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Arcturus - Aspera hiems symfonia
Review: Formed from a mold of popular rock and roll in the costume of black metal, Arcturus anchor their music with cruising beats and "inspirational"/"emotional" pulsing keyboards backed by acoustic guitars. The riffs are simple melodic ideas that break into fast progressions, but are oftentimes de-emphasized because of other elements in the band.
Hellhammer, percussionist, is caged in drumming slaphappy rock beats alternating with blasting drives, with occasional opportunities to sneak in a technical flair and even round out his style with some double-hit suspension tension constructions. Despite all of the work of musicians, this music is fundamentally gleeful radio rock that has an infusion of fast chords and dark introductory rhythms.
The dominant exploratory voice present in this work is the keyboards, which function as they would in a progressive band by backing the riff with faster alternating patterns that occasionally take leads to introduce interludes or mutate tempo. Powerful though these are, they rarely compensate for the guitar, which although nondominant is competent despite its adherence to using simple elements of chord progression as fundamental form of the song, sometimes not even twisting a riff from standard direction but dropping a fluid tritone through a chorus.
Lead guitars are of the quality one would find in a well-trained hard rock band, with a good understanding of technique and some advanced tonal and rhythmic ideas, but without standing out. Vocals screech over the pulsing keyboard foundation and soaring guitar formation but rarely differentiate themselves from any others in the genre, except for perhaps a more comic voice.
For the caliber of musicianship the composition is often weak, although not sloppy in that songs are compact productions with direction and articulate despite their space rock format. The cheesiness of self-importance is present throughout large parts of this album, where overdramatized elements of classic romantic illusions are brought to utter fruition and largesse by very staged introductions.
Simple elements defy the window dressing they have been given, but the overall element wears the confusion well as did Greek bands such as Varathron who structured complex songs around the shifting beats and simple chord progressions of basic metal. Engaging, definitely catchy, although pretty vapid underneath the presence of talented musicians improvising on elemental rock ideas.