Friday 29 March 2019

Into the Arcane - Sleepless We Lie, Thoughtless We Cry (2019)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 23 Mar 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

OK, given that I've been spending a day in different European countries this week, you just knew I was going to end up in Sweden, right? Wrong! That's far too easy because there's far too much good stuff coming out of Sweden of late and I'm liking this concept so much that I'll surely come back to it shortly. Today, I'm listening to Dutch bands and first up are Into the Arcane, a doom/death band from Zeeland, whose debut album is interesting to say the least!

It's a concept album, with each track a chapter in the story, all introduced in the opening narration, Dr. Philips and the Arcane Disorder. We're in 1867 and he's found a global connection behind his investigations into "a string of weird and unexplainable accounts of madness and despair". It's the Arcane Disorder and this is a musical interpretation of those imaginary stories.

As a long term steampunk and co-founder of an adult Victorian oddities group, I was very happy to see this concept. The lyrics are relatively simple, but trawl in an agreeably broad range of fears, from relatively routine ones like night terrors and phantom limbs to truly outré ones like seeing everyone else as reptilian or not being able to breathe unless it's a conscious decision. I recognise a few, like Cotard's Syndrome and schizophrenia, but kudos to Erik Noten, vocalist and lyricist on getting the word "prosopometamorphosia" into the lyrics of a metal song.

Given that this is doom/death, of course, you'll have to read those lyrics as they're not always intelligible, even when they're sung in English (one song and part of another are performed in Dutch). I caught most of them and it has to be said that there aren't too many, even eight minute songs like the title track featuring a few short verses and a chorus of a single line. That's not an unusual occurrence here.

The music is relatively minimalist too, but that's not a bad thing. The band is small, three musicians on the usual instruments plus Noten on vocals, and they generally play slow but with feeling. There's a comfortable tone to the music, dark and deep but warm and often bouncy in a slow, aching way, so it's easy to snuggle up close to the material so that Noten can relate his tales of madness to us in theatrical snarls and growls. He's a beloved demon.

Like many concept albums, there are extras laid over the music. There are a few examples of spoken word during songs, including an excerpt from a study by David Rosenhan, On Being Sane in Insane Places, which I really ought to read. Eight people including himself were committed to psychiatric hospitals due to hallucinations that they'd made up for the study. Once inside, they behaved normally but were all diagnosed with disorders, forced to admit to them and blocked from release until they'd taken antipsychotic drugs.

Much of the effect here doesn't come from such excerpts but from relatively simple tricks that immerse us in the concept, things like audible breathing at the right moments. I also liked the way that some songs feature prominent guitarwork, if not solos then melodic leads, simultaneously with vocals. It added depth and texture and made the band feel larger. Also, Tijl Jacobs's bass is prominent and gets a number of memorable runs, especially on My Sane Asylum and Lijdensdruk.

The album is so consistent, in tone and idea and quality, that it's hard to pick out individual favourites from the tracks. I'm particularly fond of the sustained vocal growl in Lijdensdruk, but I also liked the slow burn of My Other Self and the texture of Thoughts on Breathing, among a whole slew of other moments on this album. Is any one of those three songs a standout over the others though? Not really. They're all just worthy parts of an enjoyable fifty minute piece of music.

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