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Arcanum Sanctum – Ad Astra Award winner

Arcanum Sanctum
Ad Astra
by Max Elias at 07 November 2020, 3:10 PM

Russian MELODIC DEATH METAL band ARCANUM SANCTUM has produced a beautiful, at times atmospheric and at times punishing work of art. The instrumental introduction of “Wanderers in Space” sets the scene wonderfully, with its vaguely Asian-sounding lilting clean guitar that reminds listeners of the beauty often present in metal. It blends perfectly with the first proper track, which is “The Quest”. The softer clean intro carries over, but it soon is overtaken by a midtempo burst of crunchy melodic riffing. Although it might feel strange to hear DEATH METAL growls over such a comparatively sparse musical environment, Vadim Nalivaiko’s voice fits like a glove. Around the 1:30 mark is where “The Quest” really starts to pick up with a riff reminiscent of classic (if less hectic) IN FLAMES, and the song has no problem switching between those powerful riffs and atmospheric cleans. In a lot of ways this song reminds me of what might happen if one slowed down something from the first few KALMAH records, which is great because KALMAH are a fantastic band.

The same sort of sonic roadmap is present throughout the album, aided by the use of keyboards and other sound effect-type devices. They make a brief appearance introducing “Pack Rat” before the guitars join in, creating a sonorous melodic duet. The keyboard tone is also not too different from a distorted guitar’s tone, a fact which is important because a lot of the time, I find I dislike when metal bands bring in keys. They sound too ‘pretty’ (for lack of a more obviously negative adjective) and out of place. But here they meld nicely with the rest of the instrumentation.

This album is more experimental than their previous work— “Down to Earth” even has a keyboard taking the spotlight for much of it—which is more strait-laced, guitar-driven and aggressive. But moments of aggression are certainly present, and when they show up, they make an impact. The beginning of “Ad Astra” lets loose an anthemic, stomping torrent that doesn’t overwhelm you as much as it surrounds you. It invites you into it by weaving classically inflected melodies over midtempo power chord stabs, at once evoking a feeling of urgency and peace.
The album’s knack for combining distinct tracks into a flowing whole is on display again as the closing seconds of “Ad Astra” lead into “A Perfect Place (to Hide)”—which incidentally is probably the fastest and most headbanging song here once it gets off the ground, despite the fact that it also has a prominent clean section in the middle. And the arpeggiated break riff a little after two minutes in is pure ecstasy. The song closes with a fiery pedal-tone based riff colored by squealing pinch harmonics.

I would not hesitate to encourage anyone who is a fan of MELODIC DEATH METAL—or any kind of metal, really—to listen to AD ASTRA. The album exudes creativity at every turn, whether it be in the form of soaring guitar hooks or moving keyboard flourishes. Standout tracks definitely include “A Perfect Place (to Hide)” as well as “Pack Rat”, with its intertwining guitar and keyboard riffing. The album also closes on a strong note; “Under the Alien Sky” is adrenaline-heavy riff madness that blends KALMAH, ARCH ENEMY, and IN FLAMES, while retaining the band’s unique undertones (thanks in part to the ambient orchestral elements). The song goes through tempo and atmosphere changes like nearly every other song on this album, but never in a way that feels forced—and it also boasts one of the albums only guitar solos, which is minimalist yet climactic. All in all, this is a fantastic and memorable release; it is noticeably different from other offerings in the genre, but not different enough to alienate fans who know what they want from their MELODIC DEATH METAL.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 10
Production: 10
Overall: 10

5 Star Rating

  1. Wanderers in Space
  2. The Quest
  3. Pack Rat
  4. Down to Earth
  5. Ad Astra
  6. A Perfect Place (to Hide)
  7. Solaris
  8. Under the Alien Sky
Vadim Nalivaiko – Guitars, Vocals
Kirill Kulinitchev – Bass
Roman Rysyev – Guitars
Danil Galles – Drums
Record Label: Independent


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