Arcturus – The Sham Mirrors Review

Jon Eardley’s take:

When I hear the term “experimental metal” tossed around the scene on various metal web sites and on various metal message boards and in various reviews of metal music, I immediately think of a band that tries to develop a certain sound by utilizing bits and pieces from many different styles of music not limited to metal. In a time in the metal (under)world when you can find hundreds to thousands of death, black, power, etc. metal bands sharing the same riffs and sounds over and over and over again, it becomes time for me to seek out bands who like to break away from the traditional, and bands who aren’t afraid to try new things to distance themselves from the norm. Enter Arcturus.

Now, I’m not gonna sit here and try and make you think that I’ve been a fan of this band for years, because I haven’t been. I’m not gonna sit here and try and come up with fancy words to make you think that I’m the ultimate fan of this so-called “avant-garde” sound that’s been tearing its way across the Scandinavian scene for 10+ years, because I haven’t heard enough of it… Yet. However, I have heard plenty of music in my 30 years of life, so I’ll try and give you my best description of this album, and in the end, you’ll hopefully understand why I believe this to be the most original release of the year, maybe even of the new millennium.

Arcturus is comprised of yet another all-star line up of Norwegian geniuses, most notably Garm of Ulver fame taking care of the vocal duties, and Hellhammer from the legendary and always controversial Mayhem pounding away at the skins. Having received a sampler disc from The End Records, my first taste of this band was hearing the track “Star-Crossed” from that sampler and immediately falling in love with the song’s original sound and unusually bizarre song structure. I remember listening to the track over and over again and eventually ordering a copy from The End Records.

Upon the disc’s arrival at my home, I threw it in my stereo system, liner notes and lyrics in hand, my standard set pretty high remembering how much I liked the song from the sampler, and away I went into a musical experience that was unlike anything I expected it to be. The first song, “Kinetic,” starts off this journey into the zone of “experimental metal” with its keyboard heavy melodic patterns (courtesy of Sverd) setting the stage for the entire album. The guitar sound (Knut M. Valle) is there within this state of the art production, but it is not brought out into the forefront, because, for the most part, the guitars aren’t the main focal point of the music. That main focal point is the combination of the vocals, drums and keyboards, with the guitars (both low and high) playing the part of an almost atmospheric role.

Garm’s vocals are certainly some of the most inventive I’ve ever heard, ranging from high to low, including spoken passages and some well-favored melodic sections. Definitely my favorite attribute the disc has to offer.

Whereas the norm in metal is to usually have the bass player following along with the guitar riffs, it was somewhat refreshing to hear the bass player (Dag F. Gravem) following along with the exceptional drum beats, as well as going off on his own experimental binges. To me, this shows a level of musicianship that resides in a higher class than that of your everyday “I’m just up here because this band needs a bass player” bass player.

If you’re going to play experimental metal, then why not have intelligently knowledgeable creators of music within your group? Well, that’s what we have here, and the songwriting – both musically and lyrically – is as professional as it gets. You can tell this group spent a lot of time putting this album together, and it shows throughout its entirety.

The production is flawless, the lyrics, although a bit on the strange side, are professionally put together, and the overall musical arrangements spawn a musical endeavor that reeks of both enlightening beauty and enchanting doom at the same time. With electronic sounds and effects galore, there are new musical twists at every turn that keep one entertained from beginning to end.

At the end of the day, it would just not be fair for me to compare Arcturus to any other band out there, and frankly, they’re providing such an original sound to the overall music scene that I just don’t think I should do it. If I had to go out on a limb, keeping in mind that this band has been grinding the axe since the early 90’s, I would say their music is reminiscent of bands like Winds, Green Carnation, Ulver (of course), newer Borknagar (kind of), newer Emperor (Ihsahn plays the role of guest vocalist on track 6, “Radical Cut”) and maybe even a touch of Pink Floyd. Maybe I’m off a bit there, and maybe there are several bands I’ve never heard of who are similar in sound and presentation, but in the end it doesn’t take an expert to review this music, just a lover of music in general. You throw the disc in the platter, you press play and you are either going to like it or not.

To me, this album is awesome and will definitely make my list of top albums for 2002. The Sham Mirrors is for a musically-matured audience, not the musically under-educated and closed-minded. Yet, like always, it comes down to personal flavor. If you own this album already and you don’t care for it, then you’re in a small class and more than likely, you haven’t listened to it enough. Although not quite a masterpiece in my book, it is damn close and comes highly recommended from me.

Ryan Plunkett’s take:

I haven’t come across an album I disliked this much in a long time. This band is an experimental group comprised of members from Mayhem and Ulver. Either way, this is garbage and I encourage you all not to buy Sham Mirrors.

There is one cool musical moment on this entire CD, and that’s the great solo on the song “Nightmare Heaven.” Other then that, there is nothing. There’s absolutely annoying parts, like during the end of the song I just mentioned, and then there’s the song “Star-Crossed” that has an intro that sounds like circus music. I thought I was at a carnival there for a bit. Other times, there are piano parts on the CD that sound like elevator music. It’s absolutely disgusting.

Then we come to the singer. Every time he opened his mouth, I wanted to shoot myself. He has one of the most annoying voices I’ve ever heard. He sounds like a whiny little shit. The only reason this album didn’t get a zero overall score is because it got half a point for that good solo in the second track, and a half point because Ishahn (ex-Emperor, for those of you that live in a cave) sings on the sixth song, “Radical,” which, by the way, is the only song possibly worth listening to in its entirety on this decrepit piece of crap.

This album makes me angry just thinking about it. It sounds like a horrible industrial band, and the production is like a slightly above average Industrial album. The lyrics are at times thought provoking, but mostly don’t make any sense at all. This album makes me want to vomit in disgust. Stay as far away from it as possible.

Sham Mirrors my ass. Horrible . . . Just plain horrible. . .

Posted by Last Rites


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