Astrophobos - _Arcane Secrets_
(Independent, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (8 out of 10)
Before I start this review, let me contextualise Astrophobos by providing a list of smiliar-sounding bands who are part of a long-established sub-genre -- Swedish melodic black/death metal. If you're familiar with any of the bands on this list (and it's not an exhaustive list by any means; I'm just listing what I know by heart), then you'll know what's in store for you when you spin Astrophobos' latest independent release, _Arcane Secrets_. OK, so here we go: The Abyss, Vargavinter, Gates of Ishtar (early), Setherial, The Moaning, Dark Funeral (early), A Mind Confused, Ophthalamia (especially _Dominion_), Mörk Gryning, Excretion, Dissection, Unanimated (early), Vinterland, Naglfar, Sacrilege, Cardinal Sin, A Canorous Quintet (early), Midvinter, Dawn, Scheitan (early), Moaning Wind, Lord Belial (early), and Sacramentum. Alright, there you go.

So, what does Astrophobos have to offer that the bands mentioned above don't? Well, the simple answer is: nothing. But this is a good thing inasmuch as Astrophobos' modus operandi is to play impassioned Swedish black/death metal from the 1990s, and not to be purveyors of any form of absolute originality. Rather than base my assessment on originality, then, I'll go for authenticity. As such, the question becomes: is Astrophobos successful in re-creating the atmosphere, melody and aggression that each one of the bands above were able to create so long ago? After a few spins of _Arcane Secrets_, I must say yes, Astrophobos is definitely very successful in re-creating that distinctive Swedish sound, with its dark, melodic and aggressive overtones.

The strong points of _Arcane Secrets_ are as follows: a very darkened atmosphere, characterised by catchy and depressively melodic passages; lots of tremolo-picking (what did you expect?); fast-paced drumming, with quite a bit of blasting; and harsh black metal vocals that one might place somewhere between Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection and Johan Ljung of Mörk Gryning. The lyrical content is interesting too, in that it touches on suitably dark and mystical topics; and it's nice to see this conveyed with a particular flair for the philosophical -- something that many bands lack. The production is adequate, and leaves room to hear most of the instruments (save the bass, but that's not really a bad thing in black metal); however, the drum sound comes through as a little on the noisy side -- especially the snare. Actually, the production sort of reminds me of Sacrilege's _The Fifth Season_.

In terms of weak points, all I can say is that there could have been a little more variation in terms of the drumming. Sure, we get a lot of blast-beats (some of which are actually pretty fast); however, I can only take so much blasting before my mind starts to wander a little into that "well, they could have used this beat here, and maybe used a few more time changes there" kind of territory. Now, having said that, the drumming is quite solid, and it's anything but sloppy. It's just that maybe with more experience, the drummer could add in a few more fills here and there, and change up the pacing a little for that added bit of dynamism -- just to keep the listener's attention.

By way of closing, if you're a fan of Swedish melodic black/death metal from the 1990s, then try and seek this out, as I'm sure it'll light the fires of nostalgia for you. If you're looking for something truly path-breaking or, say, a novel interpretation of black/death metal, then you might want to look elsewhere, as this is not what Astrophobos has set out to do. Now, since _Arcane Secrets_ is only a three song EP (lasting a very short sixteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds), I really can't wait to see what this band's full-length release will sound like.


(article published 29/12/2010)

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