I can’t remember if I came to Arcturus via Garm and Ulver or through Ihsahn, who does a gust spot on the the band’s third album The Sham Mirrors. Listening back I probably came to it from some description of it being progressive and avant-garde, though the truth is now the feels a little antiquated. Using electronics and try-hop elements that Ulver in particular would put to great use later, The Sham Mirrors nevertheless is a solid album of ambience and cool riff work I wish would be just a little more dynamic so the interesting songwriting would really shine instead of appear (and sound) tinny.
One thing that really drags the album down now is the production: thin is a bit of an understatement: this thing sounds like they scooped out all of the low-end and just decided that sitting square in the trebly mid-range would suit the music perfectly. It doesn’t, and songs like the late Emperor-esque “Ad Absurdum” really suffers. The drums from Hellhammer sound like a child playing in another room, and if there’s one thing you can usually rely on from Hellhammer it’s some great drumming. Well, it’s there but so thin as to be almost invisible.
One thing that doesn’t suffer is Kristoffer Rygg, aka Garm’s vocals. The man’s pipes are in great shape here, and he carries each song with his pure soaring vocal work. Coupled with Ihsahn’s patented squall on “Radical Cut” and you have two of metal’s most unique vocalists giving tremendous performances on songs that might sound great live where they’d have a little space to breathe and expose some low end. Here on The Sham Mirrors it gets monotonous and a little tiring after a while.