ARCTURUS - Live, A Sight For Sore Eyes!

May 24, 2020, a month ago

By Mark Gromen

feature heavy metal arcturus

ARCTURUS - Live, A Sight For Sore Eyes!

Been 15 years, since laying eyes on a one-off spectacle at Inferno festival '05, which was filmed, but never appeared on the proposed DVD. As penned at the time," Vortex, the puffy shirted frontman, undulated his arms, in a swimming motion, like some bizarre performance artist. Behind him, the five musicians were accompanied by several visitors. First two female harlequins, then an endless parade of sideshow inspired freaks: strongman (complete with inflated dumbbell), fat lady dancing with a skeleton, belly dancer, a white wolf tamed by a dominatrix, etc. Even the musicians got into the act, with the bassist looking like someone from the masquerade in Eyes Wide Shut. ‘Painting My Horror’, ‘Ad Absurdum’ and ‘Nightmare Heaven’ were appropriate titles for the onstage visuals." So, with that experience (indelibly) etched on my mind, approached the recent lockdown show, which promised, "very special live set with all the necessary props and a few surprises" Deja-vu? Time would tell.

Of course the band features some big names within the black metal world (even if their music has moved on from such a restrictive tag), including vocalist Simen Hestnæs (aka ICS Vortex, bass/vox Borknagar/ex-Dimmu Borgir) and Hellhammer (aka Mayhem drummer & Arcturus co-founder, Jan Axel Blomberg). Backlit, with white headlights shining at the viewers, as an intro of symphonic strings sets the mood, it's obvious the guys came dressed for the occasion. While Simen is seated, on a bar stool, center stage, to his right, bassist Hugh "Skoll" Mingay (ex-Ulver) has an oversize jester headdress and to the left, guitarist Knut Magne Valle wore a long sleeved cape contraption. Co-founder/keyboardist Sverd (aka Steinar Johnsen) sports a vintage flying helmet, with goggles. Monty Python metal! As the lights come up, Valle shakes the crown from his head as they launch into "Evacuation Code Deciphered". Vortex sits (as he will, almost the entire show, except to take a drink, venturing as far as Hellhammer's riser. A pair of human skulls are at the foot of Sverd's keys and a full spinal column/vertebrae rest between the kicks drums. There are cameras above the keyboardist and another showing the impressive array of drum heads/cymbals. Much of the show is draped in dark colors, so much so that the trio of video screens behind the band are all but undecipherable. 

Purple hued "Master Of Disguise" sees Hestnæs push his Doc Brown (Back To The Future) goggles up off his face, as the bearded behemoth gets a little more animated, at least with his hands. The music is almost as off-the-wall, non-sequitur as the costumes. Frequent changes in dynamics as ICS Vortex vacillates between high pitched caterwaul, howl or yodel. The lower, guttural range was saved for late in the evening. Following a short flourish of keys, a storm of strobes sweep the stage for increased aggression of "Alone". Despite the title, "Crashland" sees Arcturus head for softer, more progressive tones, at least initially, courtesy of Valle's solo (should I say alone?) guitar tone. The wild visuals enhance the similarly chaotic rhythms and as the guitarist gets an honest-to-goodness solo, Vortex leaves the bar stool, for a quick drink. 

A drum beat opens "The Arcturian Sign", as the howling giant, with the flexible mic stand, begins to bend his voice in many different directions. Strobes pierce the blue/purple veil. It morphs into the red bathed "The Chaos Path". More strained than the others, Vortex rises to his feet, getting more animated, as his voice almost becomes feline. The stage goes from light -to-dark and various shades of shadows. A brief, complete blackout, then staccato orchestral strings herald the speedy, nearly instrumental "Collapse Generation", Sverd's keys playing a dominate role (including a classical music section), alongside the wildly riffing guitar. During "Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer", the frontman basically scats atop the searing black metal melodies (did he say meow, ow ow?), but like most things in their universe, it soon slows to an ethereal spaciness. Time for another drink. Simen, not me.

If the earlier lyrical approach confounded those viewing Arcturus for the first time, some old, gruff throated choices, including "To Thou Who Dwellest In The Night" and Norwegian tongue "Du Nordavind" do nothing to assuage the anxiety. Paradoxically, the former (Emperor-ish) construction contains smooth flowing passages, highlighted today by rare moments of lighting that actually illuminated (not shrouded) the players, particularly Valle. The purple lit stomp of closing "Deception Genesis" is met with another barrage of undulating lights. Hestnæs stares directly into the camera and sticks out his tongue. As the evening ends, Valle sidles alongside the singer and raises two-fingers in a peace sign. 

a rare opportunity to see this band, in their homeland,no less. Hope it's not another 15 years!


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