Twenty years of dirty, thrashing black metal. That’s devotion. And that’s what you get with Sweden’s Arckanum. Over the decades, there have been only a few short breaks here and there, mostly for sole band member Shamaatae to pen several works on Pan, Norse religion, runes and Anti-Cosmic Chaos-Gnosticism/Satanism under the name Vexior. His passion for the subject extends to his music, as he has consistently used Arckanum as a vessel through which he spreads the message of Chaos.
With lyrics composed in Old Swedish, Shamaatae continues to explore the connection between the Norse gods and Chaos-Gnosticism that he’s mined on past works such as ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ, Antikosmos, Sviga Læ and Helvitismyrkr. This album, whose title translates to “Fenrir’s Kin,” is described by him as “a dedication to the flaming giant-wolf, son of Loki; created from the Chaos-fires of Múspellsheimr. It is a tribute to the wrathful giant-wolf, son of Angrboða, found in the Ironwood where he is breeding hordes of giant monstrous wolves with Angrboða. His victorious name is Fenrir, also called Tungls Tjúgari. The sounds and music on this album are my auditory vision of the march of Fenrir convoyed with his hordes of giant wolves from the depths of the underworld to face Ragna Rök with warlike glory—deformed giant-wolves swarming in thousands. This is my tribute to the wrathful, harsh and untamed anti-nature of Fenrir’s mighty essence! The anti-cosmic enemy of the worlds!”
All of which serves to inform the sounds conjured up on this album, since the lyrics will largely swim past the listener as merely part of the music itself due to there being relatively few people who speak Old Swedish. But if Shamaatae’s vocals are to be taken as part of the musical whole, then they’re an incredible contribution. Throughout the album, his vocals snarl and rip through the mix like the jaws of the mighty Fenrir himself. And musically, Arckanum simply continues to outshine most other black metal bands. Like Shamaatae’s fellow countrymen and comrades in the Anti-Cosmos, Watain, there’s a conscious effort to compose tightly-constructed and…dammit, catchy songs. Arckanum has roots in death metal and there’s a certain classic Swedish death metal feel that runs like a subterranean current though most of the band’s work. That’s even more present here than in the past as reflected in both the songs’ construction and in Shamaatae’s frequent use of death growls alongside his cutting rasp. There’s also a good deal of first-wave 1980s black metal on hand, with Tom G. Warrior-esque grunts and Sodom’s savage thrashing bleeding through the decades to manifest here. Meanwhile, there are effective violin accents and interludes scattered throughout, haunting (and possibly back-masked) female vocals on the track “Hatarnir” and ambient bridges between the songs that create the feeling that beneath each track is either a swirling pit of chaos from whence Fenrir’s kin will emerge, or the approaching storm of Ragna Rök.
While Arckanum’s previous two albums (while still great records, don’t get me wrong) somewhat lacked the vicious power of 2009’s ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ, this album rectifies this in spades. It’s a violently thrashing, powerful beast of a record that further cements Arckanum as one of the best black metal acts out there. There’s not a song on here that’s less than memorable, and the entire album has a well-thought-out flow that encourages the listener to devour the whole thing in one sitting. It’s an album that keeps bringing me back for more, and I keep finding new rewards every time I return.
Out Friday, May 10; Tuesday, May 14 in the States via Season of Mist.