Before I get into the details of this gem, indulge me…
Imagine standing in one of the world’s most spacious and majestic cathedrals. Every sound you make, from your softest steps to the slightest murmur, is echoed and amplified in the most natural and detailed way. The space itself makes sound a living and breathing entity. The mass is audible. Now imagine that at the same time you can feel that mass, that oppressive weight, the countless tons of stone which comprise its whole. You sense the sorrow, blood, and will of mankind required to build such a structure. Yet you are overwhelmed by none of this. Something is in this space with you, something lush and comforting, like a ghostly garden that creates a distant sense of hope.
This is the sound conjured by Italy’s Arcana Coelestia on Le Mirage de L’Idéal, their sophomore effort. It is the definition of lush, as heavy as is expected of funeral doom, and possesses an unfathomable sense of sheer size. They have successfully merged the symphonic funeral doom approach of Shape of Despair with black (and touches of post) metal, similar to associated act Urna (they share guitarist/effects expert MZ). The album is a constant wash of reverberating keys, guitars, and drums which seem to be miles away and yet simultaneously in the same room.
Le Mirage de L’Idéal begins with “Duskfall.” The slow pulse of the phrasing evokes an environment similar to that described above; so much so that when a softer passage featuring piano is introduced, it is like a giant breath being released out of the hypothetical cathedral space, a release shared by the listener. Sorrowful clean vocals join in shortly after, adding that extra layer of emotion necessary to render the song absolutely breathtaking, followed by a climax of guttural vocals and ascending tremolo guitar. Most of the album employs this general set of tools. The two-part “Tragedy & Delirium” places more emphasis on the artistic factor with the use of operatic female vocals, extended ambience, and spoken word, but in general Arcana Coelestia play a pulsing, densely symphonic, and slightly blackened form of funeral doom.
One of the few possible complaints is that Le Mirage de L’Idéal is bookended with its strongest tracks, leaving it a bit light in the middle (finale “…thus Fade in Nocturnal Deluge” is another instantly memorable slab). But with the album being under 50 minutes, the thought that you are waiting through filler is not likely to come up. The only other possible complaint would be the constant circular FX shimmer (think Cynic) which sometimes jumps out a tad high in the mix. It blends in well unless you intentionally pay attention to it, in which case you may be mildly annoyed. Overall however, these complaints are inconsequential.
As is the case with many excellent funeral doom albums, Le Mirage de L’Idéal is an experience, one that will find a permanent spot in the libraries of funeral fans the metal world over, and should be researched by all fans of atmospheric, massive metal. This is a form of music best experienced at deafening volumes with the lights down low, or with a haunting and otherworldly novel in your hands. Arcana Coelestia, like their funeral brethren, exemplify how this particular sub-sub-genre of metal can create a vast and emotionally complex landscape which is somehow both drowning and liberating. Dive in.