Arcana have been around since 1994 on Cold Meat Industry records, for a short while releasing material on Peter's own label Erebus Odora, Kalinkaland in Europe and Projekt in North America have picked up an album or two, but the latest have been with Cyclic Law. They have released several full-length albums, along with a few other maxi's and appear on many compilations. Their music can be described as medieval with various chants and neo-classical elements. I love their music and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of many of the 4AD artists (Dead Can Dance) or such groups as Dargaard, sToa and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas which have also become long-standing favorites here and among Gothic Paradise listeners.
Peter Bjärgö (formerly Petterson) has been the brain behind this group from the start with the help of Ida Bengtsson on female vocals during the earlier years. Now he also has help from other contributors and Ann-Mari Thim on female vocals and Stefan Eriksson for choir and keyboard. Peter also has some side projects along the lines of dark ambient music. With the success of previous albums, I face each new work with a level of suspense and expectation and I've never been let down.
Be sure to listen to selected tracks on Gothic Paradise radio. This band has consistently been in the top 10 on this radio station since these ratings have been tracked.
As Bright As A Thousand Suns
After much anticipation for this new album since it was announced along with the mini-CD mentioned below, we finally have it in our hands and it's truly another masterpiece in a large and full collection of great music from this band. This album is a gem, spanning many of the great styles and musical compositions that we've grown to love over the years from the classic, romanticized medieval styles to the more recent ethnic and dark ambient approaches to the music. All of this spanning ten spellbinding tracks on this album available as a direct download and in a beautiful 6 panel digipack, released on Cyclic Law.
As an avid fan of this project, I was one of many anxiously awaiting the release of this album, so when I first put it on, I was pleased with the various styles from all the different era's of Arcana's music. Bits and pieces from the classic dark, medieval sounds of Cantar de Procella to the soft, ethnically-infused ambient styles very prominent on some of their latest albums including the very enigmatic Le Serpent Rouge are all present on this album. We start it off with the soft, somber sounds of echoing piano and hauntingly, dreamy background ambient sounds. This gives way to the most classic-sounding piece on the album featuring Peter's dark, brooding vocals on "As The End Draws Near" (see Emerald review below for more details).
The album floats along seemlessly blending all of these ethereal and dreamy masterpieces together, some featuring beautiful, stellar and clear vocals while others take on a voice of their own through the instrumental pieces. As with most albums, a few favorites stand out above the rest, though none can truly be discounted on this spellbinding album. In the collection of instrumental tracks that bring out a mood and voice of their own through a sort of spiritual connection, a definite favorite is "Inceptus" with it's subtle percussion moving the track along hypnotically, caressed by various other instruments including a soft and soothing violin and other unknown instruments. This dreamy piece easily envelops the listener in dreamy waves of sound. Besides the opening track, the other mesmerizing instrumental selection that really touched me is the finale to the album "Vinter". Once again, soft, echoing piano is the instrument of choice as this piece gently brings the album to a close.
For those looking for a bit more of the classic Arcana sound that manages to remain a solid staple throughout most of their albums, there is still plenty here to choose from and keep this collection of work easily in the forefront of great albums and a new classic to have in any music-lover's library. The aforementioned "As The End Draws Near" sets the tone, but also standing out beautifully are a few others I would like to mention. "Medea" features prominentaly the operatic vocals of Ann-Mari Thim which also remind me a lot of what we heard on her other project recently with Seventh Harmonic. However, the solid ethnicly rich side of Arcana shines through the percussion and selection of instruments (dulcimer, etc) and background ambient sounds. A true favorite comes out in "In Memoriam" through the subtle ambient soundscapes and the vocals that are so subtle, yet rich and lush as to nearly be mistaken for another ambient instrument in the varied layers of instruments on this track. This piece also has a video clip to accompany it, available on the artist's website and shared on youtube, facebook, etc. A final selection to comment on is the title track for the album. In many ways like "In Memoriam", the vocals are fairly subtle, though deep and resonating as Peter takes the lead on this track, yet all of the various layers of instruments and more prominent percussion move the piece along at a good pace, keeping the listener intrigued and entranced yet alert and aware of the beauty and soft, yet darker and dreamy moods here.
As you can see, there really is a lot of great material here, though 10 tracks in length, it spans nearly an hour of great music. It's definitely something long-time fans can be pleased with and highly recommended for new-comers as well just getting into this type of music, it's a great introduction. Highly recommended, go out and get it!
Emerald - Review
It's been a while since we reviewed Raspail here, but it's been good to hear the band remain active with various live shows and now we're presented with this short mini-CD in early 2012 as a precursor to the upcoming album due out soon. These three tracks give us 15 minutes of pure delight in the legendary music of this band spanning the dark and brooding to the hauntingly beautiful. Definitely a precious gem including two exclusive tracks.
"As The End Draws Near" is the first precious jewel in this short collection. It features the deep, brooding vocals and mix of various ethnic instruments, percussion and symphonic textures, slowly moving along creating a dreamy atmosphere with angelic backing vocals. "A Cage" comes next featuring so many elements that we've grown to love from this band, a whole range of various instruments, mixed in such a dreamy, spellbinding fashion, providing the intricate tapestry and background for the vocal duet. This leads us to our final piece "Precious Stone" which continues to feature classic, spellbinding song structures with Annmari Thim's hauntingly beautiful soprano voice soaring through the night air.
Anyone reading over these reviews can guess that this is one of my all-time favorite bands. These three, perfectly composed and performed pieces are a testament to the beauty and structure of the music of Arcana and the reason why they're such a favorite. Fans throughout the world will love this mini-CD and it just makes me ache for more as I look forward to the new album soon to follow.
Raspail - Review
After a few quick releases a few years ago, it's been a long wait for this latest work. Peter and his band have been hard at work at creating yet another masterpiece. Fans will be pleased to hear the solid classical bombastic Arcana sound in full force on this album. As with previous releases the packaging presented is stunning, with a 12 page booklet containing lyrics and a host of beautiful photography and other information. With this release coming to us from Kalinkaland Records and license in North America by Projekt Records, they'll get some great and well-deserved worldwide exposure.
This album hearkens back to similar styles of Inner Pale Sun and ...The Last Embrace with a combination of powerful medieval music along with dreamy ethereal and neo-classical masterpieces. "Abrakt" is of the classic Dead Can Dance style, which in a certain form has now become the classic Arcana style with solid drums and Peter's deep vocals with layers of synths. Skip ahead a bit to "Invisible Motions" which is much the same style though with the female vocals that add a certain soft essence to the music over the somber brass, hammered dulcimer and moving percussion. Along these same lines is the track "Lost in Time" which fans will hopefully recognize from a couple of compilations recently released on Kalinkaland and Projekt as a sort of "single" or highlight selection from this album. It's definitely a favorite and has all of the elements of Arcana and the style of Dead Can Dance (forgive me for yet another reference). The mesmerizing music provide the perfect backdrop for Peter's moody vocals on this piece as it drifts along on a musical odyssey.
Breaking away from the standard moving pieces are some really nice ambient structures on the instrumental "Sigh of Relief", or one of my favorites, "Outside Your World" with beautiful, yet subtle piano slowly moving along slowly building with soft, deep vocals and softly building percussion. "Autumnal" becomes another soft and beautiful piece with somber piano reverberating under the soft synthesized strings and whispered female vocals that build up and caress the soul. However, the real dark ambient nature of "In Remembrance" is so solemn and grave is it drifts along that it nearly brings the listener's heart to a stop with the deep, brooding moods.
The final piece "Circumspection" is a spectre of familiar, dark styles similar to the very earliest tracks from this group hailing back to Dark Age of Reason. By the time the listener gets through this track and the rest of the album, we've been through a broad spectrum of moods and styles, lifting the spirits, calming the soul and injecting a somber, grounding dark mood to balance it all out. I think that with the band's experience of so many years producing this spellbinding music they managed to reach near perfection once again. This is definitely something that I can easily recommend to fans past and present as one of the best releases of the year and will be a classic for years to come.
Le Serpent Rouge - Review
If there was any thought of this band slowing down, these latest releases have certainly put this feeling to rest. They just keep going and picking up momentum with each new release. Since their latest release in 2004, they took a shift in musical direction slightly away from the bombastic medieval sounds to a more folk-oriented style similar to the instrumental Dead Can Dance tracks, but still containing all of the medieval feelings present before. Long-time Arcana fans will most likely embrace this new style as I have, but always enjoying what we've had presented for us before and hoping for more of that style that we've grown to love. The real trick behind accepting and loving this new work is forgetting that it's actually Arcana as we know them, and imagining them as a new and interesting project that has just appeared on the scene. Then there are no previous expectations and you can just enjoy this great new music they have on this album.
Moving even further away from the synthetic instruments from the earlier days, this album has instruments like Armenian Duduk, Dulcimer, Egyptian Fingercymbals, Tamburine, Shakers and a number of other "real" and traditional instruments, you can get the idea of where this music is going. Most selections are instrumental with the occasional choir backing vocals off in the distance. Probably the most prominent vocals appear on "Cathar" and seems to be the exception on the album. Each track is quite similar in style, but varies slightly in rhythm and instruments used. The overall mood shifts from dark, to darker and so classic Arcana fans will love this.
The backbone behind each of these tracks is the percussion with hand drums, tamburines, bells, and the classic powerful sound that fans love, the Timpani. The more arabic sound comes out in various other selections "Under The Sun", "Amber" and others. While the album is quite homogenous, this makes it so that any one track can be taken by itself and still be enjoyed. If listening to the album in full, you have to pay attention to catch the segues from one track to another, otherwise the changes are subtle and you might wonder when and what the differences are between each are.
As a fan of this style of music I've been able to really enjoy this album. As Arcana, I hope to be able to hear more of the classic styles presented in future works. But change is inevitable and as long as the music is good, I stand behind these groups no matter where they go or what they do.
The New Light - Review
Shortly after the release of Inner Pale Sun just a year ago, we're presented with a great milestone album celebrating their decade of existance as Arcana. I'll first start with the physical appearance of this masterpiece. Like many before, we are presented with more than just a simple jewel case and small booklet. With this release we're given a DVD-sized cardboard digi-pack with a nice booklet containing insights from Peter on each of the 11 tracks presented. As impressive as the art and packaging is, it just barely matches the inner beauty of the majestic music on the CD.
For those familiar with the previous releases from this group this is a welcome addition to everything we already have. Favorite tracks have been remastered or have had alternate recordings done and the inclusion of unreleased demos are a pleasant addition as well. The production of the unreleased demos is surprisingly well done, as sometimes the inclusion of demos usually means the quality is less than what was acceptable for the albums being released at the time. But after the short intro "The Opening", we're immediately bombarded with the dark, brooding and powerful "Reminiscence" and "Source of Light", both previously unreleased demos. Both of these are a testament to the remarkable music that is always released by this group.
Jump a few tracks ahead over more perfectly acceptable and beautiful tracks and you encounter previously released masterpieces redone as alternate recordings. Of the three of these tracks previously released, only one has appeared on a previous album, so they're still quite rare. My favorite track from this group has always been "Like Statues in the Garden of Dreaming" and to hear this new rendition was a definite treat. The original dark, emotional feelings are still there, but there are slight differences in the instrumentation used and it becomes slightly more dreamy and not quite so brooding and cold.
The final two tracks are new and included only on this release. "Wings of Gabriel" take us into the new sound that we'll probably hear more of as they experiment more with the Arabic sounds. Hopefully we'll soon find out more and as stated in the recent interview with Peter, we look forward to another 10 years of great releases.
Inner Pale Sun - Review
After a very long and suspenseful wait we are finally presented with the latest album from this legendary Medieval/Neo-Classical group. Thankfully, ...The Last Embrace was not the last we would hear from them and they continue on with more excellent music and art!
Starting off this wonderful album is "My Cold Sea" with floating ethereal soundscapes building up to medieval percussion and the soothing vocals that blend perfectly with the orchestrated strings. The mixture of instruments and soaring vocals is absolutely dreamy and angelic and one of the trademark sounds mastered by these artists. "Lovelorn" is almost self-explanatory of what you can expect in this song. More on the minimal side, as is more the case on this album than previous albums, this song doesn't build to a grand climax, but simply carries on through dreamy music and "lovelorn" vocals and lyrics.
"Icons" begins with more of an "eastern" guitar and slow bombastic percussion and more of the typical bells that don't appear as much on this album. The slow haunting vocals mix again with the instruments forming that melodic overtone we have grown to love in this music. The next track is one that everyone that picked up the Body of Sin single should be familiar with. This slow, yet solid paced track features more minimalistic instruments with solid and deep vocals telling a story of angst and sadness, but in the end a feeling of hope as "we rise above". The dreamy female vocals add an extra element of beautiful harmony to the dark vocals and music.
If I had to pick a favorite song on this album, it would probably be "Innocent Child" with the absolutely beautiful music with soaring strings, somber bass and of course, Peter's solid vocals. This time, the lyrics are a plea from a parent to a child of a wish for something better that I think any parent can relate to. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I enjoy this song so much, because I'm able to relate so well. Of course, the music is still excellent with a beautiful piano melody and the usual added combinations throughout. "The Song of the Dead Sun" at first reminds me quite a bit of the orchestrated masterpieces of Sam Rosenthal with his instrumentals with Black Tape for a Blue Girl. The somber moods take over with the moody, dark sounds and slowly building percussion that eventually build to a great climax along with the soaring vocals.
"Season of Thought" is yet another great track beginning with a slow harp that is joined by more powerful instruments and Ann-Mari's soaring, beautiful and siren-like vocals. Somber unintelligible whispers are heard from time to time adding more of a darker tone to this beautiful song. "Closure" marks the finale for this short album with beautiful piano arrangements and a minimalistic approach with the soaring female vocals carrying the melody. Because of the shear simple beauty of this song, it has fast become one of my favorites that I can listen to over and over at any time and not get tired of it.
While I give this a perfect rating, the only imperfection is that the album should be longer! The music is much too great for such a short 8-track album. Fans should love this album and for those new to the Arcana sound, check out the tracks here or on their site and see for yourself the excellent artistic style and elements in their music.
Interview - Sep. 5, 2004
With the great strides that Arcana has made over the last decade, I felt it was appropriate to take some time and dig into Peter's thoughts about this time and the future. The following is the interview and Peter's responses. He has other interviews that the reader should check out for further information beyond the few questions I asked here.
1. Your release The New Light celebrates 10 years of Arcana. How would you say your music and ideas have progressed over the past decade?
As you grow older and continues to do music you develop and get more experienced. My sound has really grown, has gone more mature maybe. Larger sound, more vocal parts and more real instruments. And of course more open to influences outside this genre.
2. This is a very special release for your fans and probably for you personally. Where will you go from here?
I will go on making the Arcana music as always. This was a step into the next era of Arcana. Ten years have past and hopefully ten more years is to come. I am experimenting with the arabic sound more and I am learing to play more instruments, as the duduk.
3. All of your previous releases were on the legendary Cold Meat Industry label, what led you to leave that relationship and to form your own label for this release?
I have had Erebus odora since 2001, but just released 4 items so far. This Arcana album was my 5th release on E.O. I have thought about releasing my own stuff for many years, but I had to wait for the right moment, the moment when I thought that I was most ready to go on my own. CMI was on the direction of being more a harsch industrial label, many noisebands and so on. This was not to compare to my music, so i left. The label also signed many bands at that time, that it just became an inflation, you might say. I had thoughs of leaving before "Inner Pale Sun", but then our daughter Vendela was born and I couldnt find the time to leave then.
4. I have heard or seen Arcanas music described as based on the romantic image we all have on the middle ages, if you were to compose music from the middle ages that is not just our romantic view, how do you think that would differ from what you do now?
Well, first of all, no strings, no cello, no piano, and certaintly no reverb on the music..hahaha. The medieval music was more lute, flute and maybe a handdrum. And of course the religious lyrics.
5. What were you involved in before Arcana?
Many projekts. Everything from deathmetal to punk. I still play bass in a punkband, and the metal is always in my heart. In the studio I often play my guitar.
6. Where did the name Arcana come from?
I actually thought that is was a girls name, but then I found out that it was from old english, and it is the word "secret".
7. Im also curious about your side-project Sophia, where did the name for that project come from?
hehe, first of all the red wine:) But then again, a girls name and of course the capital city of Bulgaria. And not to forget the "song of Sophia" with DcD. Sophia means "wisdom" in latin.
8. The past couple of years have seen great personal changes in your life, the birth of your first daughter and your marriage to Ia (congratulations on both wonderful occasions by the way), how would you say these events have changed your musical career or even the music itself?
Thank you alot:)
At first I thought it was gonna be a big change, but now when time has gone further, things are back to usual. But of course, you get affected by the changes. But maybe it is more for the listeners to hear the changes, than me.
9. You recently changed your name from Petterson to Bjärgö, is this due to your marriage?
Yes, the name Bjärgö is my wifes name by birth. It is from the swedish island Gotland.
I had no connection to the name Pettersson, it was a name my mother had when she was married before I was born, before she met my father. My family is from finland from the start, so if I didnt take my wifes name it would probably be my mothers birthname, Koivuluoma.
10. I always like to ask about artist influences, but youve already mentioned in other interviews your influence by Dead Can Dance. So Ill add a different twist to this question, are you influenced by or do you listen to and enjoy other artists currently releasing music along this same style. Dargaard comes to mind as a contemporary group very similar in style that I also enjoy, are you familiar with them and do you enjoy them and the fact that many other groups are releasing this Medieval style music?
I have not heard enough of Dargaard to even have an opinion about them. I cant say that i listen to anything that is medieval. If I do, it is DcD or maybe Raja, Louisa John Krol and Gor.
11. Of all of your works released, which album is your favorite and the hardest question, which of your own songs is your favorite from the past 10 years?
I think that the "Inner pale sun" album is by far the best I have ever made, both by the songs and by the production. And it is my favorite album also. Musically I think Lovelorn, i didnt write the lyrics, but the song is absolutely one of my favorites.
12. Youve done many concerts around Europe, do you have any plans to try and do some shows in North America now that you have a label partnership with Cyclic Law in Canada?
That would be great, but it is hard to get a gig in USA cause the scene is not so big. And if we were about to go there to perform, it would have to be at least 4-5 gigs, to make it worth. And it is hard for us to find a babysitter for such long time. At the moment it is hard to be away from everything here at home, but hopefully in the future we will be able to come to the USA.
Label: Cyclic Law