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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.”