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Arcturus Live In London

Norwegian avant-metallers return to pillage the UK!

The austere world of black metal was never an obvious bedrock for prog, but in the mid-90s, a mutant strain started appearing in Oslo. Bands such as Ved Buens Ende, Solefald, Dødheimsgard, Ulver and Arcturus rejected the scene’s orthodoxies and embarked on various multi-layered, linear-defying new journeys, pretty much all of them ending up somewhere far beyond anything you could recognise as their original starting point.

In the case of Arcturus, that journey took them out of sight, disappearing off everyone’s radar for seven years before reassembling for some intermittent live shows in 2012 and finally releasing a new, still thrilling studio album this year.

Tonight is a more intimate affair than their return to these shores at the Islington Academy at the tail end of 2013, and if there’s any doubt that the Boston Music Room is a suitable venue for their far-ranging vision, it’s no impediment to support act Vulture Industries. A band with early Arcturus in their DNA, the Bergen-based five-piece have long fashioned an immersive if wilfully wayward world of their own.

Dressed in crumpled shirts and braces, like travellers from another century, and with charismatic frontman Bjørnar Nilsen stomping the stage, roaming the floor and relating bug-eyed visions like a crazed villager let loose, they’re expansive and urgent.

Vulture Industries’ songs are visionary travelogues, as though they’re on an arcane mission through some unmapped Victorian city, driven by bustling guitars, textured by Bjørnar’s portentous but playful baritone (if he had a moustache, he’d twirl it) and Wurlitzer-mimicking keyboards, veering off into monologues that are part Brecht, part Nick Cave.

Gleefully theatrical, Vulture Industries keep an enthralled audience in a constant state of anticipation, and the conga line Bjørnar kicks off towards the end is a measure of his Pied Piper-esque ability to draw you into a bewildering world of wonders.

Having previously been embellished by elaborate stage sets and costumed dancers, Arcturus do look a little hemmed in on this small stage, but sporting steampunk headwear and masks, they still sound equally unfettered as they fuse their tumbling, carnival rhythms with a futuristic, exploratory bent.

Frontman ICS Vortex’s humble mannerisms are a strange contrast to his towering height and booming, foghorn voice, echoing through older tracks such as Nightmare Heaven, with its shifts from propulsive, elaborate rhythms to cavernous pulse, and surging through new numbers such The Arcturian Sign, buffeted by all manner of cosmic crosswinds.

The response is ecstatic and for an audience well versed in Arcturus’ seminal back catalogue, this is another invitation to step into the beyond.

Jonathan Selzer

Having freelanced regularly for the Melody Maker and Kerrang!, and edited the extreme metal monthly, Terrorizer, for seven years, Jonathan is now the overseer of all the album and live reviews in Metal Hammer. Bemoans his obsolete superpower of being invisible to Routemaster bus conductors, finds men without sideburns slightly circumspect, and thinks songs that aren’t about Satan, swords or witches are a bit silly.