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Arcturus Aspera Hiems Symfonia album cover
3.80 | 95 ratings | 12 reviews | 24% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 1996

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. To Thou Who Dwellest In The Night (6:46)
2. Wintry Grey (4:34)
3. Whence & Whither Goest The Wind (5:15)
4. Raudt Og Svart (5:49)
5. The Bodkin & The Quietus (...To Reach The Stars) (4:36)
6. Du Nordavind (4:00)
7. Fall Of Man (6:06)
8. Naar Kulda Tar (Frostnettenes Prolog) (4:21)

Total time 41:27

Line-up / Musicians

- Kristoffer Rygg "Garm" / vocals
- Carl August Tidemann / guitars
- Steinar Sverd Johnsen / keyboards
- Hugh Mingay "Skoll" / bass
- Jan Axel Blomberg "Hellhammer" / drums

Releases information

Album title in Latin means "Harsh Winter Symphony"
Four songs are re-recorded versions of the Constellation EP (tracks #2,4,6,8)

Artwork: Christophe Szpajdel (logo)

LP Ancient Lore Creations ‎- ALC 002 PLP (1996, UK)

CD Ancient Lore Creations ‎- ALC 002 (1996, Norway)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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ARCTURUS Aspera Hiems Symfonia ratings distribution

(95 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(24%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(33%)
Good, but non-essential (34%)
Collectors/fans only (6%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

ARCTURUS Aspera Hiems Symfonia reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by slipperman
4 stars I know people who consider this the best metal album ever. Clearly they've never heard Fates Warning's 'Awaken The Guardian'...

The first Arcturus album came after they warmed up with the 'My Angel' 7" and the semi- legendary 'Constellation' EP. This album represents one of Norway's first post-black metal albums--significant, considering the quantity of progressive metal that would evolve out of the country's black metal movement in the following years (In The Woods, Enslaved from 2000 on, Emperor's later material, Beyond Dawn, Fleurety, Ved Buens Ende, Ulver, etc.). Sverd's keyboards dominate. They are celestial beams of light that, more than any other element, define the Arcturus sound. Each of the eight songs is an adventure in cosmic metal, featuring dense arrangements and various shades of light and dark. Garm's vocals give human voice to this variation in shade, alternating between harsh otherworldly rasps and lushly-stacked clean voices. His melodic tones are usually multi-tracked, giving even greater presence to the epic tones coming from his throat. Hellhammer's drums are typically amazing, but they dominate in the mix, particularly the sizzling cymbals, and this is probably the only sonic fault to the production. August's guitar lines are yet another reason to come back to this album again and again. Laid over these stellar tunes with the touch of a sensitive magus, August's sweeps and arpeggios seem divinely inspired, stretching the band's vocabulary even wider. Appropriately spacey, his lines are easy to grasp and they cut through the mix cleanly. This gives the album a welcome balance to the densely layered atmosphere created by the keyboards, which, paired with Hellhammer's nimble but busy drumming, are so thick it's almost suffocating.

There's a lot going into each of these songs, in terms of melody, rhythm and arrangement, and they take awhile to become familiar, but for those not afraid of a few harsh vocals, 'Aspera Hiems Symfonia' is one of the finest prog-metal listens you'll ever experience.

Review by Trickster F.
5 stars Revolutionary Progressive Black Metal!

It is highly suggested that you get the 2002's remaster of the album, with MUCH better production and bonus tracks, including the whole My Angel/Constellation. repertoire.

It is important to consider the historical importance of this album in the world of Extreme Progressive Music. Although several musicians of the Norwegian Black Metal scene attempted producing music both brutal, unlistenable to the average listener and yet complex, in some way, and atmospheric at the same time, Emperor and Burzum among them, this album was quite an accomplishment, carrying enormous musical significance. Arcturus, a group made of quite possibly the most talented, creative and inspired "extreme" artists of the Norway at the time, who knew what they were doing - not merely showing off but creating music. Now, although I realize that by the year 1996 Black Metal had stopped being a punkish rebel kind of music, given its new pretentious in composition and, at times, complexity, this album truly helped to push the boundaries of Black Metal, as well as Progressive Music much further. Arcturus's predecessors gave elements of other types of music to the genre, whereas this album took all the best qualities BM possessed and threw into the unknown, where it would later become a new kind of music, commonly referred to as Post-Black or Progressive Black Metal.

The album itself is made of several parts, never before crossed in these ways, which is what makes the album so unique. Classical, atmospheric Black Metal with spacey keyboard passages, which the whole composition is based, create an unusual, extraordinary sound. The music written for keyboards as well as guitars is especially inspiring, the drumming is no less amazing, which isn't a surprise coming from such a legendary drummer as Hellhammer, and the eerie vocals of the great Garm. Speaking about the latter, his singing, much like on Ulver's Bergtatt, combines both extreme and "clean" singing and the vocald done on this album are unique to him. The extreme side doesn't compare to the early Ulver material - it is more extreme and pushed to the limits of the Black Metal shrieks. Somewhat similar to Ihsahn's(of Emperor)actually, but I have to point out that his shrieks are as individual as his "usual" voice. The normal singing, on the other hand, can be compared to the one you can gear on Kveldssanger, Ulver's acoustic folk album, although still different.

The album kicks in with To thou who Dwellest in the Night and it's one of the most powerful entry songs I've ever heard. The musicians immediatly shift your attention and Garm's infected voice. There are two parts in the first half of this song that remins me of video game music, particularly the music of the Final Fantasy series. Indeed, the energetic use of keyboards has been known as one of the main characteristics of the series' soundtrack. Halfway through the song the music calms down and then becomes even more dramatic and eerie than before. Outstanding! The next track, Wintry Grey is less energetic and takes the time to prepare the listener to the next track, although by no means below the high standards set by the musicians in this record. Whence & Wither Goest the Wind is almost an entirely instrumental song, with just a few vocal lines thrown in. The classical influence becomes more appearant on this song. However, as Raudt og Svart starts, previously done on the Contstellation EP, you can notice that it sounds even better than before with the basslines sticking out and being one of the few Black Metal songs that actually send the listener dancing. An intense experience from the beginning until the end with catchy technical riffs and amazing songwriting together with Garm's extreme vocals, as well as some clean high screams(one kind of cartoonish though!). The Bodkin & the Quietus, despite the melancholic intro, is one of the most brutal and also weakest parts of the album. Du Nordavind, also from Constellation, is perhaps the most atmospheric track here, very unique. Fall of Man is the most classically influenced track on the album, this album's equivalent to the successor La Masquerade Infernale, stuffed full of amazing keyboard parts and melodic guitar leads. The last track, again with lyrics in Norwegian, closes the album.

After such an outstanding first full-length album Arcturus wouldn't stop and instead keep developing. Their next release is devoid of any extreme vocals whatsoever. I, however, am not sure if it would be the best album to begin with. As the band changes its sound, the mood and the musical values of their music remains the same. The group would later folow this release with at least two more masterpieces. I suggest The Sham Mirrors as the best starting point, as it is their most accessible album to date. However, this release shouldn't be underlooked by either Arcturus fans or anyone curious regarding this kind of music in general.

A Must Have!

Review by OpethGuitarist
4 stars Indeed, well ahead of the curve.

Arcturus's debut album proceeds along the positive path one might have felt it came from after the My Angel EP. Of particular note here is the marked difference this band has from fellow black metal bands at the time or before it, none of which were creating music with this type of atmosphere, which was less dreary than many others such as Emperor, Bathory, etc. Also, the mixture of traditional black metal vocals and traditional singing help to highlight the differences between a standard black metal band and one such as this, which as has already been mentioned, can be deemed Progressive Black Metal.

Besides the fact that many of the musicians here are considered in the top of their field, the compositions themselves are quite good. Personal favorites of mine like Raudt Og Svart remind me somewhat of Genesis's Can-Utility, acting as a mini-epic in the span of only 5 to 6 minutes. As you might have guessed by the song titles, some songs are sung in English while others are in Norwegian. This does not detract from the music, as the way it is implemented does not lose the flow of the album.

While this is not the best Arcturus release, I consider it the best place to start. The band is not as avant-leaning as they are in later albums and there is enough traditional song structure here for the common prog fan. An outstanding band and an album worth having.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Aspera Hiems Symfonia! is the debut full-length studio album by Norwegian black metal act Arcturus. The album was originally released through Ancient Lore Creations in 1996. Four out of eight tracks on the album are re-recorded tracks from the "Constellation (1994)" EP. The lineup has changed a bit since the release of the EP though. Skoll is now credited for playing the bass and neo-classical influenced guitarist Carl August Tidemann (Winds) is also featured in the lineup. The latterīs playing style has a great impact on Arcturus sound compared to the early releases by the band.

The music is symphonic black metal with lots of neo-classical keyboard and guitar elements. The vocals by Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg (Ulver, Borknagar) are both raspy and clean. The music is very atmospheric and mostly mid-paced. Thereīs a strong melodic foundation in the material and compared to other contemporary and more harsh black metal acts Arcturus were definitely one of the more polished acts on the scene. The musicianship are strong and while the sound production isnīt that well sounding (The album would be re-mastered and re-released on the "Aspera Heims Symfonia/Constellation/My Angel (2002)" compilation album with an improved sound quality), itīs not a major issue for the listening experience.

"Aspera Hiems Symfonia" is overall a decent quality symphonic black metal album and if you enjoy other artists in the polished, neo-classical tinged, and keyboard driven part of the black metal genre this one will probably be right down your alley too. The compositions are intriguing and the musicianship strong, but the sound production does bring my rating down a bit. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

Review by octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
3 stars I'm not a fan of death metal or growling, so I shouldn't review an album like this, but a friend suggested Arcturus to me and even if not my genre I have to recognize that there's a lot of music between a scream and another.

Yes, I don't like growling when it's not functional to a song, and in most of the cases here, it's not an instrument and in general doesn't add much to the songs but with some exceptions.

The music behind the growl is absolutely not bad. The instrumental parts are very dark and this is not a defect. Music has to transmit sensations. When it happens, even if the sensations are dark, it's always a good thing.

On tracks like "Wintry Grey", which have different singing styles and many instrumental parts the growling is not disturbing. This is a track on which it's functional.

It's not the same on "Whence & Wither Goest the Wind". This song has an "Ayreon" flavour and the growling on the celtic part is everything but functional. Left instrumental it would have been a great track. Some of the screams are a bit more appropriate. In that cases the creams are used like an additional instrument. This is what I mean for "functional" or not.

"Raudt Og Svart" has the same problem. The growl is just disturbing. The music is great and the choir is dark enough, without having to scream. After some listens I've been more used to the growled parts but I still think that it's a pity that a band sacrifices good and well played music only to be comformant to a standard. The guitar solo has much of Artension, too.

Same story with "The Bodkin and the Quietus". This is a "standardised" track. Not bad when it's instrumental, but there's plenty of metal like this around the world.

"Du Nordavin" is a good song on which the growl is not disturbing, but the choir is really better. I have to confess that I like it. It has a baroque flavour and the "waltz" part makes it grotesque. The frequent changes makes it very interesting. More of this, please.

"Fall of Man" is similar to the previous one. Its darkness is enhanced by the "classical" contaminations more than by the few growled sentences about Fairy Tales and Dying Flowers. It's a sad waltz with a good guitar performance.

"Naar Kuda Tar" is the even darker closer. It starts with a (military?) march, a choir and then the usual growling. A pity again. It doesn't add anything to a track that is not bad at all.

I must be honest and try to be "neutral" in order to rate this album. It's not my pot but it has moments that are good to me too, so it can have the third star. I'll likely need more time to get used to this genre, if I'll ever wish to, but this is my problem only. I think 3 stars are a honest rating.

Review by EatThatPhonebook
4 stars 7/10

"Aspera Hiems Symfonia" is a cult Black Metal album.

The majority of dark and macabre music for music fans is Black Metal. But this Norwegian band Arcturus is one of those bands that make Black Metal an intellectual type of music, because of the highly inspired musicians that form the band, the one that shines the most being Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg, also singer of Norwegian band Ulver. Their debut is the pure metal album that every experimental metal band starts with. Usually these albums aren't that great, some are dull and uninspired. But this is not the case, as a matter of fact, this is a really enjoyable album.

While "Aspera Hiems Symfonia" is not a cheerful listen, it's mostly a more meditative and solitary album, with some touches of melancholy. But it definitely isn't an album that gives you the chills, or makes you feel depressed. It is, like I said, much more intellectual sounding than a lot of Black Metal today, and I honestly never though I was going to say that about a Symphonic Black Metal work. As a matter of fact, this is one of the first albums of that genre, and it is important for its formation, even though not as much as the works of a band such as Emperor ( "In The Nightside Eclipse" is the first album that can be defined as Symphonic Black Metal). However, musically speaking, it can be kind of spooky at times, especially because of the flimsy keyboards that give always a more spectral feeling to the sound. These keyboards are the main attraction for the album, to the point where they proceed Garm himself. They always are present, whether to make an atmosphere or to simply accompany the other instruments. Garm's shrieking is pretty intense and effective, I've always liked his way of getting the job done, even in the early days of Ulver. But his clean vocals are the most fascinating; they sound like an ancient, Viking chant, even though there are lyrics sung. His whispers are also really effective in some passages.

There are songs here that really impressed me, and are immediate highlights, "Wintry Grey", definitely my favorite of the album. The keyboard arrangements are so well done, the drumming is intense, Garm gives a great performance in both clean and shrieking vocals. Other really good songs are " Raudt Og Svart" and "Fall Of Man", both have interesting atmospheres that make this a quite enjoyable listen. There are also good moments in the opener "To Thou Who Dwellest In The Night", an overall more guitar driven piece, that has a more traditional feel to it, however there are interesting hooks that sound quite new.

I tend to see "Aspera Hiems Symfonia" as a cult album for Black Metal fans; if you do not know this album and you're a fan f the genre, I strongly suggest you check this out. But know that this album is an isolated case for Arctuturs: with their following album, "La Masquerade Infernale", the direction they go on is anything but this one, and so can be said for the third album "The Sham Mirrors".

Review by b_olariu
4 stars Excellent debute album from this already legendary band named Arcturus. Aspera hyems symphonia issued in 1996 is to me at least if not for many one of the most inventive symphonic black metal album ever with clearly many progressive touches in his 42 min lengh. Formed by well known names in this field , but specially Carl August Tidemann from Winds fame, who is a fenomenal guitarsit, his mark on this album is top notch. Quite complex and yet in same time melodic black metal album, this has nothing to do with the raw black of Immortal or early stuff, Aspera hyems is full of intelligent passgaes where the melodic side of black metal almost progressive metal in places because of the guitar and sound overall is melted with the voice who is raw and in black metal type because the instrumenets even are well performed by each member in some parts the sound is little precare and amatorish. Anyway I love this album, I have it since it was released more then 15 years ago, what a treat for my ears was then as now, still very fresh in ideas and one hell of a great ride for me. Like a lot the guitar who is very avangarde and goes progressive metal most of the time nice solos by Tidemann aswell, the use of keyboards is great and gives a perfect symphonic atmosphere. For me easy 4 stars a fine album all the way. No weak tracks for sure, all are winners.
Review by Warthur
4 stars The debut album by Arcturus finds the band not quite reaching the symphonic intricacies of La Masquerade Infernale, instead yielding something more like a mingling of black metal and melodic prog - in particular, some of Steinar Sverd Johnsen's keyboard passages in the quieter moments put me in mind of the likes of early Marillion and other Genesis- influenced neo-prog projects. This unlikely fusion yields intoxicating fruit here, with the album neatly blending the styles at a time when the idea of sophisticated Norwegian black metal was still not yet entirely given credit. A majestic counterpoint to the more kvlt efforts of their contemporaries.

Latest members reviews

3 stars Arcturus was a mythical band when I was in Oslo and pretty active around, but not in, the Norwegian black metal scene in the beginning to mid 1990s. Their debut '7 is a true classic due to the progressive approach it had. The EP Constellation less so though. I moved from Norway and from this s ... (read more)

Report this review (#256549) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Thursday, December 17, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Aspera Hiems Symfonia is under-rated in my opinion. This was one of the first 'Black Metal' albums to capture my imagination, and thus has a lot of nostalgic value to me... and it's still my favorite Arcturus album. Very symphonic, atmospheric, and unique Black Metal; much more technical and ... (read more)

Report this review (#204896) | Posted by AdamHearst | Monday, March 2, 2009 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Aspera Hiems Symfonia is Arcturus's first full length album, and by all accounts it's a good album, blending black metal with symphonic keyboard orchestration, and thus creating a very symphonic type of metal. On this album the style isn't fully developed yet, but the first signs of great musi ... (read more)

Report this review (#40160) | Posted by tuxon | Sunday, July 24, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Incredible masterpiece !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Eventhought the sound is not on top the creativity the atmosphere it gives out it unique to me. (lyrics & music) I'm usually not a fan of Black metal but this time I really can't stay away from it !!! Give it an ear you won't regret it C. ... (read more)

Report this review (#32177) | Posted by | Sunday, April 3, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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