on 10 April 2009
So, black metal lacks invention does it? Well, this is where Arcturus enters to blow the opinions of those who say that black metal is too one dimensional for it's own good out of the water. The demise of this band came out of the blue for most people. After the efforts of `Sideshow Symphonies', many people were wondering whether the magic had died. It would seem that it had. Whether the band decided to call it a day on the long and winding career of Arcturus because of how the last effort was perceived and received will remain a mystery. According to the official statement, the bands members no longer had time for the project, but to many, it was simply due to the fact that Arcturus were beginning to run out of idea's. When you've experimented as much as they have, it's quite understandable. However, with a career that spun it's web over two decades, the band has issued a fair amount of positively received material to the world. The first part of this saga begins in Norway with Arcturus' very first effort in `Aspera Hiems Symfonia'.
So, how diverse can black metal be? Well, `Aspera Hiems Symfonia' is seemingly here to prove that it can be very diverse and still be perceived as a masterpiece by a generally fussy set of fans. Black metal is a precise genre. It may not seem it, but it is. A band has to be very direct in their approach for their music to be received well and despite the fact that Arcturus use many different methods in which to profess their inspirations differently from the vast amount of bands within the genre, they were and still are received very well. There are those who look upon `Aspera Hiems Symfonia' and see it as the defining moment for not only Arcturus as a band, but for the genre of avant-gardé black metal. It's not a term that is likely to go hand in hand with black metal often, avant-gardé, but when it does, it has to be something very special to draw most people's attention away from the normality of the genre. It's certainly a difficult task facing any band wishing to stray away from the constraints of the norm.
It's probably best to define the term avant-gardé as not everyone will be as familiar with it as the already established fans of Arcturus. "Noun - The advance group in any field, esp. in the visual, literary, or musical arts, whose works are characterized chiefly by unorthodox and experimental methods." After hearing the bands debut album, this is a definition that truly depicts the album for what it is. Extraordinarily experimental in many ways. So, in what ways are we confronted with experimentation here? Is it of the highest order? Or does it simply fall into the pits of mediocrity like so many others tend to do? All of these questions are answered step-by-step throughout the duration of the set.
From beginning to end, Aspera Hiems Symfonia' evolves in a gradual process. Black metal is often viewed in a similar way as a rollercoaster would be. We begin slowly, but when the adrenaline takes hold of your mind, body and soul, it's an uncompromising ride. There are slow passages and there are fast passages. Much like rollercoasters, black metal, especially the avant-gardé kind, is an acquired taste. You're either born with the devotion and passion to it, or you're not. It's not something that can be learned. You can never explain to someone why music of this extreme nature is good, it just is to you or it isn't. Arcturus set out to do what they aim to achieve very quickly.
Experimentation takes form in several different ways and here is how. The vocals, these are experimental too. Some may find experimentation in terms of black metal vocals quite odd and in truth, it is. Whilst the rasps are a significant part of this record, they're not the only part. The rasps serve to enhance the mild aggression that is present. It may not be an emotion which is in the foreground too much, but it is there, on occasions. Rasping vocals also give the audience a sense of mystery, which certainly suits Arcturus and their overall sound, in terms of the atmospheric qualities, it's mystical and often projects an astral feel through the use of symphonic sounds. Now, I'm not a fan of symphonic metal, at all, but the way in which Arcturus portray the symphonies is enjoyable. The symphonic sound is produced entirely by the keyboards, which become an integral part of Arcturus' music throughout the album. They're often situated next to solos, which is a nice touch.
Hissed, spoken, whispered and even operatic vocals are used. A wide ranging selection to suit everyone's needs. For those of us, myself included, that aren't fond of one or more of those styles need not be worried as Arcturus' amazing song writing puts all vocals in the right places, uses them in the right ways and even manages to put aside all worries you had upon hearing the albums selection of vocals. A variety is important to the soundscapes of Arcturus. The soundscapes are also wide ranging so they need many different elements of sound to portray the agony, the beauty and the sorrow that fills this album to the brim. Emotion is at the foreground, though even that ranges across a wide selection.
In terms of the instruments that one has not already covered, the bass is forever accessible to the audience. It's sound is low and driving. The drums are often varied, but they can enter stages when double bass blasts can be heard, which will delight the senses of those who enjoy the old black metal trait. The guitars are especially important. Black metal has it's solos, but Arcturus are more experimenting, of course, with those. They vary and spring up all over the place. Despite all this variation, it's not difficult to get to grips with the album. It's entirely accessible and really rather enjoyable. A must have for anyone seeking to escape the modern drivel black metal offers.