Arcturus- Arcturian

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ten years have passed between Arcturus’ new full length Arcturian and their last release Sideshow Symphonies, but after listening to this effort for an extended period of time it feels like they never really left. After calling it quits in 2007, the band came back together in 2011 with their pre-breakup lineup completely intact. It is likely because of this relative stability that Arcturian feels like an accurate representation of everything the group had to offer in their later years without being a mere retread. Filled with a wide range of progressive instrumental and vocal work and a healthy dose of metal intensity, this is a musical journey that is well worth taking and a sign that these Norwegians haven’t lost any of their flair for the avant-garde and weird in the years that have passed.

Over the years the instrumentals have had a flair for spacier electronics and elements that had a distinctive avant-garde feel to them, and Arcturian takes full advantage of this. Right from the start of the album the instrumentals throw in a considerable amount of electronics and off-kilter melodies that give the material a stranger, alien feel. With this in place, the band chooses to head in a lot of different directions, channeling melodies that have a more traditional progressive rock vibe during certain sections while upping the intensity and distortion in others that pays tribute to their black metal roots. In many ways it feels like this rejuvenated version of Arcturus has captured a little bit of every element from their past discography, but that’s not to say they’ve simply rehashed what they’ve written before. There’s a clear attempt to further merge all of these different elements together this time around, and the songwriting has so many twists and turns that it will likely take listeners a few times through to catch every little detail. This is where the album really shines, as Arcturus’ ability to hook with both completely out there melodies and bursts of aggression puts them somewhere between the metal and prog rock camps without ever fully falling into either one.

There are plenty of subtle details to discover from the instrumental work on Arcturian, but for me it was the performance from ICS Vortex that really stole the show and convinced me to spend so much time with this album. This may be one of the most versatile performances he’s ever delivered, as there are so many different styles and harsh/clean variations that it’s sometimes hard to believe it is coming from the same person. For the majority of the record Vortex goes for a softer clean pitch that sometimes heads into stranger operatic territory, but on songs like “Angst” he breaks into downright psychotic sounding screams and shrieks that up the intensity a bit more than you might be expecting. I’m sure there will still be those that prefer Garm from the band’s earlier efforts, but I continue to feel that ICS Vortex is a perfect fit for what they have to offer stylistically right now and this is one of his strongest performances to date.

Arcturian finds this long running band doing what they do best, which is blurring the lines between progressive rock and metal while offering up a whole bunch of avant-garde curveballs in the process. It’s an effort that’s likely to take a few times through to fully get a feel for and appreciate, but that time is worth it as once the hooks sink in there is plenty to continue drawing you back for just one more listen. Even during their absence I can’t say that there have been too many groups that have been able to approach the sound that Arcturus delivers, so it’s definitely a good thing to have them back as an active band, especially when they’re clearly still at the top of their game.

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