Honestly, When I heard Garm had left Arcturus, I thought this album would be crap. But I was so wrong. Simen “ICS Vortex” Hestnæs (ex-Borknagar, Dimmu Borgir) is the perfect replacement and fits perfectly with Arcturus’ dark-celestial-avant-garde-neo-classical-experimental-atmospheric-theatrical-nightmare-black-metal theme perfectly. The resonance of his voice is smooth, yet shrilling, and his singing style just has that wacky, insane feeling to it, without going totally off-the-wall and sounding stupid. Garm did the same thing; Simen just fits to the rest of the band ridiculously well. He even has that wicked, creepy cackle he does once in a while. I honestly keep thinking of phantom of the opera when I listen to this… a dark, twisted, modern live musical gone horribly wrong.
Compared to previous Arcturus releases though, this is a bit more calm… not so much double-bass, heavy guitar riffing, black metal-style vocals madness. It’s much more progressive and experimental, but a good portion of Arcturus’ music has always been like that so it shouldn’t be surprising or disappointing to dedicated fans. The song structures and lyrics are brilliant and creative as always. There are lots of pianos and keyboards with several different tones, string instruments, and various celestial swirling noises and rhythms, not to mention the incredible drumming by Hellhammer as always. It seems like the guitars and bass are a little less prominent to emphasize the many other aspects. There are a few angelic female vocals (by Silje Wergeland) here and there, and quite a bit of Simen harmonizing with himself to give even more of that evil-theatre feeling.
“Hibernation Sickness Complete,” is possibly my favorite song; it begins with the most gradual and eerie opening, for 30 seconds or so, before Vortex’s phantasmal vocals break through and don’t hesitate to send chills down the listener’s spine, with cosmic keyboard tones and melodies quivering beneath the brilliant guitar riffs. After a while, a sudden, unexpected rupture of heaviness terrorizes the flow of the song with inhumanly fast drumming and nightmarish piano chords atop distant synth melodies. The song ends with the some of the only death vocals on the entire album.
“Evacuation Code Deciphered” is probably my second favorite, starting with orchestral violin plucking among more low-pitched strings, the vocals are somewhat half-talking, half-singing, moving through many different experiments in between verses, including a barrage of evil laughing, breakdowns to emphasize many different keyboard melodies and solos, or guitar riffs, eventually getting to the deathly beautiful harmonization of Simen and Silje. “Reflections” is almost an instrumental that focuses on the absolutely stunning drum work of Hellhammer a lot, containing some haunting chanting near the end.
I’d say if you like your metal extremely experimental, and if you liked previous Arcturus releases, you will almost certainly enjoy this gem.