Review: Arcana – As Bright as a Thousand Suns

I’ve been a big fan of Arcana since I first heard them around 1996 or so. Their early releases were on Cold Meat Industry, and along with the likes of In Slaughter Natives and Raison d’être, they were one of the bands that made me fall in love with the label and the whole scene. Indeed, they were probably my first exposure to neo-classical darkwave music, and listening to their first album, The Dark Age of Reason, was massively exciting to me as a teenager. So they’ve been a big influence on me and on my music, and I’ll always look forward to new releases from them. As Bright as a Thousand Suns isn’t new, exactly. It was released back in 2011 (on the same day, in fact, as my album Empire and Dust), but it’s only now that I’ve got round to writing a review.

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As Bright as a Thousand Suns is the seventh album from Arcana. They moved away from Cold Meat Industry some time ago, and after several releases on Peter Bjärgö’s own label, Erebus Odora, this album was released on Cyclic Law.

The album begins slowly with the piano instrumental, Somnolence. It’s gentle and beautiful; good as an intro but doesn’t go anywhere.

Then it’s into the first song, As The End Draws Near. This song, like the rest of the album, has the trademark middle-eastern percussion that they’ve been evolving since Le Serpent Rouge. While the song is beautiful, it lacks the dynamism of some of their earlier material, and as the album progresses this becomes a repeated criticism.

The whole album is infused with an air of languid beauty. The fifth track, Leave Me Be is really the perfection of that style. It sounds like a summer night in a sultan’s palace — too hot to sleep or even move.

The following track, Infinity picks up the pace a little with a dark, tense opening, but I find myself wishing that it would take advantage of that tension by doing something dramatic, but that never happens and I’m left with the feeling of an anticlimax.

At the end of the album, with the songs The Fading Shadow and As Bright as a Thousand Suns, the some of the middle-eastern style goes away, replaced with a more European feel. These two tracks pick up the dynamism of the album a little, but sadly not enough, in my opinion.

The album ends with another slow piano instrumental, Vinter, closing on the same melancholy note with which it opened.

The musicianship on the whole album is of a very high standard — probably the best that Arcana have achieved so far. Their early work was clearly sequenced on a computer, but they’ve now brought in many more real instruments and that pays off massively in the organic quality of the sound. And the production is smooth and polished throughout.

While this is undoubtedly a work of great skill and beauty, it does want for a little more dynamism. I find myself yearning for a song with the dramatic intensity of Source of Light or Outside Your World, or the cinematic grandeur of My Cold Sea. Sadly this album, while in many ways a brilliant accomplishment, will probably never be one of my favourites.