Album Review: Coffin Storm – Arcana Rising

3/5

What a time we live in where the phrase “heavy metal” has taken on such a singularly unique identity all its own, one that is still very much rooted in its origins but also doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to. Back in the day, “heavy metal” was a blanket label for all of the fast and aggressive music being cranked out by long-hairs in denim vests and leather jackets, but nowadays it has spiderwebbed into so many different subgenres with their own defining nuances that it’s impossible to simply refer to anything as just “metal” anymore. To do so would essentially be a disservice.

These days the term “heavy metal” implies a conscious return to the genre’s early days, and in Coffin Storm’s case that inspiration is drawn specifically from the glory days of ’80s thrash and doom bands like Kreator, Candlemass, and Paradise Lost. Arcana Rising, the debut full length from this newly assembled trio of Norwegian metal royalty (namely Darkthrone’s Fenriz, Apollyon of Aura Noir, and Bestial Tormentor of Lamented Souls), is admittedly not what I expected it to be. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I do know that I’m a huge Fenriz fan, so I’ll check out anything with his name on it.

That being said, I have to admit that his vocals on this album were a big turnoff for me. As much as I love Darkthrone and Fenriz as a person, I just couldn’t get past his ever-present flat, vibrato-heavy clean singing. Perhaps it’s simply an acquired taste that requires more exposure and acclimation, but if so, it’s a taste that I have yet to acquire. I can appreciate the imagery as much as any self-respecting nerd, but unfortunately the delivery just didn’t resonate with me.

On the other side of the coin, one thing that I very much appreciated was the guitar tone from Bestial Tormentor (by day known as Olav Knutsen). The riffs and solos may be fairly straightforward, but they sound positively huge coming from whatever rig he’s using, kind of like Kill ’em All but beefier, and they have an undeniable toe-tapping groove to them. The main riff in “Open the Gallows” is particularly satisfying with its flawless transitions between the hammer-ons and those last three chords. It’s all very simple, not even tuned that low, but somehow it gives you an appreciation for how that sort of thing would raise pulses and give aspiring musicians a twinkle in their eye during metal’s formative years.

As for the rhythm section, the drums are subtle and understated, but they do compliment the guitars perfectly. Not surprising, given that B.T. and Apollyon have been playing together in Lamented Souls since the early ’90s, so it’s no wonder the two are in perfect sync with each other. There’s no flashiness, no blast beats or hyperspeed double bass, but it does have plenty of groove and some surprisingly tasteful cymbal work that’s sure to get your head bobbing. My only issue was that the kick drums were a little low in the mix and could easily have been given a slight boost without overpowering anything else.

All in all, Arcana Rising certainly has its charm, but I get the distinct impression that it just wasn’t made for me, and that’s fine. There’s plenty of metal to go around for everyone, and I’m sure the more avid followers of the old guard will get more out of this than I did. I can see what they were going for, but at the same time, I think I’ll be alright just cueing up Soulside Journey again.

Arcana Rising is available now via Peaceville Records. Order your copy here.

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