Aussie prog metal is the order of the day here, with Arcane's third studio album, and their first since 2009's 'Chronicles of the Waking Dream'. Although there's been something of a long gap between releases, they've returned with a work of epic proportions - a double disc affair with a whopping two hours of original music. Born from a crowd funding campaign (seems to be the trend for many a band and artist these days), they exceeded their $10,000 goal within just three days, so it's a fair assumption that fans of these Antipodeans were more than hungry for some new music.
Australia has always been a musically fertile ground that's given birth to some of the most original and genuinely progressive bands within the scene; that is, acts who haven't succumbed to any preconceptions of a paradoxically progressive stagnancy, where they've opted to ply their trade beyond the parameters of prog's generic trappings. Karnivool, Voyager, Alchemist and Alarum are but four examples, and Arcane can also be added to that list. Press materials refer to the likes of Anathema, Tool, Dream Theater and Riverside and, while traces of each are audibly discernible within Arcane's music, that's just label marketing blurb devised to garner attention and prime your anticipation by naming some of the genre's biggest hitters. Arcane have forged a sound of their own that, when 'Known - Learned' is digested as a whole, takes you on an affectively immersive journey that's characterised by ever-changing, dynamic, emotional passages.
A conceptual work that deals with "fragmented moments in the lives of a father and his daughter, their loss, their love, their journey.", they've obviously put some serious time and effort into marrying compositional ideas with conceptual significance, as they've succeeded in creating some genuinely moving music. And it's music that succeeds in conveying some wonderfully enticing atmospheres, which they've achieved, predominantly, through some carefully crafted layers of heterogeneous guitars (acoustic and electric), mandolin, keyboards, piano and Mellotron sounds that are given enough breathing space to develop and create captivating atmospheres within the context of songs' rhythmic backbone where bass and drums are deployed thoughtfully throughout. Then there's frontman Jim Grey's remarkably expressive clean vocals, a man with quite some range (at least in terms of pitch rather than style). He doesn't always quite hit the same emotional depths as the likes of Mariusz Duda or Vincent Cavanagh, but comes damn close.
Of the two discs, 'Known' offers a more varied listening experience with songs' heavy/mellow amalgam; alternating, as they do, between heavier and lighter passages. 'Learned', however, has a fundamentally softer touch with a lot more acoustic guitar-based pieces. I think it's actually a shrewd move of Arcane to not repeat themselves, stylistically, between discs, as two hours of their staple sound, as good as it is, might've been a little too much. As such, they've opted to showcase their more alt-prog-rock side on 'Learned', and the contrast works well, particularly for their chosen concept too. Overall, while this is not a mindblowing masterpiece, 'Known - Learned' provides a pleasingly disparate listen with enough musical innovation and atmospheric textures to satisfy those who demand originality and accessibility from their prog.
KNOWN - LEARNED
Review by Mark Holmes
71:57 & 50:08
2nd March 2015
DISC ONE: 1) Hunter, Heart & Home; 2) Little Burden; 3) Impatience & Slow Poison; 4) Known; 5) Nightingale's Weave; 6) Eyes For The Change; 7) Keeping Stone-Water Awake; 8) Promise (Part 1)
DISC TWO: 1) Promise (Part 2); 2) Unturning; 3) Instinct; 4) Womb (In Memoriam); 5) Selfsame; 6) Holding Atropos; 7) Keeping Stone; 8) Learned
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a pleasingly disparate listen with enough musical innovation and atmospheric textures to satisfy those who demand originality and accessibility from their prog."