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No þanks - 59%

MutantClannfear, January 2nd, 2014

Arckanum are a band whose discography is held in pretty high regards across-the-board, with most people agreeing that everything they've made is pretty fucking solid, but there's something in particular about ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ that made it practically explode with popularity. From what I've seen, this album is a first in black metal for a lot of people who were relative newcomers to the genre at the time of its release; as such, it's managed to effectively establish itself as a classic of sorts in BM circles, to the point where this was actually recommended to me by one of my best friends due to how highly he regarded it. And with all this hype and expectation in mind, I bought a copy of it and listened to it, and listened to it in varying moods and environments, even shoved the entire CD case up my butt a few times, etc. I've come to the conclusion that this is in no way an album for me personally, and at the same time I feel that its reputation as a timeless triumph is at least a bit unfairly earned.

I don't very strongly believe in the concept of an album "getting stale" in terms of a listen or two. I hear this complaint thrown at music all the time, and usually the first thing that comes to my mind is that the person saying it has experienced a shift in mood, revisited the album and found it to be incompatible with their current musical preferences. I don't understand what kind of people can be so easily impressed by an album that's implied to be so obviously comprised of superficial tricks. But that's exactly what kind of album that ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ is, and the first few times I heard it, I fell for it hook, line and sinker. It's so riffy! God, the riffs are so consistent and the chord progressions are amazing! It's got such an astounding sense of power and punch to it, it's just so energetic! And so on and so forth and whatever other positive traits you can think to apply to an album at first glance. It's only once you start trying to pay attention to the album as a whole that it starts to break its perfect posture a bit, and it slumps into this slouch that wouldn't fool anybody for scoliosis, but probably wouldn't win first-prize at a ballet recital either.

In the interests of being fair, I'll start with the good - and thankfully, as a sort of saving grace for this album, the good is actually very good. While I'd love to say that the relatively clean production job is a turn-off, it's really not: it's clean, but there's a tinge of vehement dirtiness to the guitar tone that keeps it from sounding off-puttingly pedestrian. There's a fair bit of bass in the guitars, which gives them a substantial feeling of mass even though they're not especially loud. The atmosphere is also pretty potent when it gets itself together; most of the riffs on ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ are composed of the same sort of thing I tend to expect from the more-well-composed Finnish/Swedish BM bands. The band chain simple but epic chords together into corresponding melodic patterns - not particularly cold nor dread-inducing nor vast nor intricate, but huge and easy-to-follow while maintaining a sense of earthiness. If anything, ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ sounds like a "primal" form of black metal, the meat and potatoes of the genre after you strip away any sort of flair and extravagance to its presentation. And that may very well be what makes this "the shit" to people, which I can understand.

But I don't think it's enough to ignore this album's flaws. They are subtle at first glance, I'll admit, but they add up to make an album that just doesn't really work very well. While I'm totally okay with damn-near absurd levels of minimalism in most music I listen to (I listen to Animus, for Jesus's sake), I think a litmus test of whether an album's minimalism works or not should be to determine whether or not the listener becomes actively aware of it while experiencing the album on its own terms. Arckanum, for the most part, fail at this on this album - it's hard to pin at first, but after a couple of listens you realize that "Þórhati" through "Þjóbaugvittr" are basically all the exact same song with a few minor alterations in tempo and riffing. And the songs are all decent, really (though the opener pretty efficiently blows all the other material out of the water with its more in-your-face melodic approach), but it's the same vibe throughout all of them with a few changes in tempo separating them from one another. The whole approach is seemingly designed to be hypnotic - each song uses the same three no-frills drum beats (an alternating blast beat and then two rocking drum beats with the snare on either the third, or the first and third beat), there's never more than two or three riffs per song, the vocals are pretty monotonous but tonally-rich rasps delivered with a chanting adherence to rhythm, and so on - but everything varies just enough for that approach to be ineffective, and yet not enough to make for interesting material on its own terms. The songs more-or-less sound entirely the same when they're adhering to the album's main sound; the riffs, while not exactly identical, don't do much to give each song much of an identity of its own, and the fact that they all use literally the exact same "static tempo with three different beats underneath" approach leaves the album feeling uncomfortably familiar halfway through its running time, like a bad case of déjà vu.

The thing that really irks me about this is that it's not even a problem for the whole entire album, in that tracks 7-11 all possess their own individual vibes and variations that should have been applied to the album in general. Granted, it's mostly a bunch of boring stuff that appeals to me even less than the blistering tracks do: "Þjazagaldr" is lame wind ambient with vocals, "Þá Kómu Niflstormum" is an "epic", instrumental song that uses just as ineffectual riffs as the first six tracks, and "Þrúðkyn" is a mid-paced galloping song that doesn't really do much of interest aside from the oddball rhythm. But the material is there, is my point - so why weren't some of these placed in between some of the more samey material to give it enough variation to last for an album's length? Why would you put a 25-minute-long hunk of material that all sounds irritatingly similar together, and then shove all the vaguely unique tracks onto the end of the album? I'm not the type to make complaints about the track order of every single album I listen to, but ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ's error in that regard borders on downright egregious.

In searching for angles to enjoy this album, I've spent much more effort trying to like it than it really deserves. I can definitely see how it would work for most people, but for me I can only appreciate the atmosphere for moments at a time before the album's self-referential nature sucks me out of the mood. It has other problems, for sure (the lack of emphasis on the cymbals in the mix makes the snare-on-upbeat blasts sound really awkward, and the vocals are weak and rather uninteresting), but those are minor quibbles in light of what really brings this album down: the lack of riffs that are interesting enough for me to ignore the fact that the album is very (and seemingly intentionally) sparse on unique ideas. The modus operandi as a whole isn't a failure, because "Þórhati" knocks it out of the park; it's just that past that point, the riffs lose potency and the rest of the music doesn't have the variation to back it up. ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ is an attempt at minimalism but without the refinement one expects from an album presented as such - accordingly, regardless of how good some of its material may be, it's essentially a failure.

One of my first black metal albums... - 96%

BlackMetal213, July 22nd, 2013

I remember when I first heard this album back in 2009, in the winter. I had been surfing the Internet in search for black metal bands because, at the time, the only "black metal" band I had heard was Dimmu Borgir. I wanted more. Most people start listening to REAL black metal with the likes of Burzum, Mayhem, or Satyricon, but those bands wouldn't come until shortly after Arckanum for me. I had seen a video on YouTube of someone reviewing this album so I thought maybe this would be a good album to start with. And now, in 2013, this still blows me away about three and a half years later. Arckanum is one of the best Swedish black metal bands around, and this has to be his finest album. "ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ", thank you.

The first thing the listener will realize upon first listening to the album is the production quality. For black metal, it is AMAZING. It's crystal clear, and every instrument can be heard. Even the bass at times. However, this is clearly a guitar driven album. I was used to symphonic black metal at the time of hearing this album, and I thought black metal generally incorporated keyboards as a main instrument (which a lot of bands do, obviously) so this shocked me upon my first listen, but in a good way. The riffs on this album are absolutely skull-crushing and with them at the front line, we are subject to whiplash due to intense headbanging. They at times go very melodic, such as on the track "Þursvitnir" which is one of the best songs on the album. This song also showcases the characteristic black metal tremolo picking very well. It seems that the melody of the riffing complements the heaviness and speed, and helps balance things out. The riffing in the song "Þann Svartís" is a perfect example of this melodic/skull-crushing contrast, with some very melodic tremolo picked riffs accompanied by insane blast beats. There is also a beautifully dark melodic interlude entitled "Þyrstr" which contains some of the best tremolo riffs on the album. This, along with the outro and second instrumental "Þyteitr", showcase a more ambient sound, still driven by guitars. And while these are only short songs, they both contain a great deal of emotion. My personal favorite song on the whole album, "Þríandi", has this one tremolo riff before a barrage of blast beats that has always been stuck in my head after listening to this album.

The drumming on this album MUST be noted. It is insane. Shamaatae really must be one of the most ambitious drummers in the black metal genre. By that, I mean he does not use a drum machine although this is a solo project. Sure, there are other solo black metal artists (Burzum specifically comes to mind) that don't use drum machines, but a lot do, and that is understandable because they also play every other instrument. But Shamaatae actually uses an actual drum kit. The drums sound real, crisp, and energetic. His blast beats fill almost every song with intense energy that makes the listener crave more. "Þórhati", the first song on the album, starts things off right away with an intense blast beat. Soon, the listener is aware that this is definitely NOT a funeral doom project. Hell, the second song "Þann Svartís" also starts with a blast beat, as does the third song "Þyrpas Ulfar". I could go on about this, as most of the songs disregarding the two interludes contain monstrous blast beats. One of my favorite drum moments on the album exists in the the aforementioned favorite song of mine, "Þríandi". This song not only contains the blast beats we all love, but also has some tight double bass drumming, almost in a death metal style, and made me think of "Dead by Dawn" by Deicide. I know, two different bands entirely, but the double bass drumming definitely made me think of that song. The only flaw with the drumming is at times it gets somewhat choppy, and that's understandable, because he's only one guy recording everything by himself. But even that's not that big a deal.

The vocals on this album definitely show Shamaatae's improvement. When Arckanum released its first album "Fran Marder" back in 1995, his vocals were not yet developed. He was only 20 years old, and still had a few years to go before his vocals were fully developed. At the time of this release in 2009, he was 34 years old, and his vocals by then have greatly matured. All in all, this is an essential black metal album, no matter how you look at it. This was my "official" start in the genre, and it shall satisfy any fan! Buy it!

ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ - 100%

Shardz, May 11th, 2010

Where to begin? Should I start with the nigh perfect, desperately trollish sounding vocals, the spot on drumming, or the keen tremolo picking?

ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ is Shamaatae's 6th release under Arckanum, a one-man project which started out with a folkier, more varied sound that earned the moniker "trollish black metal", and eventually culminating in the rather straightforward-but-not-bland album we have here today. Definitely his strongest effort, the album is a relentless barrage of simultaneously heavy and fast guitar, non-stop drumming with plenty of blast beats, and raking, full sounding classic black metal vocals; all done by the practicing Chaos-Gnostic Shamaatae himself.

I suppose I might as well start with the vocals, definitely one of the most unique and stark aspects of the album. Shamaatae has had years to perfect his vocal style since Trulen, and I do think he has nearly acheived perfection with his now-signature style of the classic black metal rasp; not nearly as high as Ihsahn's, but not as low as a death growl; comparisons to Abbath of Immortal's voice are probably the most accurate, but he has certainly crafted a very pleasing style of his own. It's not hard to match the vocals with the costumes he dresses up in for photos; more than anything he sounds like some magic trollish being out of ancient Sweden, haunting the forests and attacking unsuspecting wayfarers. A voice the unlucky viator would greet with animosity. The fact that the lyrics are sung in his own rendition of Old Swedish-meets-Old Norse, probably ending with something like Old East Norse, only enhances the experience. Linguistics aside however, it works perfecly in crafting the dark, cold universe sought after by the artist. Judging from the song titles alone, the lyrics seem to deal with Norse mythology (Þórhati = The Hater of Thor), general magic and chaos (Þríandi = Threefold Spirit, probably not talking about the holy trinity purported by the Abrahamic religions), and other things you might find in the svartmetallskogar (Þyrpas Ulfar = The Wolves Gather).

The guitar for the most part takes a background in the mix to the perfectly hellish and chaotic drumming, left to tremolo picking during lyrical sections, but comes out in instrumental sections with a deep, crushing sound that reminds one of a coming storm (a storm is infact sampled into Þjazagaldr and Þá Kómu Niflstormum, making for one of the most intense buildups in black metal history). The mix serves the guitar tone rather well, relegating it to the background when the powerful drums and vocals are present, but letting it take the foreground during the instrumental segues.

Shamaatae is primarily a drummer, a point which is made very clear to the listener on ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ amidst the blast beats and crashing cymbals. Most of the album is done over blast beats, tack Óðinn, but definitely not in a boring, dreary, repetive way. Instead the Satanic Swede keeps us interested the whole time, evoking chaos without discord, and staying true to the classical black metal drumming patterns without sounding purely derivative. For me, creative drumming can really make the difference between a mediocre album, and Arckanum's latest release does not disappoint one bit. Somewhat ecovacative of the chaos created in The Mars Volta's The Bedlam in Goliath, although not so progressive rock. Between the guitar and the drums moved forward by the blast beats, the album ends up sounding rather fast paced outside of the vocal segments. Perhaps one of the more delightful aspects is the drums are never relegated to simple blast beats, but are always layered to a degree, which helps maintain interest and garners respect for not insulting the attention span or listening capacity of the listener.

One of the highlists of the album is definitely the Þjazagaldr → Þá Kómu Niflstormum buildup. Þjazagaldr starts with slow spoken word, sampling in storm sounds, making for a rather slow song that acts to forewarn against the intensity to follow. Once Þá Kómu Niflstormum kicks off, we are greeted with a single guitar tremolo picking repeatedly over more thunder and ambient cries in the woods, to be joined by another harmonic guitar, creating a dredging, forboding effect. After about three minutes of treatment to this ambient treat that rivals anything Burzum had to offer, we are greated with low blast beats and cymbols for another full minute before the guitar steps up a notch to take the foreground over repetetive simple drumming, all over blast beats and a harsh background guitar. Suddenly, the guitar stops, the drumming is simplified to a mere couple beats a second, and the guitar goes down than up, repeating this pattern while continually escalating the guitar tone over the relentlessly ominous drumming. The song essentially continues this pattern with a few minor surprises before fading out, leading to one of the best songs on the album, Þrúðkyn, which continues with an upgraded version of Þá Kómu Niflstormum's guitar before unleashing the assailing start-stop vocals and dominating guitar riffs that define the song.

My only real complain regarding the album is about the almost non-existant bass, which is nearly impossible to hear most of the time and only contributes to the deep guitar tone. Perhaps some of the songs could do with a little more aggression in the vocals; a few of the songs that start off slowly with spoken word could have been improved with the yelling that starts off Antikosmos with Svarti, but for the most part the vocals accomplish their task with unholy efficiency and feeling.

For me, the song highlights are Þórhati, Þann Svartís, Þyrpas Ulfar, and Þrúðkyn, but the whole album certainly delivers, without a lull aside from Þjazagaldr, which is quite welcome and effective, but may bore some people who are not used to more progressive sounding interludes.

Hell Svarti! Hell Gullveig! Hell Arckanum!

Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States Licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/ ; Originially for Underground Violence Issue 37 and niflheim.logik.li

The greatest evolution of a black metal band - 90%

RestlessMills, December 16th, 2009

Has your first experience with a band ever been with their worst songs? You play them through once, realise that it is definitely not your cup of tea and incorrectly assume that the rest of their material will also be trash? When by chance you discover other material by said band, you are halfway through a song and have to stop and check that it is indeed the same band. You have unearthed some of the most mature, powerful and well constructed black metal in recent years and suddenly feel very foolish.

Such was the case with Arckanum, where some of front man Shamaatae’s earliest records brought nothing original, inspiring or breathtaking to the table. These works were filled with songs that were constructed so amateurishly that not only was it hard to take them seriously, but often caused discomfort while listening to it. However somewhere along the line of musical progression, something changed and ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ was born, an immense heart racing journey into the core of anti-cosmic and Gnostic ideology. Shamaatae has exceeded expectations and conjured one of the most powerful black metal anthems of the decade.

Combining the ritualistic sounds of previous album ‘Antikosmos’ and injected a healthy amount of old school and pagan black metal influences, ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ has placed Arckanum on a new pedestal of maturity and songwriting. With influences ranging from Darkthrone to Dissection, raw black to melodic to pagan black metal, this new sound is one of the biggest and most positive changes that could occur from a band, especially a one-man-band.

An album with lyrical themes that explore Chaos-Gnostic and anti-cosmic beliefs is not quite as surprising as one may think when involved in the black metal scene. What is surprising is Shamaatae’s strong belief that his music is not pagan black metal. Beliefs aside, the pagan influence and sound is present from start to finish – that roaring fire in the heart of a person remembering better times and places that are now long forgotten. It is present in everything from the vocals to the guitars and the ambient passages of the album but works alongside and doesn’t contend with the clearly evident themes of chaos and ancient beings.

Vocally Shamaatae has come along way. With a vocal range that originally sounded like a pre-pubescent teenager, his black metal screech has transformed to that of a mature, learned and travelled black metal veteran. The vocal patterns of songs often sound reminiscent of old Darkthrone and the vocals fit perfectly around the guitar riffs in a way that only a language like old Swedish could. Some languages flow far more easily than others in black metal. Others simply end up butchering or ruining a song, simply because the normal discourse of the scene requires long words or a fast string of words. It has become far more noticeable in recent years that some BM bands have forgotten the importance of the language and vocal structure that they use in their songs and their music suffers from it. Luckily, the amount of work Shamaatae has put into correctly reviving the old Swedish and Icelandic tongue for his lyrics and song titles pays off.

The guitars on the album have a slightly lighter and more raw sound than predecessor Antikosmos – combining melodic and memorable passages of ritualistic, almost hypnotic riffs with a few periods of recent-Immortal inspired guitar work. Quite surprising was the heavily Drudkh sounding guitar solo within the song Þann Svartís. Normally solos in such music can break the concentration or momentum of the album, but the placement of the solo and its duration in no way disturbs the direction of the album. Shamaatae’s new found ability to change pace during songs from fast paced epic black metal to slower songs to an ambient interlude and then back again does not hinder or confuse, but strengthens the overall experience. And what an experience this is.

With its tidy production and a sound light years ahead of his previous work, Shanaatae projects a new aura of confidence and musical, lyrical and thematic ability with an album that is a journey into new territory for Arckanum.

Originally written for TheRestlessMills.blogspot.com

Primitive power and sheer hypnosis - 95%

autothrall, November 13th, 2009

Perhaps the greatest thrill of writing music reviews is when a band you've long considered decent, but lacking that extra 'something', suddenly knocks it out of the fucking park. This is one of those rare moments, because ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ absolutely crushes, obliterating all the band's prior works and nearly every other black metal release I've heard already this year. The album sounds superb, the songs furious with a primitive power that is sheer hypnosis.

Arckanum are one of the earliest Swedish black metal acts, with no shortage of decent and interesting releases to their name (Fran Marder and Kostogher in particular were pretty good), but I was in no way prepared for this. Shamaatae has trumped himself. "Þórhati" unleashes a divebombing volley of rugged chords, almost like sawing dried autumn wood with a scythe, while the verse builds into the perfect yet simple chorus shout. "Þann Svartís" features a glorious embrace of driving black rhythm, a spark of desolate longing caged within the savage melody. "Þyrpas Ulfar" bursts once more from the bleeding womb of the Earth, its rhythm both impossibly simple and powerful. This is black metal! The melodic black that Sweden has always taken great pride in, from the Dissections to the Marduks. Add to that the primitive roots of Arckanum's past and you've got an album truly worthwhile. The consistency of these 11 tracks is as reliable as the character beginning each songtitle. Not a weak moment to be had, but I'd direct you to the brief ringing instrumental riffs of "Þyrstr", the punishing sadness of "Þjóbaugvittr", and the repressed, murky, treacherous tones of "Þá Kómu Niflstormum".

Again, I must mention how important the mix to this album is in its overall effectiveness. This is the perfect sound, straightforward and powerful yet clinging just enough to the tonal atrophy of the majority of the 'basement' scene (and Arckanum's previous releases). The drums and bass plod like thunder beneath the endless battery of grim, warlike chords. Upon listening to this I am instantly transplanted to black and white fields of carrion, the worship of faiths best left forgotten drilled into the psyche through the repetition of but a few notes. Shamaatae's vocals wretch forth labored poems of gnostic entropy. Backing effects of thunder and echo, etc, are placed perfectly through the tracks, each a queue to re-captivate the listener should he/she stray for one second.

ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ deserves only the highest accolades, a very likely candidate for my own end of the year list and probably the best Swedish black metal I've heard since Mörk Gryning decided to call it quits. A Soundtrack to Wintry Death of the Worlds indeed! Hail.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

An end to all but the cold - 90%

Phosphorous, September 13th, 2009

"…a reflection and an allegorization of Þjazi’s wrathful and god-adversary evocation, resulting in long and annihilating winters destined to wipe out all life. It is the beginning of Ragna Røk." That is the description Arckanum have provided for their latest offering to the chaotic chapels of old entitled “ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ.” The rune “Þ” means giant in ancient Norse and symbolic in that, this Swedish black metal occult band has sculpted a glorious monolith, a cataclysmic creation that boils up a siren which cannot be denied. From “Þorhati” to “Þytetir,” the snowstorm to end all snowstorms brews, annihilates and withers to a scene of blood-stained white, with only the most crushing of black metal available.

Noticeable from inception, “ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ” has stronger production than “Antikosmos,” which featured a stormier recording, infused with more chaos and less clarity. Arckanum’s venture into better production has still left them within the realm of underground rawness, now providing you with an elevated awareness of the music. The entire album sounds like an ice-crushing beast, blowing out small bits of snow like a cold, white tornado. The melancholic, marching tone is as constant as the falling snow, but has many individual snowflakes blazing throughout the album. In other words, the overall mood and tempo remains rather constant, but every one of the eleven tracks has its uniqueness, especially when you get to a track like “Þa Komu Niflstormum” or the ambient songs like “Þyrstr” and “Þjazagladr.”

“Þorhati” is buzzing with atmospheric black metal and trancelike patterns. This sets the tone of the album, fast to mid-paced with bursts of interest that splatters across like the flick of a giant paintbrush. There’s so much going on, so many pieces, yet they all come together to create one work of art. “Þann Svartis” features a deep-reaching guitar solo that’s anything but cheesy and spills out the emotions of a dying world trapped beneath the snow with a drowned wailing, creeping in the back as part of the overall rhythm until it finally breaks through as a solo. The vocals scream out warnings and are so impassioned, they sound absolutely genuine. It’s hard to believe that all of this comes from one man, Shamaatae, but then again, we humans have so many parts of our own being that are just waiting to be set free upon the world. Parts that we may not even be aware of, but that subconsciously, we yearn to discover.

No matter how many times the songs played, their glimmer never faded. This is different from what one might expect from Arckanum, but it won’t be a letdown in the very least. “ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ” is supposed to be about an apocalyptic winter and that is clearly shown through the music. It’s amazing to hear how a band like this can have clear production, yet still sound so underground and secretive while many bands out there go too far and leave it up to machines to write music for them. They’ve been here since the 90’s, but show no signs of heading towards the path that some older acts have littered with their commercial sickness.

In the end, everything just comes together like a puzzle with all of the pieces in place. The tale and the music go together beautifully and the repetitive whips of melodious riffs and ominous drumming on “ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ” carve out an addicting trench for you to blacken in while frostbite overcomes your body. Arckanum are a band of the highest respect and will continue to prosper, enveloped in its own light.

- Written for Tanin'iver Zine