Arcturus / Fen

O2 Academy Islington, London on Friday 13 December 2013

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Norwegian avant-garde metal masters of the theatrical and absurd are back in London, the first time since their reunion in 2011. This one-off headlining show is highly anticipated by many and makes Friday 13th not seem so unlucky for those in attendance.

Support for this one off performance comes from London's own Fen. Formed in 2006, this three-piece create black metal infused with plenty of post-rock that was fairly popular around the time of their inception thanks to the rising popularity of such bands as Agalloch and Alcest. These Londoners are respected in the UK black metal scene and make a popular last minute choice for support tonight.

The music inspired by the nature of the area the members grew up is has an atmospheric quality to it, pairing gritty black metal with modern post-rock sentiments. Music like this is better appreciated outside the live environment away from crowds of beer-guzzling attendees and in a more personal location, ideally alone. The music lacks the genuine emotion of Agalloch and the creativity of Alcest, leaving Fen as a band that fails to tread new ground in the over-saturated black metal scene. Nonetheless, the trio do elicit a strong reaction from the audience who clearly appreciated their appearance.

Conversely, headliners Arcturus spit in the face of trends and convention with their original take on metal. Launching straight into 'Evacuation Code Deciphered' from their last album 2005's 'Sideshow Symphonies', the Norwegians strike the right note, bedecked in space pirate outfits that compliment their music and a projector screen providing animations for their backdrop. Their music demonstrates the elasticity of metal, creating space-influenced soundscapes, delving into the chaotic, ambient, heavy and bizarre. Drawing influence from progressive metal, black metal, classical and atmospheric music, the space pirates' music is a curiosity that demands repeated listens.

The setlist draws from each of Arcturus' four full-length masterpieces with such outstanding numbers as 'Ad Absurdum', 'Nightmare Heaven', 'The Chaos Path', 'Alone' (which saw frontman ICS Vortex mistakenly claiming Edgar Alan Poe, from which the lyrics of the track were taken from, was English as he introduced the track), 'Master of Disguise' and 'Painting My Horror'. Even rarity 'Deception Genesis' from the 'Disguised Masters' compilation is aired out, surprisingly. In the live environment, the music sounds heavier than on CD with the guitars displaying an additional crunchiness, interesting given this incarnation of Arcturus just has one guitarist rather than the two they had before they disbanded. Vortex does an admirable job at replicating previous vocalist Garm but the keyboards are too low in the mix. The stage presence of the band mirrors the music with Vortex indulges in curious dances and strange mannerisms and guitarist Knut Magne Vale keeps throwing up the peace sign.

Closing with the atmospheric black metal track 'Raudt Og Svart' from debut 'Aspera Hiems Symphonia', Vortex thanks the audience for attending before asking the sound technician how much more time they have. The technician indicates that they have five minutes left but Vortex does not see this and assumes the show must end due to the venue's curfew, annoyingly. Nonetheless, Arcturus did not disappoint at all, putting on an enthralling spectacle rather than just playing their instruments. This is a lesson that many metal bands should learn from. Apparently Arcturus will work on a new album which will hopefully be followed by a tour and the Norwegian oddity will return to London.

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article by: Elena Francis

published: 17/12/2013 13:11