ATF Review: Arcturus – The Sham Mirrors

Location: Oslo, Norway
Genre: Avant-Garde/Prog Metal
Released: April 22, 2002
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

Avant-Garde metal albums usually split the metal community; some think it’s just noise, while others (such as myself) enjoy them because they push the conventional boundaries and turn it into something completely new and brilliant. One album that exemplifies this split is Virus’ The Agent That Shapes The Desert. The music on that album is fantastic, but occasionally the vocals are overtly monotonous and are among the most grating I have ever heard (I’m looking at you, Inquisition). 

Which brings us to Arcturus’ third album, The Sham Mirrors. What makes this album brilliant? For one thing, the vocals are fantastic and dynamic. What really stands out, however, are the lengthy sections of instrumentals that feature anything from electronic ambiance to keyboards. The production has a certain rawness to it that adds to the album’s overall sound instead of detracting from it. 

The main highlight of this record comes on the latter half; “Collapse Generation” starts as a blistering instrumental, keyboards and all. It then slows down for a brief reprieve with some more soaring vocals segueing the return of the blistering instrumental. “Star Crossed” starts with a lengthy keyboard intro and is a little bit on the slow side before coming in hot midway through and slowing back down. Immediately following this slower ending is the rapid start of “Radical Cut,” which may be the album’s best overall track from start to finish. These three songs flow amazingly well with each other.

“For To End Yet Again” closes off the album with a 10+ minute track that could have easily been broken up into two songs. While not as stellar as the previous three tracks, it’s fitting to close off such a diverse album with an even more diverse, lengthy ending which includes a (very) long ambient section and even some brass instrumentation towards the end. 

As for the first three tracks, I consider “Nightmare Heaven” to be the essential track, with a huge, ghastly instrumental section that occupies much of its length. “Kinetic” is essentially a grand introduction as an opener, one of the few instances in which a lengthy intro actually serves its purpose. “Ad Absurdum” is the most straightforward track, but still has some standout moments such as a sped-up bridge instrumental following the first verse.

Overall: This is an album that changes directions very quickly, with amazingly effective transitions and a wide array of different styles on display.

Rating: 4.5*

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