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Mean, Median and Mode - 68%

iamntbatman, June 11th, 2017

I had a relatively strange avenue of approach to this band; I discovered them sort of accidentally because the drummer/keyboardist, Grimrik, has an (does it count as eponymous?) dungeon synth project that is sometimes right up my alley. I've noticed that I really get a kick out of the ambient synth tracks that great black metal bands sometimes stick into their albums, but am often disappointed with fully dedicated albums of the stuff as they're often too nebulous/structure-less for my tastes. So it all sort of made sense when I found out the largely good Grimrik also sort of fall within the sphere of influence of black metal.

So, noting Grimrik's success and style, plus the aesthetics on display here, I had expectations about what Arath would sound like before I even dug in: probably something on the atmospheric side, with an emphasis on hypnotic repetition rather than aggression or hard-hitting riffs. Well, shocker: that's basically exactly what Arath play. The pace is brisk throughout most of these songs, but even when things get a bit more bloodthirsty ("Siilfangrimr") the distant-sounding drums and heavy distortion and reverb on the guitars keep the violence in check, for the most part, sonically tying such segments together with the foggy ambiance of the more somber tracks. The end result is something that sounds almost exactly like the point in the very center of an equilateral triangle with Hvis lyset tar oss, Transilvanian Hunger and Nattens Madrigal forming the three sides, with the vocals leaning more toward Nocturno Culto's deeper lycanthrope howls than either Varg or Garm's strained screeches.

Well, how does it all pan out? From a sound design perspective, the band is on point. There are also some good melodies in the lead guitars to count as a stand-out feature of the album. Sadly, though, the rhythm guitars rarely play riffs that are particularly memorable or powerful, only really coming into full force when they shift gears to just echo the melody of the leads. Compositions are also a bit all over the place, with some tracks really doing a whole lot more for me than others. "Steingrindr" probably has the best overall riffs on the album, while the tracks leading up to it tend toward the dull. The album is somewhat backloaded, with the second half being overall stronger than the first, which if nothing is a change of pace from the usual problem of frontloading albums with all the good tracks. The biggest disappointment, however, is that the expected synth flourishes from drummer Grimrik are almost totally absent, except in the final track "Glarkommer". Not only does the band not really use much keyboard (at least, not very audibly) during the black metal that makes up almost the entire length of this thing, there also aren't really synth interludes or mid-song ambient sections like I was hoping for. "Glarkommer" is a good track, but not nearly on the same level as the pieces it will inevitably draw comparisons to.

What we're left with is something of a very average black metal album, very reminiscent of certain famous records out of Norway but with something of a more modern German twist. Not particularly memorable or special, but far from bad and with a few above average moments.