I got into Arcturus simply because of Hellhammer, THE premier drummer in all of metal. And while I’ve enjoyed thier previous efforts (the first releases over The Sham Mirrors and Masquerade-still quality albums in their own right) I was not expecting to love this album right off the bat, as each Arcturus release has taken a while to get me hooked.
Displaying more prominent guitar riffs than ever before, and mixing the sounds so that the vocals and drums are at the forefront, Sideshow Symphonies finds Arcturus treading new waters while still maintaining that signature Arcturus sound which justifies the oft-applied avant-garde dark metal label. It may be these same guitar riffs which make this album immediately accessible, but this addition is simply another bragging point for this refreshing band, and in no way an indication that they are going soft.
Another welcome change is the vocals of Dimmu’s Simen. While many, including myself, were worried that a new vocalist would mar the sound of this progressive band, Simen charges out of the gate, proving all naysayers wrong, as he displays an array of vocal styles and moods during the opening track “Hibernation Sickness Complete”. Skeptics should throw their worries right in the dumpster; this man is the perfect replacement for the seemingly irreplaceable Garm. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever heard a metal vocal performance that so carefully selects lyrical content so that when it is coupled with the vocal delivery, it creates an instrument of importance which matches that of the drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards.
The ultimate selling point for this album, though, must be the songwriting. Where The Shame Mirrors and La Masquerade were impressive in their eclectic qualities, Sideshow Symphonies features what might possibly be the most cohesive songs in the band’s career. I was seriously hesitant about expecting too much from this new release, but I cannot get over the focus and purpose of these tracks. Instead of focusing on the avant-garde, Arcturus wisely focus on the songs themselves, and allow the avant-garde, black metal, and gothic influences to remain just that: influences.
The end result is an album undeniably Arcturus for all those who know the sound. The bonus is that this well-deserving band has figured out a way to match the songwriting genius of its individual members’ other projects (Winds, Dimmu Borgir, Borknagar, etc.) without sacrificing a single ounce of the twisted soundscapes which have made this band one of the most respectfully original outfits in the modern metal scene.