While I’m not ready to put Sideshow Symphonies over the overwrought frenzy of early classics Aspera Hiems Symfonia and La Masquerade Infernale, I’ll say this for the fourth album by Arcturus: it sounds a damn sight better than The Sham Mirrors.
Gone are the dulcet pipes of Kristoffer Rygg, replaced quite ably by ICS Vortex. There’s less electronic and carnival experimentation on Sideshow Symphonies. Instead, principal songwriter Steinar Sverd Johnsen is focused on a more ethereal, dreamlike state that is at once heavier and proggier than any of their previous efforts. The gamut of styles the band invests in can be found on the first there tracks: the classic sounding “Hibernation Sickness Complete,” the scattered and disparate sections of the lengthy “Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer,” and the slower, more reflective metal of “Demonpainter,” which might be a highlight of the album for me.
Vocally ICS Vortex is front and center, and does a tremendous job shifting his voice to meet the need of the tracks. Whether it’s soaring or rasping in the dirt it’s fantastic. For the first time Arcturus also bring in a second guitarist, which might explain why the songs have an added heft in the six string department. Self produced, you can finally get a clear sense of everything that’s going on, and when things get weird, as they do on the second half of “Moonshine Delirium” it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to a single speaker radio outside in the wind. Sideshow Symphonies sounds warm and spacious, even as it takes you into the icy regions of the universe.
And THIS is how Hellhammer is supposed to sound on the drums.
I’ll admit to a little fatigue as the album goes on but from a consistency perspective there’s nothing bad on Sideshow Symphonies. As an experiment I changed the order of the songs and played the second half first, and songs like “White Noise Monster” and closer “Hufsa” are just as good as anything earlier on the album. Arcturus have made a solid, listenable album that’s been fun to get back to and soak up. Coming back I can see all the reason why I picked this up in the first place.