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Arcturus is an Avant-Garde Metal band from Norway. The band is something of a Supergroup amongst Norway's Black Metal scene, having contained current or former members of bands such as Mayhem, Emperor, The Kovenant, Ulver, and Dimmu Borgir at various points of its existence. They started out as Symphonic Black Metal, but after their first album the band abandoned that territory for much more unpredictable and experimental grounds. The first album, Aspera hiems symfonia (Latin for Harsh Winter Symphony), contains the expected Metal Screams of black metal, but after that point, harsh vocals are rare or nonexistent on some of their releases and alternate with clean vocals on others.

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The band's sound varies significantly from album to album, but throughout their existence, the band has been centred around keyboardist Steinar Sverd Johnsen, which makes them somewhat unusual among metal bands. Johnsen has been, alongside drummer Jan Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer), the only constant member of the band. They have released five albums, an EP, a single, a remix album, and a live album to date, with their third album, The Sham Mirrors, attracting considerable praise among the Progressive Metal community. While they broke up in 2007, they reconvened in 2011 and continue to tour and release new material. Their latest album is 2015's Arcturian, which is something of a career summary for the band, as it incorporates aspects of the band's sound on all their previous releases.

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Current members

  • Jan Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer) - drums (see also Mayhem)
  • Steinar Sverd Johnsen - keyboards (see also The Kovenant)
  • Hugh Mingay (Skoll) - bass (see also Ulver)
  • Knut Magne Valle - guitars (see also Mayhem and Ulver)
  • Simen Hestnæs (ICS Vortex) - vocals (see also Dimmu Borgir)
  • Sebastian Grouchot - violin (live/session)

Notable past members

  • Kristoffer Rygg (Garm) - vocals, 1993-2003 (see also Ulver)
  • Samoth - guitars and bass, 1993-1995 (see also Emperor)
  • Carl August Tidemann - guitars, 1996-1997

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Major releases

  • My Angel (single, 1991)
  • Constellation (EP, 1994; has been reissued several times with varying configurations of bonus tracks, including once as a bootleg entitled Reconstellation)
  • Aspera hiems symfonia (full-length, 1996; reissued with Constellation, "My Angel", and two bonus tracks in 2002)
  • La Masquerade infernale (full-length, 1997)
  • Disguised Masters (remix album, 1999)
  • The Sham Mirrors (full-length, 2002)
  • Sideshow Symphonies (full-length, 2005)
  • Shipwrecked in Oslo (live album, 2006 on DVD, 2014 on CD/vinyl)
  • Arcturian (full-length, 2015)

Tropes

  • Audio Adaptation: "Alone" takes its lyrics from the poem of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. (Incidentally, fellow Norwegians Green Carnation used the same poem for an entirely different adaptation... as did another Norwegian, Ihsahn.) "The Throne of Tragedy" is an adaptation of a Norwegian poem by Jørn Henrik Sværen ("Tragediens trone"), albeit translated into English.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A few of their songs are in Norwegian. Most of the examples are on Constellation and Aspera hiems symfonia; later examples are "Hufsa" on Sideshow Symphonies and "Angst" and "Bane" on Arcturian.
  • Book of Revelation: The first pressing of La Masquerade infernale has a hidden track in the pregap before the first track which contains a reading from this.
  • Breather Episode: "Star-Crossed" on The Sham Mirrors; "La Masquerade infernale" on the album of the same name; "Fall of Man" (for a certain definition of "breather") on Aspera hiems symfonia.
  • Call-Back: "Reflections", from Sideshow Symphonies, shares some melodic elements with "Ad astra", from La Masquerade infernale. "Ad astra" itself could also count, as it shares lyrical themes with "The Bodkin & the Quietus (...to Reach the Stars)".
  • Early Installment Weirdness: "My Angel" is more typical of death/doom than it is of black metal. Then again, it's not as if Arcturus has ever stuck with the same style for long.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: If there are lyrics, they don't always even enter until a few minutes into a song. "Ad astra" is probably the best example, as there are only two stanzas of lyrics and they appear about five minutes into the song.
  • Epic Rocking: The band's average song is probably around six minutes long, with their longest, "For to End Yet Again", running for 10:34.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "Star-Crossed" into "Radical Cut", as well as very nearly every transition on Disguised Masters (the first two tracks and the last one have gaps separating them from the rest of the album).
  • Gratuitous French: La Masquerade infernale means "The Infernal Masquerade".
  • Gratuitous Latin: Aspera hiems symfonia means "Harsh Winter Symphony". Additionally, "Ad astra" means "To the stars" and "Ad absurdum" means "To the point of absurdity" (though the latter is sometimes used in English anyway).
  • Grim Up North: A lyrical theme on Aspera hiems symfonia, which probably won't come as a surprise given the title of the album.
  • Heavy Mithril: A variant in that quite a lot of their lyrics, particularly from The Sham Mirrors onward, have a science fiction theme. Given that they are named after a star, this is not exactly a surprise. Also falls somewhat into Cyber Punk Is Techno, since the band began incorporating more Electronic Music influence when they began using science fiction themes.
  • Hidden Track: As mentioned above, the first pressing of La Masquerade infernale contains one in the pre-gap before the album. It's pretty bizarre and arguably qualifies as a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, being somewhat closer to Trip Hop than the band's usual fare. The hidden track is absent from the remaster.
  • Instrumentals: They have a few. "La Masquerade infernale" has a few spoken word vocals low in the mix but is otherwise instrumental. Disguised Masters features a string quartet-only mix of "Ad astra". "Reflections" is also instrumental.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: They have several. "Ad astra" particularly stands out, as it runs for nearly eight minutes and contains only ten lines (and two stanzas) of lyrics.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Hufsa" is named after a character in Tove Jansson's children's book series Moomin (the character is known in English as the Groke).
  • Live Album: Shipwrecked in Oslo
  • Loudness War: Averted on the original releases of Aspera and La Masquerade. Unsurprisingly, when they were remastered, they were somewhat louder. The Sham Mirrors clips constantly in its louder parts (basically, whenever there are drums) but is dynamic in its quieter passages. Sideshow Symphonies and the main disc of Arcturian aren't too bad about this, but the bonus disc of Arcturian does fall into this quite a bit.
  • Metal Scream: Aspera hiems symfonia uses a type 3 as the main vocal style. Vortex deploys a type 4 on several songs on La Masquerade infernale, but the album's vocals are all clean. The albums after that point mix and match vocal styles.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: After they abandoned black metal, they stayed mostly in the 6-9 range, with La Masquerade and The Sham Mirrors probably being generally the lightest of their releases due to the general absence of harsh vocals. Constellation and Aspera probably climb up to 10 at times, and "Radical Cut" may also hit 10.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Breather Episode "Star-Crossed" on The Sham Mirrors fades directly into "Radical Cut", the heaviest song on the album.
  • New Sound Album: Basically, all of them, although Arcturian does incorporate elements of the band's sound on earlier albums. The only arguable exception is Aspera hiems symfonia, which continues the sound of Constellation (unsurprisingly, since the songs from the EP were re-recorded for the album, although "Icebound Streams and Vapours Grey" was retitled to "Wintry Grey" on the album).
  • Norse Mythology: Some of their early lyrics (e.g., "Raudt og svart") are based around this.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: To a certain extent, this is a theme of La Masquerade infernale. They would drop this after that point.
  • Sanity Slippage: Many of their songs contain this as a theme, particularly on La Masquerade infernale.
  • Song Style Shift: It is not at all uncommon for a song to start in one genre and shift to an entirely different one midway through. "Nightmare Heaven" is a great example, as it starts out as a progressive metal song and turns into weird psychedelic electronica.
  • Soprano and Gravel: After the band's first album, clean vocals are the rule rather than the exception, but on Sideshow Symphonies and Arcturian they are mixed with harsh vocals on occasion. The Sham Mirrors uses them only on "Radical Cut" (provided by Special Guest Ihsahn) and La Masquerade infernale doesn't use them at all, though ICS Vortex' higher-pitched vocals are mixed with Garm's Badass Baritone on a few songs (most notably "Master of Disguise" and "Painting My Horror"; Vortex takes lead vocals on "The Chaos Path"). Meanwhile, Aspera hiems symfonia and Constellation have occasional clean vocals mixed in with the traditional black metal rasp.
  • Special Guest: Ihsahn of Emperor on "Radical Cut" (the song was specifically written for his vocals). ICS Vortex on several songs on La Masquerade infernale (he wasn't an official member of the band yet).
  • Spell My Name with an "S": It's "Rødt og svart" on Constellation and "Raudt og svart" on later releases. (The title translates to "Red and Black"; "Raudt" is typically used in Nynorsk while "Rødt" is typically used in Bokmål.) Similarly, "Når kulda tar (frostnettenes prolog)" on Constellation became "Naar kulda tar (frostnettenes prolog)" on later releases. (This translates roughly as "When the Cold Takes (Frost's Prologue)".)
  • Subdued Section: These are plentiful in their music. "For to End Yet Again" contains a particularly effective example.
  • Subliminal Seduction: "Whence & Whither Goest the Wind" has backmasked vocals.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: They are masterful at these. For instance, "For to End Yet Again" mixes this trope with What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?:
    Police, police, police
    please stop the Euro
    from binar bin Laden
    Io paramount Pan
    Io Paradox Pan
If this has an intended meaning, it's oblique, and yet it feels quite profound within the context of the song.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Averted, for the most part; they use Early Modern English dialect in some of their lyrics, but it's pretty much grammatically correct.
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