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Arcana's approach to neo-classical and symphonic-ambient could well be defined in the meaning of the word "Arcana" itself: specialized knowledge of something generally considered a mystery or a secret. On their sixth album, Raspail, the powerfully moving music of this Swedish quintet creates an atmosphere which weaves together lush elements familiar to Arcana fans old and new. Mystery, silence and revealed secrets are interconnected within the 10 new songs.
Comparisons to Dead Can Dance will be made, but it must be said that Arcana's approach picks up the tangent that DCD left behind and brings it to a new and fully realized place. Lush electronics mix with acoustic guitar, serene piano and intricate oriental percussions. Warm vocals return to the focus: a heavenly blend of baritone and soprano courtesy of Peter Bjärgö and Ann-Mari Thim. In fact, never before has an Arcana album contained so many vocals giving Raspail an emotional touch, a deeper thoughtfulness, a profound feeling of mysterious vision and a sense of secrets.
"Arcana is incredibly stunning music by one of the genre's best! Highly recommended to fans of all dark music and beyond! This is the stuff dreams are made of and Arcana captures it precisely." - deliriummag.com
"Arcana is the only worthy successor to Dead Can Dance. Both groups create music that draws on older traditions, yet seems otherworldly; both utilize the sounds of forgotten instruments and evocative male and female vocals." - Liarsociety.com
Largely organic in tone, the songs of Raspail are built upon the sound of authentic multi-cultural percussion instruments, although electronics do play a role, particularly glassy synth lines and hollow drones (not to mention the awesome Roland R-8 drum machine), which lends a distinctly shamanistic, ritual feel to the proceedings, creating the impression of a profound occult ceremony beneath the stars. Dreamlike vocal contributions, ranging from Bjärgö's superbly chilling baritone to the gossamer angel's lilt of Ann-Mari Thim, drift like sliver clouds over the pointed rhythmic underpinnings.
As you might expect, the lyrical themes in Raspail lean toward the dark side – not specific dark forces and deeds, but rather a reflection on the shadowed recesses of the unknown, both within the human psyche and the undiscovered countries beyond our experience. The goosebumps-inducing “Abrakt” establishes a dark menace with its crystalline synth lead over a low bass theme, lending weight to Bjärgö's multi-tracked dirge harmonies. In contrast to the coldly ethereal melodies, the tracks are given a comforting warmth by rhythmic techniques ranging from woody drums and Gypsy-flavored hand cymbals in “Invisible Motions,” to a dramatic fusion of Arabesque and traveling carnival moods in “Parisal.” Acoustic guitar adds an intimate intensity to cuts like “Out of the Gray Ashes,” and warm string beds (primarily violin and cello) add texture to the drone-like ambient undercurrent of closing track “Circumspection.”
There's a meditative, hypnotic vibe to Raspail that reaches beyond its “ambient” nature... it's one of those albums that you may at first choose to play in the background while you're doing something else, only to find yourself sitting motionless in front of the speakers even after the last track has finished, your planned activity long forgotten. It's that good. -Gregory S. Burkart
This album hearkens back to similar styles of Inner Pale Sun and ...The Last Embrace with a combination of powerful medieval music along with dreamy ethereal and neo-classical masterpieces. "Abrakt" is of the classic Dead Can Dance style, which in a certain form has now become the classic Arcana style with solid drums and Peter's deep vocals with layers of synths. Skip ahead a bit to "Invisible Motions" which is much the same style though with the female vocals that add a certain soft essence to the music over the somber brass, hammered dulcimer and moving percussion. Along these same lines is the track "Lost in Time" which fans will hopefully recognize from a couple of compilations recently released on Kalinkaland and Projekt as a sort of "single" or highlight selection from this album. It's definitely a favorite and has all of the elements of Arcana and the style of Dead Can Dance (forgive me for yet another reference). The mesmerizing music provide the perfect backdrop for Peter's moody vocals on this piece as it drifts along on a musical odyssey.
Breaking away from the standard moving pieces are some really nice ambient structures on the instrumental "Sigh of Relief", or one of my favorites, "Outside Your World" with beautiful, yet subtle piano slowly moving along slowly building with soft, deep vocals and softly building percussion. "Autumnal" becomes another soft and beautiful piece with somber piano reverberating under the soft synthesized strings and whispered female vocals that build up and caress the soul. However, the real dark ambient nature of "In Remembrance" is so solemn and grave is it drifts along that it nearly brings the listener's heart to a stop with the deep, brooding moods.
The final piece "Circumspection" is a spectre of familiar, dark styles similar to the very earliest tracks from this group hailing back to Dark Age of Reason. By the time the listener gets through this track and the rest of the album, we've been through a broad spectrum of moods and styles, lifting the spirits, calming the soul and injecting a somber, grounding dark mood to balance it all out. I think that with the band's experience of so many years producing this spellbinding music they managed to reach near perfection once again. This is definitely something that I can easily recommend to fans past and present as one of the best releases of the year and will be a classic for years to come. Rating: 5 out of 5
Raspail’s ten tracks occupy an all-too-brief 38 minutes of playing time, commencing with the stately minor-key chords of ‘Abrakt’. A cold and gloomy atmosphere is conjured as Peter Bjärgö’s commanding baritone voice delineates an apocalyptic vision of human extinction, a subject which will be returned to later in the album on the standout track ‘Out Of The Gray Ashes’. This is followed by ‘Sigh Of Relief’, a muted and gentle short instrumental piece dominated by a tinkling piano line, which does indeed provide some respite after the strident dramatics of ‘Abrakt’. ‘Invisible Motions’ features the first female vocals on Raspail – with the song being something of a showcase for the talents of Ia Bjärgö, who sings her own lyrics over a powerful backdrop of percussion provided by Matthias Borgh. ‘Outside Your World’ returns to the piano lines of ‘Sigh Of Relief’, this time accompanied by Peter’s vocals, starting with whispers of yearning low in the mix, but blossoming magnificently into graceful expanses of bittersweet melancholy.
The next three songs constitute the real core of Raspail, and each is outstanding in its own way. The instrumental ‘Parisal’ hearkens back to the middle-eastern palette of Le Serpent Rouge, with hammered dulcimer and a sinuous, droning reed instrument, something like a zurna, I think, writhing hypnotically over djembe and darabouka drums. ‘Autumnal’ is another female vocal showcase track like ‘Invisible Motions’, with the lyrics and soaring operatic soprano voice of Ann-Mari Thim being the focus of attention this time. The sparse, repetitious piano line here recalls some of Burzum’s minimalist ambient pieces such as ‘Tomhet’. After this, Peter’s voice returns on ‘Out Of The Gray Ashes’, along with female backing vocals, forcefully strummed acoustic guitar – the first guitar on the album – and more dulcimer. Here, as on much of 2002’s Inner Pale Sun album, Peter’s deep, warm yet desolate vocals and the overall arrangement of the song are reminiscent of Burning World-era Swans. The lyrics describe post-apocalyptic devastation, yet they offer a slim hope of redemption and regeneration:
Out of the gray ashes A seed will grow…
‘Lost In Time’ maintains the expansive, complex sounds of the previous track, with interesting percussion including finger cymbals and orchestral strings providing the foundation over which Peter laments a lost love. ‘In Remembrance’ is another brief, piano-led instrumental in the vein of ‘Sigh Of Relief’ – these pieces provide restful interludes between the louder, more dramatic songs, with a blend of distant, reverbed piano with ambient atmospherics that is reminiscent of the work of fellow Swedes and one-time Cold Meat Industry labelmates Beyond Sensory Experience. After this, it seems as if a big production number to close the album is a foregone conclusion. Arcana manage to second-guess you, though, and closing track ‘Circumspection’ maintains the downbeat mood, however, with whispered male vocals over slow sweeps of orchestral strings and wordless female vocals, an artfully anticlimactic conclusion to a wonderful album. As the Raspail press release acknowledges, Arcana have always been and will continue to be compared to Dead Can Dance, but whilst it’s undeniable that Dead Can Dance have provided a major wellspring of inspiration for Arcana, it’s also evident that Arcana have now proved themselves to be so much more than mere copyists. The emotional atmospheres evoked by Raspail are as invitingly shadowy and enticing as the lush green woodlands of the album’s booklet photography, and worlds apart from the callow melodramatics of the legions of darkness-fixated goth bands, who’d sell their souls to sound like Arcana if only they had the imagination. Raspail is highly recommended to all those whose inclinations towards the dark side are refracted through subtlety and intelligence. Long-time Arcana fans will find their faith in the band amply justified here, whilst for those who have yet to discover the band’s delights, there’s no better place to start – although after six albums, isn’t it about time for a ‘Best Of’ collection? And on a personal note, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Arcana’s first-ever UK performance, supporting Sol Invictus in London on October 4. -drengskap
Obviously, this is the most complex album in their history, yet not the most expressive one too. On certain sequences ARCANA's scents are pale and fade, so that you need to be very careful to spot the whispers too. If you listen to it solely once, these parts become fade... yet, if listening to the album alone, in solitude, in a quality sounded room, or in you're headphones, on a pretty high volume, you'll certainly turn fascinated by RASPAIL! I love this album! And "Lost In Time" is sublime, full of atmospheric nobleness! "Invisible Motions" is dynamic too, while "Parisal" scents of Oriental cultures, tribal even. The ten tracks are somehow transient to me, but on the other hand I realize that if their number would have been 20, I would have sensed the same... because I cannot count the time while I'm listening to this album. The booklet potentates the dreamy universe, and imagery perfectly resonates with ARCANA.
A truly beautiful CD, even though some of you might have been waiting for this album to be more imposing. NO, the Swedes continue on transmitting their present states of mind and soul on every of their albums, and their current mood, is apparently more fragile and introverted... magnificent though! Melancholic, Medieval, Modern Classical, Ambient, Acoustic... meaning ARCANA. Rating: 1/1
Raspail isn't a masterpiece like Cantar De Procella (1997) or Inner Pale Sun (2002), but it is nevertheless great mood music. The only real mystery it highlights is how on earth it is possible that Arcana, which already sounded so much like Dead Can Dance on its first album, manages to sound more and more like it on each subsequent record - without sounding the least bit like its clone or a copycat.
What we have here is one more beautiful shade added to Arcana's palette. Not perfect, but wonderful nevertheless. For fans it is a mandatory purchase, but one that will certainly fit well the collection of many friends of gothic, ethereal, and so forth, as well. -Jiituomas
In general, one could describe the atmosphere conjured within Raspail as being rather introspective, even bordering upon esoteric. Fronted by the hypnotizing, deep voice of Peter Bjärgö, this project in some ways could be compared to those fallen regents of the medieval genre, Dead Can Dance; even Bjärgö's own presence is at times like a specter of Brendan Perry. However, the key word here is "specter;" Arcana may also be quite rooted in the neoclassical, yet their facade is far more grim in comparison.
Across Raspail, this Swedish formation shares ruminations on solitude, loneliness, death, and love. Synths twinkle like stars on icicles, glinting sharp over somber cello hills in "Abrakt." Within moments, one can taste the somnambulistic qualities to this affair, yet when Bjärgö's silken baritone slithers alongside leathery thump of hand drums, the piece is illuminated with a graven, shamanistic tone. While the tribal motif remains, Arcana shift towards gypsy for "Invisible Motions;" with a warm rhythmic drone acting as its campfire, drums and hand cymbals thump and jingle like flames, keeping its murky string woodlands at bay. Slightly Arabesque and operatic, Ann-Mari Thim's voice here swirls through in a calming falsetto current, lending the track a fragile human presence. Set to a snake charmer's reedy, kazoo-like pungi, "Parisal" is a bit more emphatic. As its percussion morphs into woody bongos and sluggish kettle drums, a tinny jangle of dulcimer enters to lend these percussionists the shadowy airs of a lost medieval carnival. Bjärgö and Thim return to their vocal duties for "Out of the Gray Ashes," although his presence is more akin to a somber hum while she appears only as an aloof banshee. Central instead is a rough acoustic guitar, its jangle a myopic blur of metallic, pointed chords with only a thin brushstroke of weighty drum added to accent its slight consonance. Still there are moments when even Arcana's slight nuances of drums and guitar are dispelled in favor of midnight ambience. In the closing piece, "Circumspection," only a somber bass drone remains as backdrop, while feminine wails and masculine mutters are the only human souls housed within its void of twinkling xylophone crystals and melodramatic violin winds.
If one could pinpoint Raspail with a single word, it would perhaps be "haunted." This Swedish band here has effectively painted a work in ancient instruments and vivid hymns the feeling of being lost in a Scandinavian forest in winter, as the sun begins to set for a 30 day span. Chilly and certainly macabre, it is a must for fans of the bleaker ends of the neo-folk genre. Rating: 4 out of 5. -Vlad McNeally