Reviewed: [January 2021]
Released [2020 Self-Released]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
You don’t get much farther off the beaten path than Russia’s Arcanum Sanctum. The band hail from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, which is so far into Eastern Russia it is closer to Anchorage, Alaska, than it is to Moscow – by like a thousand miles. So it can’t have been easy for the band to make a go of it, especially when their first album, 2010’s Fidus Achates, featured mostly Russian lyrics.
But despite lineup changes – guitarist Vadim Nalivaiko is the lone original member – an eight-year stretch from their second album Veritas Odium Parit to their latest Ad Astra and a notable shift in musical direction, Arcanum Sanctum have kept after it. And with Ad Astra, the band really seem to have found themselves.
After two albums of Children of Bodom-like melodic thrash/death metal intensity, Arcanum Sanctum have adopted more of a death/doom approach that balances melody and heaviness and sheds much of the velocity. The result is something that is at the same time elegant and brutal, recalling the likes of Daylight Dies, Dark Tranquillity, Amorphis or Paradise Lost, which is not bad company to keep.
The graceful intro “Wanderers in Space” and acoustic guitars and female vocal operatics that launch “The Quest” show just what a different ride it’s going to be on Ad Astra, as does the ample piano patter within. And it makes for a dramatic contrast to new frontman Ivan Beschastny’s burly, Johan Hegg-like growl. When the electric riffs kick in they do so in grand, anthemic swells instead of leaping at your throat and are played over deliberate, heaving rhythms.
“A Perfect Place (to Hide)” and “Solaris” are really the only overtly aggressive tracks here, offering some back to back blast beaty vigor near the end of the album. Yet even here, the songs are punctuated by soaring choruses and opulent – or at least prominent – keyboards that cut through the bombast to provide atmosphere and depth. Oddly enough, despite its grand scale, Ad Astra clocks in at just 33 minutes. But for such a tidy package, it certainly sounds complete and nicely fleshes out the space exploration thematics.
Radical departures often end up sounding awkward or tentative, as if they either haven’t been fully thought out or were overthought. By contrast, Ad Astra sounds confident and determined, buoyed by a lush, gorgeous mix from the Swedish metal Dan Swanö that ably captures the band’s epic aspirations. There are a few clean vocal passages that sound a bit clumsy, but aside from that Arcanum Sanctum pretty much nail it here.