Full disclosure, I loved this album on the first listen. Almost every moment from the sweeping bass and percussion that introduces the near 16-minute opener, “Cosmonoid” to the demoralizing heart throttle that frizzles out on the super-nova “Battle Hag” the epic bookend, proved indelibly satisfying. Top to bottom, Arcanum is thoroughly enjoyable effort, from the cold, carefully spaced out instrumentation to the punctuated moments of ferocity, which taken in tandem, seem to describe our general concept of the world beyond our immediate atmosphere: cold, largely unknown, with frequent pockets of fierce hostility, registering on a magnitude that is difficult to comprehend.
Backing up a notch, Space Witch, the Stone-On-Trent metal crafters responsible for this album have been around only a little while, producing a self-titled debut in 2014, followed by a single-track re-write of Sleep’s Holy Mountain in 2015 (the latter of which was a curiously successful update). From that progressive pedigree, the UK stoner band builds to their latest, Arcanum, an album that eschews gimmicks for slow, steady build.
Instrumentation on “Cosmonoid” assembles gradually, by the middle becoming a miasmic star swirl of guitars and increasingly heavy percussion, only to end in a dour chorus of chants. The shortest track, “Astro Genocide” comes next, perhaps the most conventional sludge metal offering, using vocals toward the end of the track for the first time; the progressions on this track is stilted and the songwriting isn’t really fluid. These aren’t necessary components, but I was taken aback by how patchwork the track felt compared to the general flow of the previous. On the space dust encrusted sludge, “Hex Solaris” the vocals come across in a God-like refrain. Just think of throne sitting super villian Thanos from the marvel universe and you’ll get the general idea.
On the closer, more of that slowly constructed, high-concept space jam re-emerges. I go back and forth with the opener, but “Battle Hag” may be my favorite song on the record, a damning fusion of B-Movie and bone crushing doom metal with some of the meatiest riffs on the whole project. After repeat listens, my only real hesitation on Arcanum comes from what felt like an uneven middle, the attempt to pepper in lyrics and singing weakening what felt like the band’s core strengths: head banging, basement polluting, star gazing stoner metal.