Your Fatal Embrace
Released: 2003, Namibia
Scarcely a year after their most recent release, "This Burning Darkness", Namibia's resident metallers Arcana XXII deliver a follow-up. And what a productive year it must have been! The sound is still unmistakably Arcana XXII, but comparing this to their previous offerings is like comparing your baby pictures to the face that stares you back in the mirror every morning... The resemblance is there, but years of experience and maturity do show.
The album opens with a minute of somewhat mysterious tribalistic drumming. From then on it is track upon track of a hybrid of heavy, classic and power metal. Arcana has worked on their twin-guitar assault, and dishes up delicious riffs and melodies in (especially) "Sweet Immortal", "Cthulhu Dreams", "Mordor" and "Your Fatal Embrace". The guitar work seldom leans towards the ultra-technical, yet manages to be all the more effective for it. The song-writing and execution is closer to classic NWOBHM, as opposed to the HammerFall's and Rhapsody's of the modern power metal scene. No symphonics, no frills, just good wholesome guitar-driven metal. Special mention should be made of the drumming by Thomas Hoffmann, which is very impressive for a very young drummer. The drumming is atypical for modern metal drumming, with none of the indiscriminate double-bass aerobic workout favoured by many power drummers, relying instead on more intricate patterns.
The lyrics were carefully crafted, and never descend into parody or cheesiness. There are even short passages in a Nordic language, French and German. Johann Smit, the lyricist and vocalist, designs the album covers, and in true Arcana fashion, the cover is a simple yet stunning design: this time, in reference to the title track, it shows two intertwined snakes. Speaking of Smit: As has become his trademark, he varies between a low gothic style, occassional gruff vocals and high-pitched singing. The vocals are not very polished or refined, so don't go expecting Pete Steele for the gothic passages or Michael Kiske for the higher ones. Yet Smit gives the band a unique and identifiable voice, and also helps to set Arcana apart from the legions of wannabe power metal bands with lead singers sounding like 20% Hansen, 50% Kiske and 30% Deris (yes, power metal has become an excruciatingly exact and pre-fabricated science).
As an aside, the band deserves applause for fixing two of the flaws of their previous album: the production and the length. Although "Your Fatal Embrace" was recorded and engineered in Namibia as with their previous releases, the production here is VASTLY better than on the previous album. All instruments can be heard clearly with a richness previously lacking ("This Burning Darkness" having had production values akin to a primitive black metal band that decided upon their arrival in some Norwegian forest to jam some classic metal tunes instead). Although there are still a few tracks on the album that pad it more than add value, the album's length is much more palatable than its predecessor (which ran a full hour).
"Underground" is usually a term reserved for extreme metal bands. However, if you are a fan of classic metal or power metal, and are looking for a true underground band to root for, Arcana XXII is it. Unique in a scene increasingly crowded by Helloween clones, these Namibians play it heavy with true passion and with a strong identity of their own. "Your Fatal Embrace" is scheduled for a European release in February 2004 -- check the band's website for details.