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Underrated? - 80%

Perplexed_Sjel, August 28th, 2008

Much has been made about Arcturus’ final record. The departure of Garm set alarm bells ringing in the ears of many fans. According to a vast number of people, no matter who replaced him, they wouldn’t be able to fill his boots and the band would eventually decay without his awe inspiring presence behind the microphone. Whilst, yes, it did turn out that Arcturus split not long after the release of the first record without Garm, I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that this record is mediocre. In comparison to the other Arcturus records, this one is probably, bar the first outing which was primarily black metal with a vast amount of experimentation thrown in, the most different. To me, the main difference between this effort and previous, particularly ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ and ‘The Sham Mirrors’ is the lack of showmanship on this effort.

As stated, the lack of showmanship is the main differing element between this and the previous two efforts, which are seen by most as flawless. ICS Vortex is a different kind of vocalist to Garm, although their voices do contain some obvious similarities. To me, the previous records were about blowing away the audience. Astounding the audience with such a flamboyant display of musicianship that the records would boarder on arrogance, rather than simple strong musicianship. Personally, the flair that was Arcturus before this effort, particularly on ‘The Sham Mirrors’, whilst it was terrific to hear, was in need of maturing. To me, this is the most mature effort that Arcturus have produced and it always will be. The previous two efforts, as stated, were primarily concerned with experimentation of the highest level, in terms of instrumentation. The almost arrogant flair is what carried a vast amount of the material across to it’s desired audience and as a result, blew them away. Now that Arcturus have seemingly settled down into a more mature routine on ’Sideshow Symphonies’ and are instead intensely focused on developing songs and there respective structures which will stand the test of time, instead of being outstanding at the moment of hearing it, which is what previous efforts seemed to do.

Most importantly, lets deal with vocals. I’m a big fan of Garm’s voice. His vocal exploits for Arcturus, whether it be his black metal inspired rasps or his clean vocals which developed a heavier influence of the emotional side of the band, and other bands, including the infamous Ulver and guest performances for Ihsahn and The Gathering, ICS Vortex isn’t bad at his job either. His vocals don’t seem to show off as much as Garm’s did. It’s almost as if Vortex knows his exploits for Arcturus won’t be as warmly received as they might be if Garm were leading proceedings. To me, Vortex was the idealistic vocalist to take over from where Garm left off. His vocals are well suited to the more mature sound Arcturus have decided to produce. This mature side can be seen in the shape of the guitars and keyboards, most notably. Whilst Arcturus are still an avant-gardé band, producing experimental music, they have calmed down a lot. This, in particular, shows in there instrumental song, ‘Reflections’, which aptly takes a lot of influence from the past material. The lush soundscapes were once developed heavily by the divine keyboards, but now, there is more emphasis on all aspects of the instrumentation.

Production wise, Arcturus have changed again. ‘The Sham Mirrors’ produced what was the cleanest production from the Norwegian act we’ve heard, but ‘Sideshow Symphonies’ takes on a more mellow production. The music, particularly atmospheres and soundscapes are more relaxed and content to stay that way. The vocals, whilst impressive, aren’t as direction driven as Garm’s. Vortex is happy to stand his ground with his own distinctive blend of melodies, which are supported by the often mesmerising leads on guitar. I’ve noticed something rather original about this record too, the bass. It’s much more influential. Take songs like the brilliant ‘Hufsa’, the bass is much more expressive than it has ever been and I put that down to the relaxed production and more mature styling of the album. The fact that the bass has much more room to breath is, to me, a perfect example of how the record has lessened it’s sound in terms of being arrogant and cocky. Whilst ‘Sideshow Symphonies’ doesn’t like to show off as much, it still is a decent record, which is underrated by disgruntled fans of the old style. Out with a lessened bang.