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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.