Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

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.