Arcana Coelestia
Le Mirage de Idéal

Arcana Coelestia’s last release, Ubi Secreta Colunt, was one of my favorite discoveries of 2007 – the kind of gem that makes a few hours of web-surfing and shot-in-the-dark downloads worth all the effort. Essentially one long composition, its four tracks delivered an all-consuming experience that blended crushing funeral doom with astral post-rock grace. I was hoping that its follow-up would be just as transportive.

Le Mirage de Idéal certainly starts that way, as album opener “Duskfall” sounds so similar to Ubi Secreta Colunt that it might as well be considered a continuation. Same collapsing slabs of guitar, same angelic, roiling ambience, even a very similar central melody. And yes, the same shimmering, echoey sound effect which is all but omnipresent throughout the album.

It’s also an even more massive, awe-inspiring experience than before – and yet it’s less controlled or easily followed, with too many layers bleeding into itself. Only the final few minutes of “Duskfall” really justify its existence, first with the addition of piano to the swirling void. Then despondent, regal clean vocals soar in, adding a touch of heart-wrenching humanity to a sound which is otherwise so alien and unreachable.

Other tracks employ this melding of human pathos and terrifying, heavenly majesty, but with uneven results. Operatic female vocals during “Tragedy and Delirium Part I” clash in a striking duet with their demonic, gurgled counterpart, but I didn’t find their melody to be particularly moving. The chanted vocals at the start of “Requiem” seem appropriately reverent, but they don’t feel tethered to the crashing pace of the music. And “Tragedy and Delirium Part II” is all but dominated by spoken word, which pretty much makes it a throwaway track unless you understand Italian.

The vocals really aren’t the main issue here, though – it’s the songs, or more specifically, the lack thereof. At times, the mix of the ethereal and the epic sounds very well-integrated, but most of the time, it’s as if you put Evoken on one set of speakers and Explosions in the Sky on another, just hoping for some flashes of synchronicity amidst all the bloom and thunder. A few tempo changes here and there do a little work to break up the cacophony and monotony – particularly the martial percussion on the title track, which sounds like the funeral doom equivalent of Summoning. Mostly though, this is just a collection of plodding, hallucinatory soundscapes, seemingly more improvised than composed.

And that’s a shame, because based on the last round of MZ’s releases, I figured that Arcana Coelestia was intended to be more structured and focused than Urna. That’s not the case this year, which makes one or both projects a bit redundant, and it reveals this Mirage to be a little less than Idéal.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
January 20th, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: gordeth

    I was planning to pick this up along with the new Urna. But, now I think I’ll save some money and just go with Urna. Thanks for the warning.


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    yes I think you either pick up one or the other but not both. and obviously I’d pick Ubi Secreta Colunt over this one.


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