The answer unfortunately is not a solid yes or no. Although I didn’t quite feel like it was a good album, it all comes down to tastes and interpretation in this case. The whole difficulty arises from the fact that you cannot judge avant-garde metal by any rules because it doesn’t follow any. I cannot say it’s not heavy enough, it’s not brutal enough or not melodious enough because it’s not trying to be any of these things; it just is. It all boils down to the auditory experience and how you feel while listening to the music.
I don’t know what to make of this album. It’s really confusing. On one hand there are all these wonderfully layered songs but on the other hand there is the weird production. Is Arcturus trolling us all? I cannot fathom what they are trying to achieve with this album. From an auditory perspective it’s like looking at a beautiful painting made of shit.
Looking purely at the music Arcturian has it all; there’s a little bit of black metal, little bit of electronica, little bit of rock, little bit of psychedelic music anything and everything you like and dislike. The song composition and structures are something to marvel at; it is not an easy task to meld multiple music styles into coherent compositions the way Arcturus does. Every song takes you on a cosmic journey through weird sonic landscapes with songs like ‘The Arcturian Sign’, ‘The Journey’ and my favourite ‘Game Over’.
From a production stand point this album is a mess. I’m not being funny when I say that the album sounds like it was recorded in a cave. There is a barrier of impenetrable white noise from behind which the music plays; it is really disheartening to listen to the album knowing that this could have sounded so much better. Why did Arcturus choose to produce this album like a late-nineties kvlt black metal album I will never know but it is defeats the purpose of the beautiful music and intricately layered compositions contained in the album. The production helps in some cases to enhance the spacey-psychedelic atmosphere of some of the songs but it is definitely not worth coating the whole album in the atmospheric goop.
Individual performances are good. ICS Vortex’s soaring vocals sound awesome as ever. Hellhammer on drums is refreshing to listen to; he really shows off his versatility on the kit, destroying any misconceptions that he is only a black metal drummer. Knut Magne Valle along with Steinar Sverd Johnsen cover the guitars and orchestration well, creating an atmosphere which is both engrossing and deeply layered. Hugh “Skoll” Mingay on bass does a good job padding out the bottom end and adding yet another layer to the intricacies of the music.
Arcturian is an album that could have been so much more. I’m sure Arcturus have their reasons for why they chose to do what they did but it really didn’t sit well with me. But production issues aside this album is inventive and goes to places few bands have ventured before. Arcturus continue to prove their mettle as Avant-Garde masters in a genre populated with play-it-safe musicians.