AMN Reviews: Arcana Reissues – …The Last Embrace (2000) & Inner Pale Sun (2002)

Arcana is the neoclassical darkwave brainchild of Peter Bjärgö. For about 20 years, Bjärgö and company released numerous full-length albums, EPs, and compilations. While comparable to Dead Can Dance in terms of style at a high level, Arcana focused on martial rhythms and brooding chant, as well as medieval instrumentation.  …The Last Embrace and Inner Pale Sun were released in 2000 and 2002, respectively, on the now-defunct Cold Meat Industry label.  Cyclic Law has reissued these albums as part of its very welcome revisiting of the Arcana discography. Each release includes a bonus track.

…The Last Embrace (2000)

For those not familiar, …The Last Embrace is probably the best place to start with Arcana. From the outset, the percussion focuses on a combination of snare patterns with bells. Over this are synth lines, acoustic guitar, dulcimer, and melancholy ethereal vocals from Bjärgö and co-vocalist Ida Bengtsson. These relatively simple elements are creatively combined and overlapped into appealing – yet funereal – pieces. While Bjärgö’s deep baritone intones dark poetry in English, Latin, and Italian, the singing is largely wordless or difficult to decipher. This renders voice another instrument with which to generate haunting atmospheres. Thematically, these songs are focused on anguish, grief, and loss, but are strangely exhilarating and emotive. A prime example of this is the short and powerful Love Eternal, with Bengtsson on lead vocals.

Inner Pale Sun (2002)

If anything, Inner Pale Sun is even more cinematic than its predecessor, with tracks that manage to be both more uptempo and slower. Case in point, My Cold Sea would fit into a movie soundtrack (a movie about Vikings, perhaps) with its tribal drumming, chanting, and ponderous synths. In contrast, Song of the Dead comprises slowly evolving synth and string patterns. This evolves into a more uplifting melody over bassy drumming before settling into a quiet outro. Overall, these pieces are more pastoral, piano-driven, and song-oriented than those of …The Last Embrace despite being layered with gothic angst.