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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.

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