A vast, epic journey through freezing nightmare lands

Being familiar with the part of Australia from whence this band hails, it’s easy to imagine the motive behind the cold, desolate atmosphere of this massive double album.

In the past, they have claimed inspiration from nature so it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to me if I found out that the members of Arkheth had spent the seven winters since their last release camped out in the NSW Central West to gain inspiration. For icy bitterness enshrouds the ten enormous tracks that sprawl across IX & I: The Quintessence of Algaresh, a bleak, frigid ambience that is without a doubt the album’s hallmark.

Arkheth’s 2003 EP was a fairly standard, non-descript excursion into textbook symphonic metal. While Algaresh still doesn’t break any new ground, the band has expanded their vision into a vast, epic near-two hour journey through freezing nightmare lands. Skolthorn’s guitar tone evokes a cold malevolence throughout the band’s mostly mid-paced, saga-length songs. Keyboard ambience and occasional interludes of female vocals and ringing acoustic guitars only serve to enhance the haunting desolation. This is Arkheth really finding their way, an affirmation of their goals and a far more realised vision of what they wish to achieve and that is cold, uncomfortable, harsh and barren of relief. Tyraenos adds little more than greyness with varying degrees of barks, shrieks and howls and the dour artwork lends further gravitas.

Where the album tends to fall down is the enormous playing time. Algaresh runs to 113 minutes, and in spite of the splashes of variation throughout, Arkheth’s main style is mid- to glacial-paced tremolo-picked black metal. To the more casual listener of the style such as myself, it retains a sense of sameness that becomes tedious and at times I found myself asking if these songs needed to be as long as they are: “Chronicles of the Ancient Narwynd” is more than 13 minutes in length and the climactic “Upon the Golden Winds of Dreaming” almost hits the 18 minute mark. Austere does long, repetitive songs too, but their entire album is shorter than disc one of this slab. To be fair to Arkheth, The Quintessence of Algaresh isn’t meant to be for everybody. Established fans of such epic bleakness will certainly appreciate and understand it. To newcomers or those less read in the style, IX & I will be heavy going.

CD 1:
1. The Conception and Creation
2. Chronicles of the Ancient Narwynd
3. Kings in Black
4. The Breeze that Stirs the Snow
5. Faint Whisps in the Heart of Orion
1. Where the Wind Blows Ether
2. Dewy Eye Upon the Eminent Foreland of Arg’thorn
3. The Well ov Urd
4. Black Riders of Avernus
5. Upon the Golden Walls of Dreaming