Saturday, December 11, 2010

ARCKANUM "SVIGA LAE" (Regain Records)

Arckanum was once one of the most mysterious and elliptical black metal projects, a piece of Swedish magick from far beyond and times ancient. Albums were sporadic and little was known about the creator aside from his name but one thing was absolutely assured time and again: quality. The first communications from this classicist project were all fucking brilliant, peaking with the infallible "Kampen" double LP in 1998. Slab after slab of nature worshipping, relentless riffing and a melodic sensibility both mature and unpredictable made for a towering statement of individualistic black metal. Then came a great silence, a number of years devoid of music aside from a few seven inch releases. New material was hinted at but never delivered and the question of Arckanum's future was left to the fates.
In 2004 the floodgates opened with a split release shared with the mighty Svartsyn, a shredding return to neotraditionalist form that still ranks as one of my all time favorite black metal sides. Here was Arckanum streamlined into a mighty slicing monster, everything sloughing off aside from the ultimate purity of raging Swedish black metal, a hypermelodic trem-picked piece of gnostic destruction aimed right for the heart of modern day religion. Anti everything and intent on self-reliance, Arckanum proudly began a deluge of backlogged releases, flooding the market with a wealth of material both new and old and a promise to never again fade so obscurely. "Antikosmos" and "PPPPPPPP" were released in 2008 and 2009 respectively and while each album's arrival was greeted by me with a obsessive hunger i couldn't help but feel that some of the majesty was disappearing from Arckanum. Songs were becoming less epic and far more simplistic from a compositional standpoint, with both albums weighing in at around 45 minutes give or take and boasting none of the trembling melodic frigidity that took the "Skinning the Lambs" split to such anti-cosmic heights of delerium. Instead Arckanum issued two albums worth of Slayer meets Darkthrone style thrashers, a descent into primitivism that did the name few favours and the music even less.
"PPPPPPPPP" was especially rifting, an album chock full of decent riffs but few good songs. The intent was obvious from the cover art- a minimalist homage to pioneers like Venom and, especially, Bathory, but the music didn't yield the fruits from the tree. On the one hand it was good to hear the project so involved with its own destiny but on the other you were hearing only slightly above average material from a way beyond average band. Moments of "PPPPPPPPP" were comparable in spirit to earlier efforts in their reliance on Arckanum's askew ear for eerie melody and harmony lines but in no way did they grab the brass ring of records like "Fran Marder." A moment of truth was obviously birthing.
2010 sees that moment come alive and it's my sad duty to report that Arckanum have given up any position of relevance in the black metal world with their lackluster, brief effort "Sviga Lae." Retreating again to the minimalist and dulling song structures of "PPPPPPPPP" whilst attempting to hide behind a foggy veil of ancient mythology and pompous grandiosity, Arckcanum have turned in perhaps their most dissatisfying album to date. Nothing on "Sviga Lae" is remotely memorable, instead content to exist in a black metal purgatory where riffs need only be vaguely melodic and borderline "harsh" to have merit. The cover art references the purity of cleansing fire and the ensuing rebirth; instead we get only obstinate stagnancy and pointless dirging riffs with no grounding. A descent into primitivism may not have been the worst path for this band; certainly sole member Shamaatae is schooled enough in Swedish lore and languages, as well as in Gnosticism and magicks, to craft a work that both pays tribute to and revels in the rituals of older eras, be they Shamanic or musical. And while the lyrics and language give credence, the music simply destroys it. This is a band that's out of ideas and is content on recycling itself, hoping that the loyalists will throw down and wave the flag for a few more years. Everything here is by the books and rather than run everything down track by track i'll just say it plays out exactly the same as the last two. Nothing differs. Arckanum attempt to hold on to their signatures (atonal melodicism and dissonant vague harmonies) but do so only on the strength of their history. This is an album for everyone who owns all the other albums. It's difficult for me to say that anything by Arckanum is inessential but if you were new to this project there are myriad better places to start. Perhaps another hibernation period is what's really needed here. Maybe the weight of slumber will awaken Arckanum anew to the awesome possibilities their documented talent has forged.

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