instruments and vocals would not demand more attention than the entirety to which they belong. The album asserts itself aristocratically in its determination to differentiate its conceptual method and expressive purpose as a more advanced and justifiably self-indulgent approach from orthodox efforts, but it desires this distinction at the expense of substantive content, and thus void of a central theme representative of something significant to existence.
The melodic translucence ascends through its intellectual diagram to reach beyond accepted standards of creative existence, with a will to dream the world into a transformation of one’s own experiment. Its pretension to individualistic aspiration for universal knowledge assumes the very pre-existing reality it claims to deny, and its aesthetic transparency limits its reach and source of interest because in its attempt to raise itself into the avant-garde it achieves less than the genuine orthodoxy it wishes to overcome in terms of powerful expression and communicative substance.