Saturday, May 15, 2010

Arckanum - Boka Vm Kaos

Arckanum - Boka Vm Kaos
2002, Carnal Records

This tape that I'm reviewing here, that I've been listening to over the last few days, is just a promo version of this release, which is set to be put out on vinyl as a 7", as the vanguard of four separate releases in the same style from Arckanum, with three split 7"s coming after this with three separate bands: Contamino, Sataros Grief, and Craft. In any case, this is the first I've heard from Arckanum in quite some time, and this EP fell joyfully on these ears as the last album 'Kampen' did not really impress me...I thought it overlong, and a little too unfocused, if not just downright boring. The first two Arckanum releases are of course mandatory, seen now as the special reservoir within the Swedish black metal scene of a 'Norse' (for lack of a better term) style of melodicism - a special cell of style within the scene as a whole - and the prototype of a sort of Scandinavian pagan/esoteric/occult/nature-obsessed black metal which bands like Kampfar also dip their fingers into every now and then. If you look as closely as I often do at Norwegian and Swedish black metal, you'll see that Arckanum, while often referencing other bands (which is just inescapable, most of the time) with their/his riffing style, song structure, or the 'focus' and image of the group, are a rather original creation when taken seriously. They are also rather atypical for the Swedish scene, which has now firmly given up experimentation in black metal (well, the mainstream sides of it) for a yawn-worthy policy of falling in line behind Dark Funeral or Dissection's legacy. It is amusing to me, though, how little this band has progressed over the years...rather Arckanum, up until 'Kampen', seemed to be caught in a sort of stylistic/aesthetic degradation, and as its orbit over its own idealogy and image started to decay, I feared that it wouldn't be long before Shamataae, that old goat, would just give in and join a much more conventional band, leaving his paens and dark hymns to Pan behind him in the forests where he found them. So far, this has not happened.

There are only two songs on this release, the first, 'Bafomet' (the links between the deities Baphomet and Pan are well documented), being a completely traditional affair that cycles between two main evocative riffs, the first being a sort of in-out, up-down, tidal construction, a melody that offers and then withdraws itself with purely dryad charm, fully of a wistful melancholy, and then a more solid, conservative chorus riff that opens the way towards Shamataae's cries of '...Bafomet' (or whatever the chorus is, I can't translate it, all I know is he is hailing both Baphomet and Pan rather directly on this EP), completing the ritualistic atmosphere. The attractive parts of this composition are, really, for me, only the guitars and vocals, as the kick drum sound (it may be a machine, it's difficult to tell) is distracting (if hidden imperfectly beneath the purely obscure production - actually the production on these songs is fucking perfect) and any extra elements that may pop up in the second composition are just icing on the cake, little additions to round out the emotional impact of the music. To be honest, the toms, snare and cymbals sound like a real drum set, only the bass drums sound synthetic - kind of like the early Bathory songs where Quorthon mixed a drum machine with a human skinsman's efforts...or, at least, this is what he says now. Oh well. If it is a human drummer, I tip my hat to him as he probably has some of the fastest feet around. The guitar sound is ideal, as it has that utterly stereotypical 'faraway' effect in it, like the best of Norwegian black metal - meaning high levels of reverb, but with a smooth undercurrent of power that does not let the material founder under its own addiction to other worlds. At times it almost...reminds me of horns, of traditional folk melodies played not on guitars with modern effects, but rather almost as if it were a capturing of a procession with woodwinds or brass riding at slow speed through a dark forest. It's Pan's greatest wish, isn't it, to lure you away where his power is the strongest, beneath the shadowy canopy of endless woods, down into a darkness that is never broken by sunlight...

The most striking characteristic of early Norwegian black metal (and in limited instances, its Swedish cousin) is its ability to summon a powerful desire in the listener for time journey to distant lands that may or may not have ever existed, a time and place lost in the mists of Scandinavia's past. Like the best of that early material from Enslaved, Emperor, Immortal, etc. this music has that ability to entrance, to bewitch, to make one long for a return of ancient worlds. Arckanum has always had this ability, or this kind of concentration, and it's good to see Shamataae stay very close to his first ideals/principles concerning his own music and not reach for something that he may not be able to capture completely, the way most of the Scandinavian black metal bands have done over the last few years. No, this is pure Pagan storytelling and world-weaving in the time-tested manner, and that is why I am listening to it over and over.

This first main riff, actually, in its slow give and take, ebb and flow, an ideal black melody in that it complements its ascension through a scale with a corresponding decline and return to the zero state before beginning again (meaning it's a circle, or rather an oval with a small variation on the return), is probably the best writing on the album, and manages to evoke both classic, traditional Norwegian black metal as well as the less colorful Swedish version. A compromise and meeting, in one melody. Anyway, the second song is a completely different thing all together, as it leads Shamataae into a more progressive direction with an expansion of song structure and the inclusion of additional melodic fragments which point not only to the Romanian scene, but the Polish as well. It doesn't mean as much to me as the beautiful first song, but that is only becomes it seems a little unfocused, as if it wasn't exactly clear what he/they were going for when they recorded it. It is just as fast, raw, and conducive to daydreaming, however, as the first song, in parts...maybe its the overtly 'anthemic' nature of the song, how it falls in certain parts to a kind of punk simplicity in a rapid proliferation of folk-influenced melodic segments, but it still includes a few riffs that are purely black in nature. Rather more 'epic' and militaristic than evocative, it might represent the future direction of Arckanum while the first song looks only backwards. I won't be able to tell until the next album...

All in all, this recording is an excellent representation of Arckanum's key style, one Shamataae was mainly flaunting on his first two releases, so it's a welcome return to form in my eyes and can only hope that he will return to this paradigm again in his upcoming records, so we'll see. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the atmospheres unleashed here, and because it's snowing very, very hard here in Dallas right now, I'm going outside...