You never realize how precious the term avant-garde is until you come across a band like Arcturus. Not only because it acts as an umbrella term for some of the bravest, weirdest and most intriguing musicians on the planet, but also because it saves me the trouble of calling Arcturus blackened-cyber-operatic-progressive-space-underground-metal. Merci beaucoup France. Your contribution to the English language has saved me more times than I can count.
But that’s enough prattling about the silliness of genre. Lets move onto prattling about the band. And excuse the hyperbole. The band genuinely deserves it. Arcturus have lived up to the majesty and almost impenetrable strangeness implied by naming your band after a star. A combination of unconventional song structures, an emphasis on experimentation and Steinar Sverd Johnsen’s wonderfully absurd approach to the keyboard make them one of the most hypnotic and fascinating bands operating today. With former Dimmu Borgir bassist and backing vocalist ICS Vortex on vocal duties for this latest album Arcturus had every advantage going into the studio to record. I remember lamenting Vortex leaving Dimmu Borgir on college radio a few years ago, the loss of his incredible vocal range and beautiful yet powerful voice being a huge hit to the band. Fortunately, he has moved on to bigger and better things with Arcturus. The new album, Arcturian, is an absolute stunner, their hiatus seemingly having done the band good. From bombastic opener The Arcturian Sign all the way through to the fury and melancholia of album closer Bane, there is never so much as a moment of weakness. Epic in scope, the band explores the limits of Vortex’s vocals, uses orchestral instruments without being tonally jarring and adds several new items to the list of things keyboards can do. It wanders, but everything feels planned. And importantly, everything is catchy. Within this framework of experimentation and strange new sounds, there is plenty to tap a foot and hum along to, riffs to headbang to, even moments of quiet sadness. Awe is the only word that can describe my feelings towards the album. It might not be their absolute best work, but it’s a more than worthy bearer of the Arcturus name. Whatever the hell it is Arcturus are doing, they are very fucking good at it. You can check out The Arcturian Sign below, and buy the newly released Arcturian on their iTunes here.