After a ten year silence since "Sideshow Symphonies", the chaotic carnival sideshow Arcturus emerge for the abyss to unleash another full length record upon a niche group of adoring fans. Arcturus has been a group I've held in the highest regard for their unique flavor and artistic evolution across the four records that proceeded this one. Forming under the moniker "Mortem" in 1987, it took the group almost a decade to find their sound and release their debut "Aspera Hiems Symfonia" in 96. It was a raw Black Metal power ride of haunting atmospheres and playful melodics that fused the symphonies with the raw power chord distortion, howling screams and thunderous drumming. Having established a unique identity, the group took a huge stride into unknown territory with the follow up "La Masquerade Infernale". Using electronics, sampling and taking a more theatric approach to their music they created a modern masterpiece unrivaled by anything alike. The two follow up records further experimented and refined their sound and set a high level of expectation before there split in 2006.
With the stakes so high I was both dreading and anticipating this record which took me a fair few listens to warm around to. What hit me on the first play through was how familiar and "right" the music felt, as if the the band had been frozen on ice, put on hold, and returned ready to fire as if not a moment had passed in their absence. It only took a minute for the opener to throw me into a classic Arcturus atmosphere, rattling drums blitzed in the background as discordant guitars ring out with descending synths, throwing us into a symphonic hook led by ICS Vortex's adventurous, and still so charming vocals. Everything about this record as it played through made sense, the opening half having a lot of familiarity with different approaches and styles executed on previous records, the quality good enough to call its own. There were one or two moments that felt a little like carbon copy, the track "Archer" feeling like an outtake from sideshow symphonies, and "Angst" from "Aspera Hiems Symfonia". Ultimately its the shock of getting exactly what you wanted that feels a little surreal and the ten years apart feels almost non existent. "Arcturian" has sheltered itself from the world and let the band continue exploring them selfs, the only noticeable influence being the drum-step beat sampled on "Demon".
With the music doing so much right it manages to mask a big problem this record has. The production. Lets be blunt, its pretty appalling. From the get go its apparent there are issues, instruments fight for volume, bleed into one another and a lot of clarity is lost as the instruments collide in a messy mix that is inconsistent on multiple levels. The drums firstly, they sound different from track to track and often drown themselves in a rattle of noise. The guitars sometimes feel like an incoherent fuzz under over powering symphonies. For all my complaints, I am left with puzzling thoughts. The production doesn't ruin the music, but does it hold it back? Maybe it even adds to it? This isn't a case of low-fi production where the aesthetic is an edge, but the inconsistencies on a track by track basis perhaps suggest intentional manipulation of instrumental clarity, which in a few moments does work. Arcturian was an initially puzzling record, but from the get go its undeniably decent, a fine work which any fan would adore. It will be interesting to gauge the communities reation, and although I hope to hear a remastered release one day, I am undeniably satisfied by "Arcturian".