Arcturus is a band that is hard to pin down into any one specific genre of music. They're definitely metal but with a unique twist. They can go from black metal to vaudeville sounding Devil Doll-ian prog rock to techno...perhaps even in the same song. This, their 1997 sophomore effort, found them taking a more avantgarde approach in contrast to their symphonic debut Aspera Hiems Symfonia. Each song sounds like another act in a dark, weird, twisted, yet passionate play. The album opens with "Master Of Disguise", which starts with an eerie vocal line which soon gives way to metal guitars and Kris Rygg's (also of Ulver and CEO of www.jester-records.com) low, brooding operatic vocals. The lyrics are obviously about the devil (as is the case with most of the album-dark themes are explored here):
"Passion is a strict lord
He is also its humble slave
When bereft of common ways
He strides before you on water
He makes clowns of kings
Charms the guests, rides the ball
Is the master of disguise"
The song becomes almost cabaret like, almost like a creepy carnival, setting the stage for the rest of the album.
"Ad Astra" follows, an almost all-instrumental orchestral song recorded with an actual string section. The beginning theme has an ethereal, beautiful quality to it, but the song builds to a stunning climax with some great guitar and string interplay and a few vocals near the end.
The next track is "The Chaos Path" which hosts guest vocalist Simen Hestnaes (of Dimmu Borgir and ex-Borknagar) and his inimitable jester-like operatic range. This is probably the most "carnival-esque" sounding of all the tracks but as is the case with the other songs, its playfulness is derailed by either a tragic feeling of melancholy or a dark/twisted/maybe even Lynchian flavor. The strings return in the middle section and create a great feeling of drama and tension. A curveball is thrown at the end when out of nowhere a techno beat bursts in, ending the song in a deliberately confusing manner (and it does work too).
The title track follows, which is a short "interlude" of sorts, basically a piano melody repeated over a trip-hop-ish beat. It's basically a "breather" in between the bombast of the songs it's sandwhiched between. It does feature some haunting spoken words, giving you the feeling that Arcturus is leading you through this twisted house of horrors, I can't make all of the words out but it sounds like Rygg asks: "Do you see their faces?" To which the visitor replies "Yes, they're twisted.." Creepy!
"Alone" follows. Probably the most emotional song on the album and I think the lyrics help a lot. The lyrics are taken from Edgar Allen Poe's poem of the same name (I believe it's the same title anyway) and its motif of alienation and isolation paint a vivid picture when coupled with the music. The music is amazing. It starts off as undeniably the most METAL song on here, with extremely fast double bass drumming (courtesy of Hellhammer of Mayhem infamy) and soon descends into madness with arguably Rygg's best vocal performance here. Outstanding guitar work as well. Amazing track.
"The Throne Of Tragedy" starts off with an almost Depeche Mode-sounding keyboard part and some creepy spoken vocals. It then becomes another dark theatrical metal song with plenty of twists and turns and some excellent lyrics:
"Man knows me as Lucifer,
the serpent of old
The wretched hold my banner high
All life, I grant a grave
Yet I am not your death"
"Painting My Horror" is another excellent song. Starting metal and then going in a more "carnival-esque" direction in the middle. The lyrics are very cool and seem (to me, at least) to be about a painter under certain influences :) who paints horrific images while in this state of mind. Here's a sample:
"It was a dark night, I couldn't see
And senses were unbound in ESP
When in dream awake, I'd paint,
Subconscious, the expanse I saw"
Perhaps Arcturus were influenced by certain "artistic inspirations" while creating this album eh? Hehe..
The final song and final act in this play is "Of Nails And Sinners". Another anti-god pro-satan lyric (of course Arcturus looks at satanism in the philosophical/metaphorical way, more often than not) and another twisted prog/metal tune with an excellent keyboard opening and great performances all around.
So there you have it, I recommend this album HIGHLY. It is one of my favorite albums of all time. Fans of Devil Doll, pick this up upon sight. However, I recommend it to anyone seeking dark/twisted, artistically honest, interesting, unique, truly progressive music. For those interested in purchasing it, www.theendrecords.com should have it in stock for a damn good price (and if they don't, email them and they'll get it for you). Expect a review of their new album The Sham Mirrors soon!