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Good, but wildly inconsistent - 75%

Dark_Mewtwo1, August 29th, 2008

When this album came out, I was willing to accept that Garm would no longer be a part of this band, and that this would be yet another approach to what Arcturus attempted to do. The 50 minutes of music that comprises Sideshow Symphonies is not bad by any stretch. In fact, I feel this is one of Simen's best albums in terms of vocal work. Knut and Tore did a good job writing simple, yet effective guitar parts, along with Steinar's keyboard work and Hellhammer's drumming to create quite an awesome sounding dark prog metal record. Unfortunately, that's only when the band gets it right. There are some sections of this album that falter in comparison to the band's brilliant moments, making this sideshow more like a rollercoaster.

The perfect example to my explanation is the second track, Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer. The first section of the song is a brooding and passionate affair, with some great vocals from Simen, and a very interesting sounding rhythm section. The middle piece with the keyboard and guitar solos continues the same atmosphere, building up to a climax that, unfortunately, never comes. Instead the band retreats, doing what feels to be a rehash of the section they just played for you just 2-3 minutes prior. It's frustrating how many times things like this occur throughout this album. Demon Painter is the complete opposite of Hibernation Sickness Complete, the former being possibly one of the worst Arcturus songs ever recorded, almost sounding like the band was struggling to find where to take the listener with the piece, while the latter is one of the band's best and most magnificent of tracks, complete with a strange "sideshow" sounding bridge section that pretty much describes the album title perfectly. But even then, the unevenness found throughout catches even the best of songs. Hibernation's final 30 seconds have some horrible sounding harsh vocals by Vortex. Nocturnal Vision Revisited builds and builds only to find a sudden and jarring end, while admittedly, I like that quite a bit, it could have been so much more. The second half of the album drags a bit more than the first does, sapping the power of songs like White Noise Monster and Hufsa, which could have been excellent tracks if arranged a little better, and so on.

But even with all those complaints, there's still one simple fact here: this is Arcturus. They know how to create some amazing moments throughout their albums, and this delivers quite well, almost to the point where you can forgive many of the band's miscues. Vortex, as stated above, is excellent save for the poor harsh vocal attempt. Instead of saturating the music, the keyboards take more of a complimentary role here, only adding to the music when they need to. Hellhammer's drum patterns are a little more standard metal, unlike the rock-ish vibes of The Sham Mirrors, and it works quite well with the material. And when the band is on, they provide some entertaining pieces. Nocturnal sounds like a hymn of impending doom, with Simen's haunting vocals that almost sound like spoken word. Hufsa has a fantastic guitar solo towards the end, while the keyboard solos to Hibernation and Shipwrecked are simple, yet very effective.

Arcturus's prog direction with this album has many bumps in the road, but the band was still able to craft a enjoyable record. Its unfortunate that we won't get to see them expand on this style further, at least for now, but until that day comes, Sideshow Symphonies fits in pretty well alongside the rest of Arcturus' discography.