After pressing play on Arcturian for the very first time, the thing that immediately becomes evident is how underwhelming this album sounds. Regardless whether it was nostalgia that led these illustrious Norwegians to embrace the modest production values of their early days by producing the record in Knut Magne Valle’s home studio by themselves or if they did it merely to irritate the purists, they forgot they are not the same band they used to be back in 1994. The layers of sounds and delicate effects their present musical discourse is characterized by simply demand professional production, and in that sense this album doesn’t represent anything smart or innovative, rather a joke that no one laughs at. Indeed, whenever I hear that badass main riff in Pale, with Hellhammer’s merciless feetwork all over it, I can’t help but cursing the production of this record like I have never cursed anything before in my life.
One more thing about Arcturian that’s also a downside is that there are too many too obvious references to their own previous work. For example, the cheerful sequence in Bane clearly borrows from Painting My Horror, Archer has almost the same verse riff as Nocturnal Vision Revisited, while Game Over features pretty much the same string arrangement as Ad Astra. However, for some strange reason that doesn’t take away much of the charm these songs have, and it’s precisely the ability to tell the same story twice without making it sounds boring what makes Arcturus one of the brightest shining stars in the constellation of Norwegian extreme metal. After all, what is more legitimate than to quote your own thoughts? Stealing form yourself is not a proper stealing, so I guess they can get away only with a warning this time.
Just as it was the case on Sideshow Symphonies, ICS Vortex’s powerful voice dictates a lot of the melodies on this album, but to my taste his performance carries a bit too much of his Borknagar and solo work vibe. Crashland and Warp for instance, if we take the string arrangements out of the equation, sound like lost tracks from the Storm Seeker sessions. On the other hand, there is finally some genuine black metal screaming included on Arcturus album, as pure-blooded as it was on Aspera Hiems Symfonia, so if we look upon the whole picture objectively, it kind of breaks even. Love or hate this man, the bottom line is that he is incredible singer, one of a kind in many ways, with the range and color a very few of his peers out there can equal.
Overall, I find Arcturian to be a rather satisfying effort. The album is a grower and each new spin brings new insights, whether in terms of discovering subtle details in music or exploring different emotional landscapes. The sound is definitely something to get used to, but once a listener gets familiar with it, the new horizons will present themselves. It is far from being Arcturus’ best, but it stills sweeps off 95% of this year’s metal releases with ease.
(Prophecy Productions, 2015)