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With another album, there are new developments for the avant-garde metal act known as Arcturus. This now-legendary band is something of a Norwegian black metal supergroup, with members collaborating here from, among others; Ulver, Dimmu Borgir, Mayhem, and Emperor. What comes as a surprise is that despite these musicians' background, the music here is not black metal, but rather a highly theatrical brand of progressive metal. 'La Masquerade Infernale' first planted Arcturus' flag in the sand, taking the dreary atmosphere of black metal and channeling it through what may have been described as astral circus metal. 'The Sham Mirrors' sees this project continue own the avant-garde path, but this time around, things are a little lighter, melodic, and- dare I say- <.I accessible. No matter, in many ways, Arcturus have improved this time around, creating yet another excellent and memorable landmark of avant-metal.
My memories of 'La Masquerade Infernale' focus largely on the diabolical atmosphere that the music created. While it was far from being black metal in nature, the vibe that came across was not unlike something a frostbitten black metal band would convey. Garm's brooding voice was subtle and disturbing, and there were plenty of tritones for the devil worshipers to dive into. As is even evident from the album artwork, 'The Sham Mirrors' is a departure from the darkness, in favour of something a little more melodic. The riffs are faster and more harmonious, and Garm's vocal performance has been swept up from the gloomy basso into a higher-register, theatrical wail that I.C.S Vortex first introduced to the band with his memorable vocal performance on 'The Chaos Path'. All of these changes are best represented on the album's opener, 'Kinetic', which is incidentally the greatest thing that the album offers. 'Kinetic' opens up with fast paced chords and a steady build, with ambient vocalizations, programmed drum beats, and an array of 'sci fi' electronic noises. While Garm did not impress me a great deal on 'La Masquerade Infernale', his voice blows me away this time around. It is as if his voice has been let off its chain, and is now allowed to traverse the depths of his range, which is quite impressive. It is a disappointment that there is nothing else quite as astonishing as 'Kinetic' on the rest of the album, because it is one of the greatest progressive metal songs I have ever heard.
Arcturus may have made their sound more melodic, but it is still very forward thinking and weird. There is a symphonic element brought in via the keyboards, making Arcturus sound like an avant-garde incarnation of Dimmu Borgir, at times. The songwriting has plenty of hooks, but it rarely relies on a chrous structure. However, most of the experimentalism is brought on through the way the music is performed and executed. Garm's vocals are intense and dramatic, as if he was performing in an opera. The dense electronic ambiance also gives the music a coat of production that makes it sound weirder than it would otherwise. The production can get ambitious past its means at times, although the amount of work that's been put into fleshing out the sound is acknowledged and evident in the music. The one musician here who doesn't seem to get a chance to exploit his full talent is drummer Hellhammer, whose normally inhuman grasp of the double-kick and blast beat is muffled and drowned by the dense production, not to mention the thick presence of programmed beats in the album.
'The Sham Mirrors' is another challenging album from Arcturus, although it is nowhere near as shocking as 'La Masquerade Infernale' was for me. This is arguably the best thing that Arcturus has released in any case, and it is a shame they stopped making music together at the peak of their work. As it is with many avant albums I come across, there are aspects of this album that don't sit totally right with me, but these are easy to overlook in the face of the resounding strengths the album boasts. An excellent, inventive album.
‘Thus one shall go to the stars.’ It is probably the most apt phrase that comes to mind as the spacey textures of opening “transmission”, ‘Kinetic’, ushers in the beginning of this, the third opus in the acclaimed Arcturus back catalogue. For anyone familiar with their previous recordings, the differences should be both immediate and apparent, though not too unexpected, considering the highly experimental nature of the band.
Evident from the outset on this release is Arcturus’ far more liberal use of strange and atmospheric sound effects, often evoking visuals of vast machinery and extra-solar phenomena. In the hands of a lesser band, the use of such tools could have easily worked to the detriment of the music, but with musicians as expertly talented as these, they serve to draw the listener in and push the effectiveness of the musical concepts presented. This comes through particularly well in the densely atmospheric mid sections of ‘Nightmare Heaven’, which conjure up images of a great stellar void; dark and desolate.
Adding to this are the stunning vocals courtesy of Kristoffer Rygg (aka Garm). Gone are the blackened screams and snarls that characterised much of their earlier material (only to reappear on track 6, ‘Radical Cut’, courtesy of Emperor’s Ihsahn). Sticking to clean vocals throughout, Rygg’s versatility and talent as a singer, if not already apparent before, is now unequivocal when heard through the variety, and masterful delivery, of the vocal performances herein. Suiting the music and atmosphere perfectly, the varying styles employed make for both an interesting and highly engaging listen, with calming ‘ooh’s in the softer sections transitioning, almost too naturally, into the maniacal howls that can be found in some of the darker passages.
It is that signature darkness in their compositions that ties The Sham Mirrors back to their earlier releases, though the approach has changed greatly. The third track, ‘Ad Absurdum’, opens with a thickly distorted guitar vamping heavily through a particularly menacing chord progression. A sinister thread is held throughout as the band moves through each passage until reaching a brilliant conclusion featuring some ghostly, choir-like ooh’s over a haunting piano figure.
Moving from the transfixing melancholy of the ‘Ad Absurdum’ finale, a shrill string motif gives short warning of the percussive onslaught to follow. Complimenting the music beautifully up to now, ‘Collapse Generation’ is a chance for Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg to really let loose, with some particularly powerful bass drum work - the blasts reminiscent of the black metal style he’s most well-known for - setting the stage for some bombastic, almost apocalyptic passages featuring heavy synthesised string ensembles along with a piano that brings that extra touch of desperation and excitement to the beautifully choreographed chaos raging around it.
The word ‘atmosphere’ has recurred quite a bit so far in this review, and for good reason. It is an important aspect of this record that has been superbly maintained by all musicians involved. Guitarist Knut Magne Valle, like Hellhammer, has a great talent for complimenting, and enhancing, the music as a cohesive whole; knowing when to pull back as well as when to rage forward in a fury of technicality and musicianship. Similarly, Dag F. Gravem adroitly handles the low frequencies on his first, and only, Arcturus release, with some interesting bass lines running throughout; the one obvious aside being ‘Radical Cut’, which sees a return from the band’s long time bass player, Hugh Mingay.
And so, this brings us to the subject of the mastermind behind Arcturus, keyboardist Steiner “Sverd” Johnsen. In addition to his formidable technical abilities, Johnsen possesses a compositional skill and clarity like few other modern musicians. His ability to capture emotions so potently, particularly in his piano interludes, is tremendous. The most obvious, though no less effective, example of this can be found in the introduction to ‘Star-Crossed’, which starts off in a wonderfully baroque manner that culminates in some beautiful arpeggiated runs before taking a decidedly darker turn with the arrival of the first verse.
Accompanying the music exquisitely throughout, the lyrics are another highlight as they freely, and collaboratively, evoke the same mood and imagery of the music while remaining wonderfully abstract, open, and always poetic.
Ending this modern masterpiece is the epic ‘For to End Yet Again’. Taking aspects from those leading up to it, ‘For to End Yet Again’ weaves in a few tricks of it’s own over the course of it’s more than ten minute long runtime before proceeding on to a magnificent instrumental section that proves a fitting close to a very extraordinary record.
To set the record straight, I am a huge Arcturus fan. My favorite album of all time is “La Masquerade Infernale.” And I just adore “Aspera Hiems Symphonia.” After listening to so many people claiming, “The Sham Mirrors is the best Arcturus album ever! It’s so much better than Aspera and La Masquerade Infernale,” I picked up this album with the highest expectations. Boy, was I wrong!
What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is an album thrown together with almost no band chemistry whatsoever. This whole album sounds like no one wanted to do it, and everyone seems to be on a different page throughout.
Let’s start with Garm’s vocals. This is definitely the most disappointing factor on the album. He longer sings in that deep, operatic and unique voice of the previous album. He sings in a very relaxed, almost effortless voice here. He sings in a style of vocals that almost anybody could pull off, nothing unique at all. His few vocal highlights are all in his falsetto parts. Garm’s vocals in “La Masquerade Infernale” were very manly, and the vocals here sound like a little boy attempting to sing. The change in vocals from the last album to this one is so drastic, that it’s like someone cut off his testicles, and now he can only handle falsettos and higher notes. Seriously, he has not sung in his low baritone voice since 1998. Maybe he is a eunuch.
Other vocals on this album are done by the infamous Emperor frontman, Ihsahn. Ihsahn does no justice for the vocals on this album either. In my opinion, Ihsahn really lost his harsh vocals post “Nightside.” Now, he kind of sounds like a pig squealing with his harsh vocals. He is so strained sounding, that it almost hurts my ears to listen to it!
Hellhammer can not even salvage this album. His drumming style in this album is more rocky, as opposed to metal drumming. He did not blastbeat much in “La Masquerade Infernale,” but his excellent use of the double bass drum was very effective in that album. This album, he does occasionally blastbeat, but he is definitely lacking his usual Hellhammer magic here. It does not have that unique sound that it usually has.
Guitars sound very progressive again, like the previous album, but with no focus or theme. They are actually better than “La Masquerade Infernale’s,” but they do not fit like they did in “La Masquerade Infernale.” The last album was very vocal centric, so it worked in that album, but here, in this album, nothing is really the main focus. It just sounds like a blur of spacey rock.
Highlights are clearly in the first three songs. “Kinetic” is probably the best track here, and it is no “Throne of Tragedy,” which is the worst non-instrumental track off “La Masquerade Infernale!” “Nightmare Heaven” and “Ad Absurdum” are pretty solid, but Garm rushes through his vocal parts within the first couple minutes of both of these songs, forcing the listener to listen to four minutes of poor quality instrumental rock.
Overall, this album is very disappointing. It just does not have the thought provoking sound of the two previous albums. I personally do not know how most people can think this effortless album is better than the other two albums. Even “Sideshow Symphonies” kicks this album’s ass. That album seems to be back on track with an operatic male vocalist singing over dark metal. This album has a happy, falsetto obsessed vocalist singing over happy sounding rock! Again, all this is just my opinion, but beware, if you loved the previous two albums for their darkness, beautifulness, and uniqueness, you might not like the effort-lacking, boring, and pointless sham-album, “The Sham Mirrors.”
The third of four successful records is our next port of call. ‘The Sham Mirrors’ is regarded as one of the most experimental records that Arcturus have written during their long and illustrious careers. That’s some feat given the fact that they are known around the world for producing a sound like no other because they explore the realms of the avant-gardé style in highly different ways every single time they recorded an album. This time round, things have changed again. It was to be Garm’s last session as vocalist and most certainly his best. In many ways, the career of this band could be likened to Garm’s other project, Ulver. Both started with heavy black metal influences, but later transformed into what they were the last time a record was released. Whilst Ulver explored the realms of electronica and the like, Arcturus’ adventures led them down the path of symphonic showcases.
The main change, in my eyes, is in the vocals. Garm began to fuse clean vocals with the Arcturus mentality long ago, but this time, the vocals have altered again. On the previous record, the vocals were almost operatic, but that’s no longer the case. Whilst the vocals could come across as cheese infested on occasions, that’s no longer a problem with this new style. It’s classy and polished. It would seem that during the time that Arcturus took out between records has given Garm the time to perfect the right style of vocals that really does suit the Arcturus way. The vocals are clean, none of that black metal influence which was once so strongly felt in Arcturus’ music can be heard. The vocals don’t even seem to recognise the roots of the band, but this isn’t a bad sort of progression. It’s been natural to Arcturus, which has been wonderful to see and hear, of course. The vocals do, on occasions, take to spoken word, but it’s not as often as one might expect. The main vocals are gloriously sung with bags full of melody, which is a style that suit’s the needs of such a melodic band.
Speaking of melody, this album lives off it. From the once again symphonic keyboards, to the ‘ooo-ooo-ooo’s of the vocals. This album simply loves to provide it’s audience with bags full of melody. The production is slightly altered from the last time out, but it’s still clean. It has a rather echoed feel to it which, in many ways, improves the sound of the bass and drums, in particular. Hellhammer is once again providing us with his skills behind the set. His use of double bass really emphasises the power the band has in mood controlling. The way in which the album shifts in terms of moods is spectacular. The atmospheric nature of ‘The Sham Mirrors’ is perfectly set by the echoed feel of the production. It allows the vocals to sound out even after they’ve finished singing the hymns of a thousand dying angels, beautifully worked and significant in every way possible.
The bass is an important factor as well. It comes in two very different forms, the bass instrument is self and the double bass of the percussion section. Both of which provides us with a long lasting powerful sound, which isn’t lacking in consistency due to excellent musicianship and the endurance of the album which seems to be standing the test of time. Song writing is much improve from the last outing too, which was needed in some respects. A much improved effort with highlights coming from ‘Ad Absurdum’ and ‘Star-Crossed’ which has a strangely hypnotic, yet stunningly beautiful keyboard solo at the beginning. Fantastic.
After somebody recommended Arcturus as a good avantgarde band, I decided to get this album. Before listening to it I was a bit sceptical, because apparently most of the members are black metal musicians. I'm not a huge fan of black metal so I figured out I'd just give this this album a quick listen.
How wrong I was.
If you like music, you should give this album a listen. You don't even need to like metal, because there's so much variety in this thing to even please people who don't normally listen to metal. I don't even know where to start.
The vocals are not black metal vocals, so that's a positive thing (for me), and I was suprised to hear the capability Kristoffer Rygg (aka Garm from Ulver) has when providing clean vocals.
The use of keyboards is also amazing, they jump in at the right moments and sometimes even asume the status of lead instrument. I don't know much about keyboards, but I can tell you that Steinar Johnes has talent. The synths were perhaps one of the aspects I most enjoy about this album.
On to the drums. Well, it's Hellhammer. I mean, everybody knows this guy, even people who don't listen to extreme metal have probably heard of him. Apparently this guy plays in 5 bands at the same time. Sometimes though, the contrast of Hellhammer's black-styled drums and calm music is a bit weird. Maybe it was the intention of the band members to achieve this effect, but I'm not so sure about that. Maybe Hellhammer is just a bit limited when it comes to different drumming styles, sure, he's an awesome black drummer ... but what about other genres?
Knut Valle provides his guitar skills, and I was positively amazed of some of the riffs on this album. There's a fair amount of excellent metal riffs, as well as some awesome solos.
On one song (Radical Cut), there are some "black" vocals. To my suprise, they didn't bother me at all. It fits the music good, and even though I can't understand a single word of what the guy is saying, they are not disturbing. I even think that having one song with black vocals is an excellent way to achieve variety for the listener. At times this album somehow reminds me of Mr.Bungle, and that's probably because Arcturus is very experimental. Unlike Mike Patton, these guys know a bit more what direction they are taking (on some songs, Mr.Bungle just seems random noise), and that's another positive feature.
As you have figured out by now, this album is amazing from the first second to the last ... with 43 minutes it's maybe a bit too short, but I think that with a lot more songs, they'd start sounding a bit repetitive. One or two more songs would have been great though.
I give this album a 98/100. I was going to give it a 100, but I figured that because of the lack of songs it doesn't deserve that (I also think giving a 100 is just plain stupid).
Having been floored by Arcturus's Sideshow Symphonies, and being a Garm fanboy in general, I was really excited when this album arrived, as I expected it to be awesome. It's a shame really, because while there are a few moments of glory, and some fairly good songs, this album doesn't quite build up to what it could have been.
The Arcturus is pretty simple, but it's really effective. There's some big metal riffs, with some very good synths floating around, and a large progressive vibe that goes through the whole thing. The drumming is kind of stale, but super tight and quite good (which is what you'd expect from Hellhammer), the riffs are simple but real effective, but the main thing that makes Arcturus good are the keys and vocals. The keyboards often take centre stage, but they sound so good it's hard to ignore. Unlike many other bands, the keys don't just supply really cheesey synths, they come in with some really intricate melodies and do a solo here and there. It's hard to go past Garm's vocals though. To put simply, they're some of the best metal vocals I've ever heard. He's incredibly versatile, and whatever voice he does works extremely well, whether it's the soaring operatics of Nightmare Heaven, the ghostly falcettos of Ad Absurdum, or the sheer catchy melodies he uses in.. well, every song.
So, it should sound pretty good, yeah? Especially considering that the band has members from Ulver and Covenant, not to mention Garm and Hellhammer. Well, it doesn't exactly sound terrible, not by a long way, but it could be so much better..
The potential that this band has is achieved on the first two tracks, but everything else falls short. Nightmare Heaven and Kinetic have big riffs, tasty keyboards, great vocals and some really interesting ideas. Nightmare Heaven starts of all heavy, goes to a trip hop break, then gets really triumphant and epic, with some awe inspiring vocals, while Kinetic is more straight forward but is still really excellent. Unfortunately it's all downhill from there. Don't get me wrong, the songs are still good, but they fall short. Ad Absurdum has some great ideas, with a really excellent ending, but it's not particularly catchy or inspired. Collapse Generation is quite fast, but doesn't really have any riffs, and some interesting keyboard parts can't save the song. While For to end yet again has some good moments, like most of the other songs it suffers from a lack of huge riffs, and features some uninspired songwriting.
Yeah this album is a bit of a bummer. I still enjoyed it thoroughly, but after getting really excited in the first two songs, it went downhill from there. Nonetheless, I would recommend you get it, with most of the songs being pretty good, and just for the fact that this has some of the best metal vocals ever.
So what do you get when you make an all-star metal band with members from extreme black metal groups such as Ulver, Emperor and Mayhem? You get a symphonic avant-prog band of course… This album surely was a big surprise when I first listened to it since I expected something brutal and very extreme but the only thing that came true was that it was extremely good, much better than I would ever come to expect from a super group. The music is pretty hard to describe but I must say they venture into any corner within metal and far beyond that since there are hints of electronics and just classical piano as well. Most of the songs on the sham mirrors are mini-epics that just fly around styles and are all very original in their own. Although there isn’t a lot of repetition, the pieces in the songs certainly don’t feel like parts that are just thrown into a mix but every second adds something here and every song feel likes one.
One thing I must mention about this album that the vocals are beyond words here. The statement I am going to state is a big one but I’m fully behind it in every sense. The vocals sung by Trickster G. Rex by Ulver on the Sham Mirrors are without a doubt the most beautiful and best vocals I have ever encountered on any metal album. Garm just sings like he is completely broke loose from reality as he experiments a lot with strange melodies and yes, he hit those high notes perfectly. Ihsahn from Emperor delivers some harsh vocals as well on the sixth track and yes he too sounds perfect. He makes the album even more diverse and a lot more extreme as well which is always a good thing for me.
So all in all, we find the almost perfect album in the sham mirrors. There is a lot of good instrumentation but it isn’t all Dream Theater wankery; it all adds to the melodies and sounds of the album. Everyone in this album get a change to shine but no one is really any better than the other on his instrument although I still must say that I most of all enjoy the vocal performance which is, you must belief me here, beyond words like I have already said.
Written for www.musicmademe.com
The only thing keeping this album from being a masterpiece is that some songs seem to drag a bit in some parts and one might lose interest after hearing those parts. However some songs are near perfect, but I'll get to that in later.
The main instruments here are drums and keyboards: Hellhammer destroys his kit and keeps those beats interesting and the keyboardist shreds on those keys and sometimes on a grand piano! Guitar riffs are very simple but decent, but there are some cool leads to be found especially on the opening track, "Kinetic" and "Nightmare Heaven". The bass work is very good and varied and you can clearly hear those bass leads behind the huge wall of sound.
The real highlight of the album, however, is Garm's vocal delivery! Man, can this guy sing or what? His voice is powerful, emotional, and sometimes operatic. Emperor frontman, Ihsan, makes a guest appearance on "Radical Cut" which is the most black metal-sounding song. Production is perfect; squeaky clean!
"Kinetic" kicks off the album with a high note. It starts with some drum smashing and a bass solo, followed by some "oohs" and a great guitar lead. The special effects on this song are very interesting and "spacey", but the parts which make this song perfect are the singing parts and that emotional solo in the end!
The next track, "Nightmare Heaven" is killer! After that techno-ish slow drum section, Garm unleashes his high pitched singing and the song ends with a fiery guitar solo!
"Ad Absurdum" is also pretty cool, but right after this song the album loses focus with the next two tracks that seem to be composed of random keyboard-driven parts with random special effects.
"Radical Cut" is the "brutal" song of the album and the only song with black metal shrieks. It's a little boring but the MELODIC keyboard solo more than makes up for those boring parts!
"For To End Yet Again" has almost 4 to 5 minutes of greatness and the rest is random symphonic masturbation. Those precious moments that "make" the song consist of a long emotional PIANO-ONLY section that will take you places...
Well, I recommend this album, for being unique and actually good for this style of experimental extreme metal. It's also a lot better than their previous album, La Masquerade Infernale.
I will start off by saying that this album is absolutely brilliant. The combination of instruments ranging from pianos to guitars to horns blows my mind. With Garm's (of Ulver) operatic vocals and HellHammer's (of Mayhem, Winds and many more) technical drumming makes for one brilliant album. The Sham Mirrors being Arcturus' latest release (2002). It is their fourth official full length release, the others being "Aspera Heims Synfonia" "La Masquerade Infernale" and "Disguised Masters." Hopefully we will be hearing from them again sometime soon, in other news about them Garm has left the band due to other priorities with other bands (being Ulver). Now to the review...
Track 1: Kinetic-Track starts off with a blast off energy of drums and guitars. Then comes Garm's operatic chants along with a melody part that sounds great together. That for me defines the song, then comes in a semi slow interlude which leads perfectly into an atmospheric keyboard part soon to be accompanied by drums and guitar. Here again Garm shows off his Operatic talent, all of this goes on while the Steinerd Sverd Jonson bangs away on the keyboards making for a great song, while remaining heavy towards the end of the song with double bass and somewhat heavy riffs and a solo. This is one of the best songs on the album, this song ends with just keyboards and an atmosphere of aw.
Track 2: Nightmare Heaven-This is more of a guitar oriented track, the opening guitar riff doesn't appeal to me much but when Garm's vocals come in that all changes. Garm shows off his talents in the song the best, if it weren't for the vocals this song would not be what it is. The lyrics "The angels are so passive of their years, open to be saved from oblivion by oblivion" will stick with you. Right after this comes in the piano solo which is absolutely amazing. Then a change of direction, a techno beat, with a bass line and atmospheric keyboards. This part of the sound in my opinion goes on just a little to long, though when it is over it is worth the wait. This song ends the best out of them all, It brings you to a point of excitement and no return, though it kind of ends abruptly.
Track 3: Ad Absurdum-If this album has a weak song on it, this is definitely it. I don't know, the guitars and the vocals just don't seem to be put together well in this song. It does progress throughout the song though, from the solo on the song is decent. Then another complete change of direction for arcturus, the song stops and just turns into an atmospheric song with guitars that add to that atmospheric mood. It continues like that for the rest of the song with pianos in and out and haunting chants, a good ending for an average song.
Track 4: Collapse Generation-Starts off like your getting ready for something with keyboards, then it goes into a roaring atmospheric black metal riff with drumming that blows your mind. Soon the keyboards and piano's come in adding to the flare of this song. The song comes to a sudden pause in the middle for a chime interlude, then right back into the roaring black metal with clean vocals over it making for a fantastic track.
Track 5: Star crossed-Song starts off with a piano intro that is simply brilliant. Making for a brilliant combination of beuty and speed on the keyboard. The piano intro for me is what defines this song. The rest of this song does not live up to the hype you get from the piano intro but it's quite good none the less. Garm's vocals are somewhat lower on this song over a guitar riff that sounds familiar from the rest of this album. Soon the track speeds up a bit then right back down to an atmospheric interlude with Garm's haunting chants over it. Soon after this, the guitar riffs and keyboards that you have come accustomed to by listening to this album come up again along with double bass on the drums and a guitar solo making for a good song.
Track 6: Radical Cut-This song is by far the best song on the CD. Starts off with a small drum thing then right into roaring black metal with keyboards. Special guest Ihsahn (of Emperor) does vocals on this track, or I should say Screams. HellHammer's drumming is brilliant, the guitar work is brilliant and Ihsahn fits absolutely perfectly for this song. This song is very fast paced, there are two keyboard solos in this song both played at blazing speeds making for an absolutely AMAZING sound. This song without a doubt is absolutely amazing.
Track 7: For To end yet again-Starts off with somewhat interesting music, sounds almost like's it from a carnival or something. This is soon put to end but guitar riffs and back to Garm's operatic vocals. Using a mix of keyboards guitars and odd drum beats makes for a great first part of the song. This song soon goes into a 3-minute piano interlude that does get boring after awhile, then at about 6:24 a very well crafted guitar and horn riff comes in, it sounds like it's straight out of a horror film. This is probably one of the best riffs on the CD, it's worth waiting three minutes to get to this part of the song absolute brilliance.
This album gets a 5/5
It's a good buy for anyone into metal or not into metal. This album is definitely a classic.
This album is awesome. It is wicked. Its different in a way I wish other bands chose to be. I'm fine with generic metal (Bolt Thrower, namely), but it does get old. Acts like Arcturus keep me impressed. But to note, this is the first album by this group I bought, and currently remains the only one.
Bringing on some supurb vocals, the album really shines here. It's powerful, it holds you in and makes you wish there was more. That's the one thing I didn't like, there were only seven tracks. Can't have everything though.
The drumming is almost spotless as well, it holds a good beat, and blends perfectly with the rest of the music. Hellhammer always puts on a show, though, so that's a given.
Guitarwork here isn't scarce, but it seems to be a bit neglected.. The riffs fit the rest of the formula to bring on a creepy feeling, or an almost white void. I can't quite think of a way to describe that part. It ends up being like a weird atmospheric feeling. Like space, but without annoying lyrics.
The lyrics... the lyrics. They are.. meh. I mean, I won't say they're bad, which they aren't, sheerly from the power of the vocals. Here the seem to be talking about leaving something, or coming with a new beginning, something a bit like that.
Whatever, about the keyboards- So.. neglected? Nah. They tend to be the dominant instrument that kind of plows everything out of the way and just shouts "I shouldn't be forgottne for a while."
Speaking of keyboards, the more "industrial" sounds that slip in.. they sound good, and provide once again an almost creepy feeling.
Now, song by song, Kinetic and Nightmare heaven, tracks 1 and 2, are a couple of the best ones here. They are just.. awesome. First and third best tracks.
Something really needs to be said about the music in the first damn place. You need to be in a real mood for it, but really, its very very good. Star-Crossed is again a tad weaker in volume, but the high use of piano and the deep feeling of the keyboards more then make up for that. Fourth best track, easily.
Radical Cut is great. It seems alot heavier then all the previous tracks, and it really is. They actually used black vocals for this one, but it was a nice bit of a switch up. Second best track, Ihsahn helped with that, though.
IMHO, thats where the album ends. For To End Yet Again is most definatly the weakest track. Rather then being "just OK," its "...sure, not bad, but I would rather skip and listen to Kinetic again." And that's true.
An album that you need to be in the mood for more then anything, and almost an aquired taste, this is perfect when you want it to be. Definatly worth owning.
The odd ball symphonic black metal super group makes their most out of body release yet. Arcturus is probably the most creative and elusive force in this confusing mix of cosmo metal to date. More keyboar driven on this release, and Garms vocals are way differant, more an alternative rockish tone but dont let that turn you off, he does in a way that captures your attention and adds emphasis and beauty to the songs.
Kinetic the album opener starts the ball rolling with some amazing drums and some sludgey riffs, backed by beautiful keyboard as usuall. Garm gives you a taste of his beautiful croonings with a catchy "oooooooooOOOOooooooOOOOoooooo!" you have to listen to see what i mean. After all that it goes in some weird computer-ish vocal things with of course some amazing drumming still going. This is probably one of the odder tracks on the album, full of weird effects (i think you hear a sheep or goat about 1:46 into it???wtf??) But eventually garm starts singing again, and you'll see what i mean with the more rocker vocals, but i think it makes the track better. Definatly an epic opener that goes into many directions...but what else would oyu excpect from arcturus
Nightmare Heaven is a guitar driven song for the most part, even though it still gets out washed by lots of keyboard fills. But thats just for the first 2 minutes, then everything stops excpect this techno beat that goes on while a bunch of random weird stuff happens again, then theres a guitar solo, very muted and muffled, but its there. Another diverse track filled with little things that you will listen to it 10 times just wondering, what the hell were they thinking? And why the hell do i like it?
Next is Ad absurdum follows suite with Arcturus' style, but is more black metalish in its approach this time, the guitar actually stays present for more then 3 quarters of the song this time. Garms vocals i think shine on this track better then any other, specially the distant chorus' near the end.
Collapsed Generation is one of the better tracks on the album, as it mainly focus' on drums and keyboard, the pounding double bass and harmonys of the piano are amazingly beautiful. At 2 minutes everything stops tempo, and they throw a weird little...xylophone i almost want to say..but whatever it is it's a nice touch..then it turns back to a firey blast beat and more guitar and keys. Not much emphasis on the vocals this go around,
Another melodic keyboard opening on Star Crossed, you can see the talent of keyboard player steiner coming through on this track more then any other on the album i would say. After the 1:30 piano opening, it goes into another trademark Arcturus song, garm has a little more opratic vocals on this one, very catchy song if i do say so myself. we hear some more weird computer vocals in this one to.
Our favorite metal vocalist makes a cameo on this one, none other then Ishan from our good friends Emperor. His vocals make a very interesting contrast, and fits well into the album. This is an Emperor-ish song i would say, at least whenever emperor is at their most classically influenced. When Ishan and Garm both start going at it, it's one of the better moments on the album
Then last but certainly not least, is For to end yet again, the adventurous closer that caps the whole album off. A confusing little keyboard intro thinhgy, i cant really explain it, but it drives into a whirlwind track when the drums kick in and garm kicks his vocals into high gear, an amazingly sing songy tune, specially the chorus part when he says FORRRRR TO ENNNNDDD....YEEEEETTTT AGAIN!
But what makes this song stand out as the runaway best track is the 4 minutes piano/keyboard interlude. I must have listened to that part over 15 times when i first listened to the song, but after that....right back where they left off.
Arcturus is one hard band to get your arms around, they have gone in so many differant directions is hard to tell what their next move is. But hopefully this isnt there last effort, Arcturus is in my opinion the most original and innovative metal bands i have heard to date.
The album does indeed sound completely different from La Masquerade Infernale and Apiera Hiems Symfonia, but in a good way. The guitars take a back seat to everything else. This album focuses more on drumming and vocals, with keyboards coming in second. The production very much favors the drums, as every hit is very crisp and clear. Garm's vocals have changed dramatically since LMI. Gone are the unique operatic vocals, and in place comes a cleaner, more sing-songy voice, very endearing and tempting to sing along with, though his half-falsetto does come out at times, an example being the song Ad Absurdum. But overall, complainers of Garm's "bad" vocals on LMI should give this album a listen. If you still hate his vocals, then be gone with you, you picky-ass.
Ihsahn does guest vocals on this album on the track Radical Cut. This song has a driving double-bass, and is like the big brother version of Collapse Generation.
As stated before in previous reviews on this album, this is a more upbeat Arcturus, not dark and brooding as AHS and LMI are.
BUY this album, not burn.
Album Highlights - Kinetic, Collapse Generation, Radical Cut
The first time I heard all the songs from this CD, it freaked me out. I found it all to be too weird for me. But after I burned it, I was able to fully appreciate the full beauty of it. The Sham Mirrors definitely changed my ignorant perspective of black metal as a bunch of evil, shrieking, Dani-clones. This CD has a timeless quality to it made by the Garm's relaxing vocals and the dark electronic atmospherics.
The first song really kicks the CD into gear with the extended introduction and the guitar intro. It mixes proggy sounds with a sort of eighties techno-pop mentality that flows very well.
The second and third songs I don't pay attention to very much because they lack the drama of the first song, but then "Collapse Generation" chimes in and the better "almost-half" of the CD starts. This track stands out because of the driving double-bass sound and the corresponding piano piece. It's a great song to listen to if you're not in the mood for much vocals and just want something to chill out to. There are vocals in the song, but they only come in later and disappear quickly.
"Star-Crossed" is one of my favorites of the album, if not my very favorite because it has, IMO, the best piano work of the album. The opening piano sequence reminds me of the piano-playing on certain electronica albums such as Moby's Play, but only much better and much darker. One can only wonder how one can play the piano in such a fascinating, frenzied way as is evident on the ending of the intro to this song. These guys give Little Richard and Jordan Rudess a run for his money.
After "Star-Crossed" comes "Radical Cut", which is reminiscent of "Collapse Generation", only faster and with snarling, raspy black metal vocals. The synthesizer solo near the end is captivating and takes you into another dimension.
The last song, "For to End Yet Again", is the epic song of the album--much like "Scarred" is to Dream Theater's Awake album. This song stretches on for over 14 minutes but manages to stay interesting throughout the whole song. The intro is very Addams Familyish and the outro is just as inspiring with a sound that makes you want to sail the high seas in search of adventure and treasure. I would recommend this album to fans of black metal, progressive metal, death metal, and electronica.
Arcturus... wherefore art thou, Arcturus... the world's first black metal "supergroup" never seems to quite get its due for constantly flirting with the cutting edge. Garm + co. return with a vengeance on the Sham Mirrors... another superb chapter in the pseudo-black metal compendium. There is considerably less BM here. In fact, asides from Collapse Generation (track 4)there's barely a tremelo picked note or harsh vocal... Instead, Sham Mirrors is a staggeringly original astro-metal voyage somewhere between Voivod and Faith no More
First: Garm's vocals sound great this time around. Almost exclusively sung, he resembles Mike Patton without the talent. Second: the keyboards are absofuckinglutely stunning... Dimmu Borgir copped their sound for a reason, folks. This "steinar" guy has chops and knows how to use them. Check out "For to End Yet Again".... I love that Addams Family intro.
Nightmare Heaven and Kinetic are streamlined and well composed as opposed (RHYME!) to the often complex and erratic style of La Masquerade Infernal. It sounds like Arcturus has found their calling... there are even some brain rotting hooks. Of course this sits comfortably alongside the spacey, astral moments, making this metalhead a happy camper
If you're into progressive black metal, you should have no problems with Arcturus