As many Norwegian black metal aficionados will undoubtedly be aware, Arvas started life as Örth in the early nineties. Led by Vassago Rex, this previous entity ended with the suicide of Grim (Borknagar, Gorgoroth) in 1999. Arvas came about two years later and didn’t actually lay down any tracks in the studio until 2009. In this phase of activity came their debut album ‘Blessed from Below… Ad Sathanas Noctum’ on the obscure Einsatz label. Fast forward to 2013, and the band has opted to go somewhat more overground by having an established name – Italy’s ATMF – convey their second album ‘Into the Realm of the Occult’ to the world.
The new record is born with the sounds of machine gun fire, vague echoes from a guitar and… howling; all of which prepares the ground nicely for what is to follow. ‘At Gallow’s End’ bursts out in time-honoured Norwegian fashion with waves of evil riff work a la Gorgoroth over some electronically enhanced drums. The aspect which stands out as most unique in the opener is the groovy tempo change around the 2:30 mark with its bizarre, discordant solos that go on to close the track out. ‘Devil and the Mistress’ also operates in familiar enough territory, with majestic guitar lines cascading out of grimness. But as before, strangely enough, another really cool riff breaks out at the 2:30 mark to dispel any doubts about Arvas’ pedigree. Although following is what proves to be the lowest point of the album for this black metal tourist – fourth track ‘Child of Nights’ – which takes the pace down a notch in bog-standard fashion; the highlight being its stormy outro.
Thankfully then, ‘Grant Me Thy End’ injects more energy and vigour with the return of needling, caustic riffs and more of that hammering drum work. And beyond this is the undisputed rabble-rouser of the disc, ‘The Pest in Christ’, which combines nifty riffs and head-battering drum patterns to paint a scene of jolly old evil. The atmospheric part towards the end also works brilliantly, contrasted against such demonically possessed tones. The intoxicating evil continues with the manic laughter of ‘Dark Lords and Wrath’, which excels by incorporating more weird solos and an absolutely ball-shattering riff to back them up. No less impressive is final track proper, ‘Into the Realm of the Occult’, which initially tears out with speed comparable to a drum machine band (only with a much better snare sound). Topped off with a riff not dissimilar to Gorgoroth’s ‘Destroyer’, it’s yet another winner; embellished by spindly guitars and spasmodic cymbal work.
The superfluous outro is not really worth mentioning, whereas the three live tracks at the end most certainly are. Normally I find such appendages on a studio album to be like an unwanted smell. Here, conversely, once the volume has been turned up loud enough to equalise the live material with the rest of the album, it proves to be some very entertaining stuff indeed.
Overall then, ‘Into the Realm of the Occult’ can be appraised as a generally very decent listen. I’m sure that some might fixate on the generic aspects, but for people who worship the genre, it will do the business.