Artwork by Chadwick St. John
Review by Anthony Abboreno

Arckanum presents an intimdating front. Start with the sound, get to the ideology later. In either instance, Dissection isn't a bad place to start. Musically, Arckanum is more minimalist than Dissection, and more inclined to the swaths of tremolo picking instigated by Transilvanian Hunger and Emperor. Crucially, however — and much like Dissection — Arckanum remembers how to play Heavy Metal. Listen to a track like "Þyrpas Ulfar," which starts by oscillating between two riffs, one heavy, the other light. Three-fifths of the way through, the music slows down and gathers its strength for a final solo, triumphant and doomed. It's chilling stuff — occult, but forthright enough to gutpunch you.

In terms of ideology, Arckanum gets more complicated. Band mastermind Shamaatae worships Pan, and his lyrics are written entirely in Old Norse, which he tries to reproduce as accurately as possible. Instead of paganism, however, Shamaatae aligns himself with the Chaos-gnosticism of bands like Dissection and Watain. He fuses this to Nordic mythology by connecting the idea of anti-cosmos — in which the enslaving cosmos of the demiurge must be destroyed in order to access the potent Chaos that lies behind it — to Ragnarok, in which the Nordic gods die, and the world ends. For Shamaatae, Ragnarok is not only necessary, but also good.

ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ (Debemur Morti/Moribund, 2009) explores this idea through a concept album about a battle between the Rime-Giants and Thor at the dawn of Ragnarok. Neither Thor nor the world, are prepared to go down easily. Violent thrash gives way to mourning, wolf howls, and hollow voices. The album hits hardest at the end, when the last three tracks pick up speed for the death blow that cuts everything into blasted emptiness. Ragnarok is a vital but difficult process where victory isn't clean. It is horrific to watch this world pass; it is inspiring to think of the freedom heralded by its end.