A Review from Regen Magazine
4 out of 5 stars
Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008
By: Vlad McNeally
For those pining for the deathly side of lustrous medieval beauty, look no further than Arcana.
In general, one could describe the atmosphere conjured within Raspail as being rather introspective, even bordering upon esoteric. Fronted by the hypnotizing, deep voice of Peter Bjärgö, this project in some ways could be compared to those fallen regents of the medieval genre, Dead Can Dance; even Bjärgö's own presence is at times like a specter of Brendan Perry. However, the key word here is "specter;" Arcana may also be quite rooted in the neoclassical, yet their facade is far more grim in comparison.
Across Raspail, this Swedish formation shares ruminations on solitude, loneliness, death, and love. Synths twinkle like stars on icicles, glinting sharp over somber cello hills in "Abrakt." Within moments, one can taste the somnambulistic qualities to this affair, yet when Bjärgö's silken baritone slithers alongside leathery thump of hand drums, the piece is illuminated with a graven, shamanistic tone. While the tribal motif remains, Arcana shift towards gypsy for "Invisible Motions;" with a warm rhythmic drone acting as its campfire, drums and hand cymbals thump and jingle like flames, keeping its murky string woodlands at bay. Slightly Arabesque and operatic, Ann-Mari Thim's voice here swirls through in a calming falsetto current, lending the track a fragile human presence. Set to a snake charmer's reedy, kazoo-like pungi, "Parisal" is a bit more emphatic. As its percussion morphs into woody bongos and sluggish kettle drums, a tinny jangle of dulcimer enters to lend these percussionists the shadowy airs of a lost medieval carnival. Bjärgö and Thim return to their vocal duties for "Out of the Gray Ashes," although his presence is more akin to a somber hum while she appears only as an aloof banshee. Central instead is a rough acoustic guitar, its jangle a myopic blur of metallic, pointed chords with only a thin brushstroke of weighty drum added to accent its slight consonance. Still there are moments when even Arcana's slight nuances of drums and guitar are dispelled in favor of midnight ambience. In the closing piece, "Circumspection," only a somber bass drone remains as backdrop, while feminine wails and masculine mutters are the only human souls housed within its void of twinkling xylophone crystals and melodramatic violin winds.
If one could pinpoint Raspail with a single word, it would perhaps be "haunted." This Swedish band here has effectively painted a work in ancient instruments and vivid hymns the feeling of being lost in a Scandinavian forest in winter, as the sun begins to set for a 30 day span. Chilly and certainly macabre, it is a must for fans of the bleaker ends of the neo-folk genre.