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THE SHAM MIRRORS

Arcturus

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal


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semismart
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Norwegian Black Metal band Arcturus (originally Death Metal and named Mortem) was formed in 1987 and became Arcturus in 1990. Founding members consisted of Steinar (Sverd) Johnsen (guitar), Jan Axel (Hellhammer) Blomberg (drums)and Marius Vold (bass). In 1993 Sverd also a capable keyboardist laid down his axe and returned to his primary instrument - keyboards. With the addition of a vocalist and another guitar player the band was finally complete and they released their first studio album, Aspera Hiems Symphonia in 1994. I listened to this album once and it was still too extreme to appeal to me. Subsequently they released La Masquerade Infernale in late 1996. Many people think this is Arcturus's best album but it doesn't really appeal to me.

After apparently taking their time Arturus released Sham Mirrors in 2002 to critical acclaim. This is a very interesting journey into Progressive Black Metal. In the previous two albums the music was consistently dark. Arcturus really changed their sound on Sham Mirrors providing extensive use of keyboards including some solos and a lighter faster edge. The music is quite varied from song to song and is diverse enough and spontaneous enough to be appreciated by fans of everything from Jazz through Progressive rock to Black Metal. No promises now but if you like to experiment Sham Mirrors may be up your alley.

Sham Mirrors

Sham Mirrors opens with "Kinetic" a frantic heavy beat number whose limited vocals sound distant at first like somebody singing under water. The pace is medium but varied with some sound effects and some nifty keyboards. This is followed by "Nightmare Heaven" a sinister song that sounds like it should have been created by Nine Inch Nails', Trevor Reznor with some heavy syncopated drum beats and a most unusual sounding lengthily guitar and keyboard bridge. The vocals are also passionate making this is a gem that I would consider one of the best songs I own. This is followed by "Ad Absurdum", another busy medium fast paced, frantic sounding song, however the second half slows down, is only instrumental and is even a little ethereal sounding.

Collapse Generation is a fast paced frantic instrumental with one slow interlude in it, followed by another goody in "Star-crossed" which opens with a strong piano solo segueing into the main atmospheric varied tempo song with reverberated vocals and strong performances on drums guitar and piano. The music somewhat discordant, transcends sanity and sounds like it belongs on a Devil doll album. The madness continues with "Radical Cut", a frenetic high speed piece where the singing duties are usurped by Emperor lead singer Ihsahr who growls forth in his inimitable Death Metal style.

Lastly, we have another jewel in the ten and a half minute "For To End Yet Again". It starts sedately with a synth and xylophone deferring after forty or so seconds to a milder version of the previous songs, then an excellent piano rendition, leading into a atmospheric central portion. At about six and a half minutes it finishes with a flourish when to beat picks up and the vocalist, Trickster joins in.

CONCLUSION

Although I'm not gushing over it, I thought SHAM MIRRORS deserved 4 stars because of its uniqueness and originality. I also liked the extensive use of piano as I gravitate to keyboards. This is a solid recording with excellent performances around. Also the singer Trickster's vocals really fit the music well.

There was also something about Arcturus that reminded me of something but I couldn't put my finger on it until it hit me a couple days ago. Arcturus could be a modern day version of Emerson Lake and Palmer. For those of you who don't know who E.L.P. is, they were sort of an eclectic neo-classical group from the 70s. Of course the music is not the same but the similarities are striking. Perhaps E.L.P. were their idols or something. Anyway, as with E.L.P., Arcturus is a good listen, that seems to get better as you listen to it more. Final Rating 4.35 Stars.

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Send comments to semismart (BETA) | Report this review (#32184)
Posted Monday, March 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
skellig@op.pl
5 stars Institute Of Common Oblivion... Very interesting progressive metal album, but completely different from well-known and popular bands such as DT, PoS... Arcturus is a band from Norway and at the beginnings they have been more typical norwegian black metal band. Now they deserve to have a place in progarchives... Maybe that album is not as popular as "La Masquerade Infernale", but in my opinion, TSM is not so weird, but there are many prog rock influences (so I prefer that album rather than LMI). ARCTURUS is, in some way, continuation of the way started by King Crimson, they also are step ahead before other bands trying to be "progressive" ( I know you won't agree with me, but it's only my opinion)... There are many influences of completely different music types such as black metal, classical music, prog rock / metal, ambient and industrial... I love whole album, but my favourites are: "Collapse Generation" (fantastic Garm's vocal!), "Radical Cut" (with black metal vocal of Ihsahn) and the longest "For To End Yet Again"...

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#32185)
Posted Monday, April 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
aragornprepa@
5 stars Extraordinary album!

It is so rare to hear an album so creative! There are many experimentations on this album, always welcomed and welll integrated (for example, the trip hop passage on "Nightmare Heaven"). The interventions of the piano are brilliant (the wonderful intro of "Star- Crossed").

The album seems to come from outer space. That's why it sounds so cold. The listener is wandering and drifting in space along the seven tracks of the album. There are also more agressive passages such as "Collapse Generation" and "Radical Cut" (where Ihsahn, the leader of Emperor, performs), but they still keep this atmosphere of coldness and loneliness in a vast outer space. Garm's vocals transcript very well these feelings. The listeners who can't stand black voices don't have to worry, these are only on "Radical Cut" (done by Ihsahn).

"The Sham Mirrors" is not easy listening, it requires to be heard many times to be enjoyed as it deserves.

This album, coming 6 years after the baroque"La Masquerade Infernale", confirms the uniqueness of sound and talent of the musicians of Arcturus.

"The Sham Mirrors" is definitely a masterpiece!!

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#51180)
Posted Monday, October 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
rslibby@msn.c
5 stars By far, this has to be one of the more mind expanding records in my vast collection. Arcturus' foray into space tinged orchestrated metal is a refreshing breath of air to stale genre. As more mediocre death and black metal bands spew forth album after album of blasphemous sludge, it's nice to see a band that came from those beginnings and create an album that takes you through multiple soundscapes and moods. Hellhammer continues to do a great job around his kit, he truly shoes his chops throughout the album. The keyboards are a very prominent piece of the puzzle; many "metalheads" think that keyboards are unmetal and refuse to listen to anything with them in it. Sadly for them, they miss out on masterpieces such as this with their close-minded gut renching screams going on for four minutes at a time as bandmates dressed in sweatpants simultaneously headbang to a riff that just doesn't want to die. Death metal is overdone, it's time for others to look for another extreme and its sound doesn't need to be deafening to have the same effect. Welcome Arcturus

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#69168)
Posted Sunday, February 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars With "The Sham Mirrors", Arcturus are experimenting new directions. The music is less dark, more keyboard oriented and overall much heavier and fast paced - some kind of progressive black metal without the insipid growls and blastbeats.

The opener "Kinetic" is a straightforward mid-paced metal song with high pitched vocals by Trickster G and a great piano outro. "Nightmare Heaven" is a darker and heavier song - with more progressive passages. The grungy "Ad Absurdum" follows - a first part that reminds me of Alice In Chains and a slower, more spacey second part. "Collapse Generation" is one of the two fast paced black metal songs on this album - awesome drumming, great keyboards, huge clean vocals - yes clean vocals... an example of what black metal should be like. "Star-Crossed" starts with an awesome piano intro that marks the return of the spacey music. "Radical Cut", with Emperor's singer Ihsahn doing the vocals, sounds really like... Emperor, with fast paced music and death growls - although this song is more progressive than the usual Emperor song with slower passages and more keyboards. The album ends with the epic "For To End Yet Again" - a strange intro in the vein of last album "La Masquerade Infernale", a first part melodically close to the first couple of songs on the album, a brilliant piano interlude, a spacey instrumental cental part and a grand finale mixing the best of all elements on this album.

Rating: 96/100 (brilliant)

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Send comments to zaxx (BETA) | Report this review (#74488)
Posted Sunday, April 09, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Never will you find a better blend of spaced out ambience, pure dark weight, lush sweeping keys, and pure epic intensity than found in this album. Arcturus took the genre of Avantgarde metal the limit with this masterpiece of an album. Every aspect of it is composed and executed flawlessly, with masterful voacl performances by the mighty G, heavy and powerful guitar playing, tight, intense, and groove laden technical drumming by Hellhammer, and the nothing but peak quality compositional skills of Sverd. An essential of not only, avantgarde metal, progressive metal, or even metal in general, but of music itself.

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Send comments to karpsmom (BETA) | Report this review (#75686)
Posted Friday, April 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This transmission... from a fallen star, otherwise known as Arcturus... Here begins an hymn. Kinetic is a run to the star, dynamic, with lots of keyboards and Garm's finest vocal performance. It keeps on accelerating, until they seem to reach the star, everything fades out and the track closes with a piano outro and a fragile singing, almost crying. Or is just me. Even if it's hard to believe, this song alone already makes the album deserve, well, let's say the 4 first stars. But Arcturus doesn't stop here: Nightmare Heaven and his strange electro middle part, reaching a super jazzy ending, once more dynamic. Then Ad Absurdum, which is a classic, a bit in the LMI spirit. Collapse Generation, super-speedy instrumental with a great calm interlude. Star Crossed, very accessible, with a very nice piano intro. Radical Cut and her awesome keyboard lines, completely post-black metal. And the carnivalesque and 10-minutes long last song: for to end yet again, with its sublime piano intermezzo (water-like notes) and its cool riffs. Oh yeah that's already finished, and hop voilŕ: a masterpiece. How do they do that? Well don't ge me wrong, this music is complex and needs your full attention. Essential.

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Send comments to Everlasting (BETA) | Report this review (#87663)
Posted Saturday, August 19, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars So what do you get when you make an all-star metal band with members from extreme black metal groups such as Ulver, Emperor and Mayhem? You get a symphonic avant-prog band of course. This album surely was a big surprise when I first listened to it since I expected something brutal and very extreme but the only thing that came true was that it was extremely good, much better than I would ever come to expect from a super group. The music is pretty hard to describe but I must say they venture into any corner within metal and far beyond that since there are hints of electronics and just classical piano as well. Most of the songs on the sham mirrors are mini-epics that just fly around styles and are all very original in their own. Although there isn't a lot of repetition, the pieces in the songs certainly don't feel like parts that are just thrown into a mix but every second adds something here and every song feel likes one.

One thing I must mention about this album that the vocals are beyond words here. The statement I am going to state is a big one but I'm fully behind it in every sense. The vocals sung by Trickster G. Rex by Ulver on the Sham Mirrors are without a doubt the most beautiful and best vocals I have ever encountered on any metal album. Garm just sings like he is completely broke loose from reality as he experiments a lot with strange melodies and yes, he hit those high notes perfectly. Ihsahn from Emperor delivers some harsh vocals as well on the sixth track and yes he too sounds perfect. He makes the album even more diverse and a lot more extreme as well which is always a good thing for me.

So all in all, we find the almost perfect album in the sham mirrors. There is a lot of good instrumentation but it isn't all Dream Theater wankery; it all adds to the melodies and sounds of the album. Everyone in this album get a change to shine but no one is really any better than the other on his instrument although I still must say that I most of all enjoy the vocal performance which is, you must belief me here, beyond words like I have already said.

Written for www.musicmademe.com

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Send comments to Jochem (BETA) | Report this review (#114725)
Posted Friday, March 09, 2007 | Review Permalink
aapatsos
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams
5 stars Infallible experiment.

'Press start. Sit back. Prepare for your experiment.'. Imagine this introduction to this brilliant adventurous 'sci-fi' soundtrack. In fact, this could have easily been a movie soundtrack, with many theatrical parts, mood alterations, samples and medieval melodies.

The album effectively mixes the past with the future: Past, in terms of dark, extremely heavy passages, high-speed tempos and a continuous black metal atmosphere - medieval and baroque melodies, renaissance pianos and enchanting female vocals. Future is represented with inspired and adventurous riffs, neo-classical keyboards, samples and elements from the electro genre. Progression is definitely the word describing this effort: Progression in tunes, style, atmosphere, vocals.. an ever evolving experiment.

Garm's vocals are more mature than ever, similar to the ones in Ulver's masterpiece, 'Themes.'. The music is also - logically - inspired by later Ulver, borrowing a bit of electronic sounds, but still reveals the black metal roots of Arcturus. The sound is similar to the most progressive efforts of Dimmu Borgir and Covenant. The main assets of the album are the sheer musical quality throughout each song, the maturity of the compositions and a particular unusual baroque atmosphere. Even if you are not a fan of the genre, it really leaves you with no choice than to rank it at the top.

Kinetic is the song that I particularly picked out. An excellent choice for the fans of the extreme sound, a new experience for other prog fans, The Sham Mirrors quite matches the term progressive black metal.

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Send comments to aapatsos (BETA) | Report this review (#163828)
Posted Thursday, March 13, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 4.5 stars. ARCTURUS are a Black-Metal super group of sorts, except they don't play Black-Metal in this band.The guitarist and vocalist are from ULVER, the bass player is from BORKNAGAR and DIMMU BORGIR, the keyboardist is from COVENANT, and the drummer is from MAYHEM, all originally or presently Norwegian Black-Metal bands. ARCTURUS really contrast the lighter and heavy passages well. The keyboard player is unbelieveable and is very prominant on this album. There really isn't a lot of solos on this album as they really hit you hard as band with a wall of sound.

"Kinetic" opens with a nice heavy sound, and I really like the guitar melodies as spoken words come in.The guitar stops as the vocals arrive after a minute. Drums and bass then become the focus. A calm 3 minutes in before the main melody returns. It settles down with piano and reserved vocals to end it. "Nightmare Heaven ' opens with a wall of sound as vocals join in. I like his singing. A change before 2 minutes as heavy drums and electronics? come in giving it an industrial feel. It sounds incredible. The guitar comes in before 4 minutes grinding away. Vocals follow as the tempo picks up with piano. A heavy sound to end it as the guitar lets it rip. This is one of my favourite tracks. "Ad Absurdum" has a good heavy rhythm as vocals come in. Check out the bass ! Great sound 2 minutes in as the tempo picks up. A change 3 1/2 minutes in as tempo slows down but the guitar starts to light it up. The full sound is back with more amazing bass. Some vocal melodies too in the calmer finale.

"Collapse Generation" sounds like a ground shaking hoard running towards the enemy. The thundering sound finally relents after 2 minutes as vocals come in. It's still heavy though and the crushing sound is back 3 minutes in to the end. "Star-Crossed" features some of the most amazing piano i've ever heard for the first minute and a half. Then vocals and heaviness come crashing in. The piano continues as we get some furious drumming before 3 1/2 minutes. "Radical Cut" features a guest vocalist from EMPEROR. An all out attack to open as the screaming vocals spit out the lyrics. Lots of piano playing over top early in the song. Great tune. "For To End Yet Again" opens with a waltz-like rhythm as percussion beats. A full sound before a minute with processed vocals. Piano only before 3 minutes is joined by synths. Piano stops 5 minutes in as synths continue. A full sound is back 6 1/2 minutes in with double bass drumming, vocals after 7 minutes. Horns 9 minutes in as heaviness continues.

Another great Metal album from Norway. GREEN CARNATION and IN THE WOODS... are a couple of other bands from this country I would highly recommend, along with this record "The Sham Mirrors". A must for all the Metal fans out there.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#166101)
Posted Wednesday, April 09, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Sham Mirrors is Arcturus' easiest album to get into, but it's still a totally outstanding album, for its musicality and originality. All the tracks are amazing, starting from the opener Kinetic, whose technological sounds and visionaire feeling set the mood for the entire album. In Nightmare Heaven the band continued with that feeling, but after a few minutes the song fades into a metaphysic industrial sound which occupies a big part of the song (maybe too much :P), and then returns with a splendid outro. Ad Absurdum with its original passages is probably the strangest song of the album, while Collapse Generation is the easiest song with his hypnotic rhytm, interrupted only in the beatiful central part. Then it comes the softest song, Star Crossed, which has an excelent piano intro that then returns to the visionaire sound of the rest of the album. In Radical Cut is featured Ihsahn (ex-Emperor) as a black metal style singer, and the result is awesome, one of the best extreme metal tracks i know, and still very prog/avantgarde! The last song is For To End Yet Again, the longest track and also the most epic one.

Globally The Sham Mirrors succeeds in being a great follower to La Masquerade Infernale, while having a totally different style and being much more accessible. As always the performance of the musicians is excelent, and Garm's voice totally fits the mood of the album. Recommended to anyone who still hasn't heard anything by them!

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Send comments to Helios (BETA) | Report this review (#172007)
Posted Friday, May 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
OpethGuitarist
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Our eyes were removed...

Once again one cannot help but be in awe of the amazing vocal prowess possessed by one Garm/Trickster G. If the vocal harmonies of the album opener Kinetic do not raise the hairs on the back of your neck, it is perhaps best you find an alternative musical journey than waiting for the rest of this wonderful album to unfold. Less metallic than La Masquerade, but not as quirky as Disguised Masters, Sham Mirrors is another foray into avant-metal by Steinard Sverd Johnsen.

This album is easily the most melodious of the essential Arcturus records (this being the last one as of now) and at many times comes across more as a rock opera than a avant-metal experiment (see the end of Nightmare Heaven). As far as range and dynamics go, this is much more spacey/futuristic than previous releases, which at first I was hesitant to like, because that sort of style usually deters me. However, much of it is very tolerable and there are so many wonderful scenes that act almost like dream-like sequences. Take the end of Ad Absurdum, which sounds like a soundtrack from a Tim Burton movie. I wouldn't be surprised if the band derived much of there songwriting from Edward Scissorhands.

Radical Cut is easily the heavies piece here. It's the only part with black metal styled vocals, which really give it the only connection to some of the band's earlier works, otherwise one would assume it was an entirely different band. For to End Yet Again is the epic closer though I've never felt it acts like one. It is long, yes, but it doesn't have near the feel to it that you get out of most prog epics. Overall, this is a highly enjoyable album that I'd recommend to anyone familiar with prog-metal.

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Send comments to OpethGuitarist (BETA) | Report this review (#178157)
Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Four big, fat, crunchy, bombastic stars to this unique album that blends styles and sounds into an intense metal journey through space. Sham Mirrors features precise, technically intriguing playing, savage and blisteringly fast metal riffing, and heaping portions of moody, layered atmospheres. The end result is an original and creative product which succeeds on almost every level.

The first and best things Sham Mirrors has going for it is solid songwriting and musicianship. The tunes are interestingly written, with an exceptional amount of variety in, and amongst songs. Each has a distinct feel and tone, and the group's smart use of dynamics highlights the flow of song's tremendously. Expect to hear variety but be prepared for levels of cosmic intensity on occasion! Combine this with a technical virtuosity and you've got a winning combination.

Valle's guitar is like a tightly focused saw, shredding holes in space/time with few solos but very enjoyable riffs and effects. Drumming is intense, as Hellhammer (yes!) positively destroys his skins with moments world-shattering gusto; smartly, this classic death metal drumming comes and goes throughout the album, appearing only to serve especially hostile sections of music. Of course, Johnsen's keys deserve special mention, since they go a long way in making Sham Mirrors as unique as it is. For starters, he's good... very good, playing a combination of traditional metalish synth as well as piano. Keys accompany the melodies often (often as counter melody), but lays down well-conceived atmosphere/spacey stuff which gives the album much of its character. Vocals are top-notch, Rex's voice crooning more often than not, but sounding very appropriate to the songs. His range is on par with most other metal groups, but his growls and screams (which are perhaps more rare), sound like he's having much more fun than his peers; very fun to listen/sing to.

Highly recommended for anyone on or leaning to the metal side of the fence!

Songwriting: 3 Instrumental Performances: 4 Lyrics/Vocals: 4 Style/Emotion/Replay: 4

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Send comments to Prog Leviathan (BETA) | Report this review (#198459)
Posted Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
3 stars I purchased The Sham Mirrors in 2007, long after its original release, due to all the praise that the band and particularly this release have received on Prog Archives and a few other websites. Unfortunately I haven't actually listened to this album since the first few spins which might imply exactly how I feel about this material.

Being a metal fan ever since I can remember I'm always on the lookout for the next best artist or band to completely mesmerize me with their music. This is of course not an easy task to achieve considering that the more music I consume the harder my shell becomes. First off, let me state that this particular record is not even close to the level that I consider to be adequate for being labeled as a Tech/Extreme Prog Metal release. This might not apply to the rest of Arcturus' discography but, to me, The Sham Mirrors sounds more like a mix between Progressive and Power Metal in a similar style as Kamelot or even Symphony X, but now I've really stretching it! What I mean is that the technicality that this band depicts here doesn't nearly reach the levels of even those shown by Opeth.

The album begins with Kinetic which to me sound more like a warm-up to the the later compositions. There are a few moments hinting a bit too much at Power Metal but the Pain Of Salvation-sounding lead melody actually makes for a enjoyable experience even though the effects added to vocals seem unnecessary. The music takes a turn for the worse with Nightmare Heaven. This composition just screams of typical Scandinavian metal-by-numbers performance with completely forgettable riffs and melodies. Fortunately the middle section of the track saves it from a complete disaster featuring some unexpected groove moments that hint at what the last track will have in store.

The next two tracks don't get any better, especially Collapse Generation which in my opinion sounds like pure power metal with a lot of shredding. Star-Crossed is where the band finally starts to be get creative with their music resulting in a crazy mix between Space Rock and Tech Metal marking the definite highlight of the entire album. Radical Cut is easily this album's darkest moment featuring Power Metal sounding intro with growl vocals and first signs of technicality that I expected from this release. The 10+ minute For To End Yet Again takes up almost a forth of this album's space and it definitely justifies to be called progressive since the journey the listener undertakes here would make the Prog Gods happy. I'll leave out the details since I don't want to spoil it too much.

The Sham Mirrors doesn't really deserve the reputation that it has accumulated over the years due to some really generic moments on the album's first side and although the rest does manage to make up for the sloppy beginnings there's just no way I can go beyond the good, but non-essential rating.

**** star songs: Kinetic (5:26) Star-Crossed (5:01) Radical Cut (5:08) For To End Yet Again (10:33)

*** star songs: Nightmare Heaven (6:05) Ad Absurdum (6:48) Collapse Generation (4:13)

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#280731)
Posted Thursday, May 06, 2010 | Review Permalink
Isa
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars |D+| Good material, bad synthesis of material, mediocre result.

Sham Mirrors is an album by the black metal super-group Arcturus. This band has a good variation of sound from album to album. I often agree with prog reviewer Rune2000 in his review of this album; this album is almost more symphonic/power metal sounding than black metal, though the black metal element is certainly strong. The keyboards and rhythm guitar are mostly to blame for this, whilst the drumming and lead guitar are indeed very old-school black metal. And I've always liked Rex's voice, though it doesn't seem to fit the music on this particular album somehow and the effects do indeed seem a bit overdone.

The good things about this album is that the individual musical ideas (riffs, melodies, ect.) are excellent, though they are often (if not usually) overused. Each song is very unique to itself, while the whole album has a nice cohesiveness to it; it sounds like Sham Mirrors and not that much like anything else, which I always appreciate. The best track on the album is by far For to End Yet Again.

My biggest problem with the album is how repetitive the sections of the songs are. Each section has great material, but the way the parts were put together just makes for an incredibly repetitive and synthetic sounding organization of composition. The ideas are often so overused its like "can we move on to the next part now." There is never any rhythmic variation in the piano parts, their often just triplet patterns playing arpeggios over and over and over, though we certainly hear some cool stuff in Star Crossed. The keyboard settings sound synthetic and cheesy to me in the album overall, though the actual musical ideas are often pleasing. The chord progressions repeat relentlessly. So do the riffs, and tremolo guitar, and the drums, and the bass is just backing everything else most of the time. The musical ideas in this album are great, they really are, but they're never constructed efficiently to form a pleasing and engaging result.

So while I certainly don't mind putting this album on, but I can't really mentally engage in it and feel like I'm really getting anything out of it. This is among the most overrated albums in the whole progressive metal community... its nice, a lot of nice ideas, but it doesn't add up to an album that holds up to the progressive rock listener's expectations. If Arcturus is a band you're fond of or you really like power metal and black metal (and cheesy keyboard settings associated with the former), this is an album you might really like.

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Send comments to Isa (BETA) | Report this review (#292888)
Posted Saturday, July 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
3 stars If there's anything extreme about this album it's in being extremely bombastic and extremely old-fashioned. And that after less then 10 years....

The early 00's saw some strange production values entering the metal world. Everything couldn't sound BIG enough: big reverbed drums, monumental guitar sounds, layers of symphonic keyboards, hugely resonating vocals. The works. The problem is that by making everything sound so huge, the impact doesn't last longer then 5 minutes and as soon as these have passed, the music simply washes over you without making any impact at all.

Especially the drums are a massacre and don't even reach the impact that my little niece could produce on a toy-drumset: just one watery splash after the other. The songwriting isn't any better neither, although it could have been more enjoyable if everything had had a bit more edge to it. As it stands, everything sounds quite similar to Dimmu Borgir, but without the growls (except for track 6 where Ihsahn guests). The synths come even more prominently to the fore then with Dimmu Borgir, but IMO they don't add anything progressive to this album. They just try to distract from the fairly basic songwriting that sits underneath.

I haven't found any reason why this album reached such popularity other then suiting the taste of the day. With some notable exceptions, I have the impression that many metal releases from the end of the 90s/early 00s lacked in power and inspiration (especially when compared to the early 90s). The fact that a band like Arcturus, that had so little on offer, could pass as a progressive act only strengthens that impression.

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Send comments to Bonnek (BETA) | Report this review (#414039)
Posted Thursday, March 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
EatThatPhonebook
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars 9/10

"The Sham Mirrors" brings you to the strangest heaven, a paradise covered in eternal iciness and dark night.

When a band assumes that their next release will be their masterpiece, there can be a lot going on. There can be endless fights between the band components, some uncomfortable decisions can be made. For a strange band like Arcturus, surprisingly, they decided to go on a more straight-forward direction, but the result for this decision is 'The Sham Mirrors', the third studio album, and the ultimate masterpiece.

It is very different from the previous album, 'La Masquerade Infernale': the production is a little clearer, but still a little muddy, creating this very sharp sound. The instrumentation is so much more highlighted: I feel like I'm hearing more guitars, but there's also a ton of keyboards. Both these are well balanced, without one overturning the other. But the music, because of the inevitable massive keyboard presence, is much more symphonic (some feel that this album has some symphonic metal to it). The piano is a standout instrument too, as it is much more frequent than it ever was for Arcturus previously, it to the point where it can even be the bulk of a song. The vocals are generally normal sounding, since Garm once again returns facing the microphone, giving some of his best performances. There are some shrieking growls in only one song, but they are pretty good, like you would expect from this man. There's also a lot more heavy electronics and eerie beats, some of the elements that really make this album Avant-garde. Like I said, this album is much more straight forward, the melodies are memorable, and some times even pretty catchy, an extreme rarity for this kind of music.

'Kinetic', the brilliant opening track, is the song that could have become in my opinion a single, the most memorable and accessible; great hooks, and very good experimentation as well. But 'Nightmare Heaven' is amazing to me; pretty melodic in the first part, but the heavy electronics come in as a bridge at a certain point, and last for a few minutes, until another hook blasts. 'Ad Absurdum' has pretty much the same structure, and even though being a really good song and having a great riff, it isn't my favorite. 'Collapse Generation' is another breathtaking piece, only four minutes long, but it manages to have a great structure and a very urgent feel. 'Star Crossed' is the mostly piano driven song, while 'Radical Cut' is the most aggressive one (the one that features growls). But the grand finale is very much worth waiting for; 'For To End Yet Again' is, maybe arguably, the best Arcturus song yet. Great hook in the beginning, amazing experimentation, a big range of influences can be heard in the very long bridge, from ambient to oriental music. The greatest piece of music, in my opinion, of the band, the widest and most adventurous one as well.

If the beloved 'La Masquerade Infernale' was a more infernal like trip, 'The Sham Mirrors' brings you to the strangest heaven, a paradise covered in eternal iciness and dark night. I've found myself loving this album immediately, and I'm sure I'll remember it for my entire life. If your Avant-Garde metal fan or you're interested in it, this album is an absolute must. One of the great masterpieces of the genre.

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Send comments to EatThatPhonebook (BETA) | Report this review (#543622)
Posted Wednesday, October 05, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'The Sham Mirrors' - Arcturus (8/10)

With another album, there are new developments for the avant-garde metal act known as Arcturus. This now-legendary band is something of a Norwegian black metal supergroup, with members collaborating here from, among others; Ulver, Dimmu Borgir, Mayhem, and Emperor. What comes as a surprise is that despite these musicians' background, the music here is not black metal, but rather a highly theatrical brand of progressive metal. 'La Masquerade Infernale' first planted Arcturus' flag in the sand, taking the dreary atmosphere of black metal and channeling it through what may have been described as astral circus metal. 'The Sham Mirrors' sees this project continue own the avant-garde path, but this time around, things are a little lighter, melodic, and- dare I say- <.I accessible. No matter, in many ways, Arcturus have improved this time around, creating yet another excellent and memorable landmark of avant-metal.

My memories of 'La Masquerade Infernale' focus largely on the diabolical atmosphere that the music created. While it was far from being black metal in nature, the vibe that came across was not unlike something a frostbitten black metal band would convey. Garm's brooding voice was subtle and disturbing, and there were plenty of tritones for the devil worshipers to dive into. As is even evident from the album artwork, 'The Sham Mirrors' is a departure from the darkness, in favour of something a little more melodic. The riffs are faster and more harmonious, and Garm's vocal performance has been swept up from the gloomy basso into a higher-register, theatrical wail that I.C.S Vortex first introduced to the band with his memorable vocal performance on 'The Chaos Path'. All of these changes are best represented on the album's opener, 'Kinetic', which is incidentally the greatest thing that the album offers. 'Kinetic' opens up with fast paced chords and a steady build, with ambient vocalizations, programmed drum beats, and an array of 'sci fi' electronic noises. While Garm did not impress me a great deal on 'La Masquerade Infernale', his voice blows me away this time around. It is as if his voice has been let off its chain, and is now allowed to traverse the depths of his range, which is quite impressive. It is a disappointment that there is nothing else quite as astonishing as 'Kinetic' on the rest of the album, because it is one of the greatest progressive metal songs I have ever heard.

Arcturus may have made their sound more melodic, but it is still very forward thinking and weird. There is a symphonic element brought in via the keyboards, making Arcturus sound like an avant-garde incarnation of Dimmu Borgir, at times. The songwriting has plenty of hooks, but it rarely relies on a chrous structure. However, most of the experimentalism is brought on through the way the music is performed and executed. Garm's vocals are intense and dramatic, as if he was performing in an opera. The dense electronic ambiance also gives the music a coat of production that makes it sound weirder than it would otherwise. The production can get ambitious past its means at times, although the amount of work that's been put into fleshing out the sound is acknowledged and evident in the music. The one musician here who doesn't seem to get a chance to exploit his full talent is drummer Hellhammer, whose normally inhuman grasp of the double-kick and blast beat is muffled and drowned by the dense production, not to mention the thick presence of programmed beats in the album.

'The Sham Mirrors' is another challenging album from Arcturus, although it is nowhere near as shocking as 'La Masquerade Infernale' was for me. This is arguably the best thing that Arcturus has released in any case, and it is a shame they stopped making music together at the peak of their work. As it is with many avant albums I come across, there are aspects of this album that don't sit totally right with me, but these are easy to overlook in the face of the resounding strengths the album boasts. An excellent, inventive album.

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#595880)
Posted Sunday, December 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Now, this is much more like it! Arcturus back off from the baroque music embellishments of La Masquerade Infernale and come up with an intoxicating brand of mildly blackened progressive space metal on The Sham Mirrors, on which Trickster G. Rex delivers strange, semi-chanted vocals over a thick layer of tasty guitar riffs and keyboard lines. Despite presenting this bizarre, electronic fusion of extreme metal and trip-hop, the album is also incredibly accessible, grabbing the listener's attention from the opening bars of the fantastic lead track Kinetic. On top of that, the band refuse to fall into the progressive metal trap of thinking an album has to have 70 minutes of material at least; this is a lean, mean 43 minute album which delivers top quality for every second of the experience.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#653181)
Posted Saturday, March 10, 2012 | Review Permalink

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