This is one of those albums we never really expected to happen. After Arcturus split in 2007 following on from their ‘Sideshow Symphonies’ album a couple of years earlier things seemed pretty final. However they had persevered through losing original singer Garm back in 93 and although his two albums Aspera Hiems Symfonia and La Masquerade Infernale were defining ones that sprung out of nowhere and helped change the face and structures of Norwegian Black Metal the avant garde pioneers managed to overcome this trial replacing him with Simens ‘ICS Vortex’ Hestnæs, probably the only person who at the time could fill his boots and carry on with ‘The Sham Mirrors.’ It was announced back in 2011 that the band were reforming to play select shows which with time became more prolific. Finally creative juices no doubt flowing they like many others in similar positions decided that the time was right to get back in the studio and begin recording new material and Arcturian was finally spawned. From the band that dissolved, the players from 2007 are all back and what a master-class of musicians we have. Apart from ICS who flittered with Dimmu Borgir until unceremoniously ousted and still prevalent in Borknagar we have Hellhammer drummer of a horde of infamous bands and the three ex Ulver players Knut, Sverd and Skoll.
Considering the band sprawled out from the experimental era when Norway went all weird with bands such as Ved Buenes Ende (which three of this line up have been in live at some point) Manes, Virus and In The Woods it should be no surprise that Arcturus are still hardly walking the straight and narrow. This is made immediately clear with first track ‘The Arcturian Sign’ which booms in with a techno slant that wouldn’t be out of place from bands such as Eat Static and Orbital. As it opens up I could swear there is a sudden burst that is close to the Dr Who theme lurking in there too, mischief is certainly at play from these Arch Jesters. Once ICS starts up with his familiar crooning and the song’s melodic thrust gets firmly under the skin it is just like the band have never been away and the opening track proves a memorable and hard hitting one. Sonic pulses flurry all over the futuristic soundscape, guitar solos unspool and the vocals retain that clear clean edge bordering insanity and hysterics. Once this one gets on board your brain it turns it into a star-ship taking off to the far flung corners of the galaxy. Arcturus as always have loads going on in the ten songs here but they do at least keep them restrained as far as running times are concerned never outstaying their welcome. We are cast adrift with the mellower strains of ‘Crashland’ running out of fuel may well lead to inevitable impact but here it is all about spinning in space with some grandiose symphonic parts and ICS revelling in the mysteries of it all. It’s an uplifting number that coasts along in freefall and is one that is designed to have an audience swaying with ambient parts and effects giving the likes of recent Hawkwind a run for their money especially if caught in the glare of good stage-lighting. Swagger is brought into play with the more pompous sounding ‘Angst’ which is edgy as the title hints at and you wonder with the vocals speeding up along with the music if oxygen is running low. If it is this is going to use it up all the quicker as Hellhammer drives the pace and throaty screams build taking this into blacker darker territories.
Sonic pulses and operatic crooning move into stranger aeons with ‘Warp’ and that’s exactly what it does with your head. This really is symphonic space rock by nature more than anything else if you had to go and classify it, Hellhammer is playing a style that would not be out of place on a drum and bass track at times and a solo sounds like classic Huw Lloyd Langton to my ears. I guess there is a backbone of Krautrock about it all as well and what sounds like a bit of electric violin, even if it is no doubt sequenced. This shortest track moves to ‘Game Over’ the albums longest one with a melodeath kind of keyboard sound and melody that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dark Tranquillity track. It all slows to allow ICS to take centre stage and deliver some lines like they are out of some classic rock opera with some zealous theatrical metallic licks flaring up in their wake. Sprawling out and taking form its rich symphonic flare sounds both austere and magnificent.
I think it’s fair to say that there is plenty of versatility and individualism about all the tracks here and this continues with the cold void of ‘Demon’ adding more techno breaks into things and sounding as alien as anything anybody would have expected going into this. As for ‘Pale’ it starts up a bit like an old boys own adventure movie before going intergalactic and hitting like a laser gun fight in outer space. ICS keeps the vocal side of things ever shape-shifting throughout the album adding eccentricity and theatrical displays at every twist and turn in line with the ever head melting changes within the sonic bombast. ‘Pale’ really reminds of older songs and although the band have thrown all sorts of odd ideas into things after their long period of stasis it’s evident that they are not trying to reinvent themselves.
There’s definitely classical sounding strings heralding in ‘The Journey’ along with bouncy slow techno beats. This is probably the strangest track on the album and the mellowest one, not doing too much but soothing. It strikes like an old episode of Star Trek where the landing party pitch up teleported to a strange alien world and gaze at wonder at all the vibrantly coloured vegetation and cardboard rocks. ‘Archer’ sees the inhabitants of said planet making their presence felt and it’s a number bristling with danger as we prepare to see our heroes taken captive. There’s stacks of mystery in the melody that has a progressive flow at its heart and I’m really looking forward to getting hold of this on CD and following along the lyrics as there is very much a story going on here. One thing that has perhaps been missing on the album is a carnival laden gallop, the giddy circus ride on an out of control roundabout that the band have dizzingly taken us off in the past. Fear not they have saved this up for the last track ‘Bane’ and it’s all the more potent as it whisks you off on your feet for not having been overused.
I am not sure what happened with this review, I sat here pressed play and started to write and this is what came out. Arcturian in the process took me off on one hell of a trip and it’s one that’s going to take a while to come back to earth from, especially as they are playing in a couple of days! This space cadet came away from the whole experience full of wonder and feeling like he has really been on a voyage of discovery. You should get on board too and take the trip yourself!
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)