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After releasing a critically acclaimed debut which ascended black metal to new realms, Arcturus decided that this was not enough and created an avant-garde classic with only select sounds carried over from the past release.
Now although I love this release, there is hardly anything that is distinctly black metal about it, or even metal at all to be honest. The guitars play a subtle role which compliments the music very well when the keyboard lines and vocal arrangements are written to this degree of excellence, although there are also some great melodic leads and solid riffs still to be found.
The vocals courtesy of the infamous Garm are no longer of the aggressive black metal variety found in early Ulver and Arcturus, but now concentrating on the clean vocals heard in the debut, yet much more varied. He goes from strange background electronic sounding vocals to epic operatics that have to be heard to be believed. These vocals themselves make this release very difficult to categorise and worth every penny of the asking price!
As I have stated before the keyboards play a large role hear, but they are brilliantly interspersed within the record so it never gets boring and the many different influences, ranging from electronic to classical, make for an invigorating listen. Although there are plenty of influences present here Arcturus still manage to keep the album with the same kind of atmosphere all the way through, from the circus feel of The Chaos Path (featuring an excellent lead vocal performance from Vortex) to the neo-classical feel of the immense instrumental Ad Astra, it all seems to fit.
The drumming of Hellhammer plays another important part throughout the album, not showing off for the sake of it, but complementing the music perfectly. The blast beat at the beginning of Alone is a great touch as are the bass drum runs on Ad Astra. This is by no means his most technical or brutal performance, but just what was required to provide a firm backing for the schmorgasborg of melody.
The production is also perfectly fitting for the music. Aspera Hiems Symfonia had appropriate production for the black metal sound mixed with odd symphonies, but here the production has been upped and has little to do with the black metal of old. All the instruments are heard clearly which essential for a release like this where there is plenty going on at once throughout the songs.
I will explain that the reason I take off 5% from the album is just a personal problem with the track listing, as it did take me quite a few listens to get used to the pattern of it. Despite this I also think it could add to the album in a way, an unpredictable order for an unpredictable album, maybe. Nevertheless I do not like the way that an instrumental is the second track, followed by another instrumental. Also I would have opened the album with a different song, but anyhow, this is just my personal opinion and probably is not widely shared.
Overall this album is pretty much a must buy for anybody into the more diverse side of metal and does not mind classical music, clean vocals and a variety of different styles.
Thoroughly recommended along with all of the other Arcturus releases.