"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.