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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Nox Arcana

Shadow of the Raven

Review by Gary Hill

I first became aware of Nox Arcana when researching my book on music based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft. The duo had done a full album of Lovecraft inspired compositions. Not only did I discover an artist whom I now very much enjoy, but I also was able to use Nox Arcana main man Joseph Vargo’s artwork for the cover of the book. Now it seems quite appropriate that Nox Arcana turn their attention to Edgar Allan Poe as he was one of Lovecraft’s favorite authors and biggest influences. Much like Alan Parson before them, Nox Arcana have created an entire album devoted to the works of the prince of the macabre. The disc is gothic music that flirts with electronica and symphonic sounds, landing it (for my money) into the neighborhood of dark progressive rock, albeit light on the rock end of the spectrum. It’s another top-notch disc in what is becoming a long string of them from Nox Arcana. It leads one to think of a couple cool musical combinations that are available. Listening to this disc followed by the Lovecraftian one would serve as a great way to address the inspiration and the inspired artist. Or, you could pop this one on as a precursor to that Parsons disc. Certainly those who have the Parsons album will want to pick this up for another angle on the vision.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Darkest Hour
Sound effects rise up gradually and then keyboards and what sounds like voices move about as specters in the background. A voice intones Poe’s words over this backdrop. The sounds of a raven end this.
Melancholia
Piano serves to weave lines of pretty, but dark melody. Other musical textures are laid over the top of this backdrop, like flowers are laid over a casket to provide melancholy beauty. This builds gradually up with choral vocal sounds and a pretty piano melody. An organ spins its classic sound in the mix as they move onward with this. Layers upon layers are added to create more power and emotion to the piece. This one is simply incredible.
Descent Into Madness
A droning texture leads off tentatively. Then dark sheets of keyboard sounds filter across this backdrop. As more sounds like sampled monks singing are put into the arrangement we get a tolling bell. Then the mood and drama is built upon and added to as this begins to pick up intensity and a sense of danger. At times this feels a bit like the theme music to Halloween to me.
The House of Usher
This is dramatic and darkly beautiful. Sections remind me of an evil sounding “Carol of the Bells.”
Madeline's Lament
Gentle and yet quite dark and somber, this has a more atmospheric texture, feeling like it could be out of a soundtrack to some horror film. This turns very ambient before ending.
Haunted Memories
This is slow and melancholy with a natural, harpsichord sort of texture to it. It features some sounds that resemble female vocals and more of the Gregorian chant type stylings.
Annabel Lee
Much gentler in tone, this starts off with a pretty, yet sad melody. It feels quite a bit like a music box. Dark sounds enter subtly and rise very slightly. This one doesn’t go far, but the mood it sets is awesome.
Legacy of Sorrow
Piano that feels quite Beethoven-like to my ears serves to lead things off here. This melody holds the track for a time until other sonic textures rise up to join. This is very classical in nature and serves a bit of a change from some of the rest of the material.
The Black Cat
This short number (less than a minute) features a distant cat growling and howling. Like something out of a horror sound effects CD, I’d hate to run into that feline in a dark alley.
The Cask of Amontillado
More atmospheric tones start things off here. It becomes more powerful and intense as they continue onward.
Mysteries of the Night
Classically oriented piano is the order of the day on this pretty piece. After a while in this format other textures are added to augment the picture. Once again I’m reminded of Beethoven, but for some reason the “sad walking away” music from the Hulk television series comes to mind a bit, too. Tolling bells and rather classical keyboard layers are added later and more of those choral voice sounds come in, too. This turns more rocking as it carries towards its conclusion, but with a decidedly symphonic feel to it. This may well be my favorite track on the CD.
Midnight Dreary
Short as it is (just over a minute), this might be the most frightening track on the disc. It’s essential ghostly sound effects over the tolling of midnight.
The Raven
Gentle and pretty, this is nonetheless dark and foreboding. It grows in terms of production and mood, but doesn’t wander far.
Morbid Reminiscence
Somber and powerful, this mood piece features violin-type elements, some more of those feminine operatic vocal textures. We also get in the course of this harpsichord and bell sounds.
Lenore
We’re back into classically inspired piano for the melody on “Lenore.” This is another that’s quite pretty. This becomes one of the more potently arranged pieces of music as it moves onward. It’s another stunning success story.
A Dream Within A Dream
Starting with harpsichord-like elements, as this progresses the chiming bell sounds return along with the vocal strains. Here we have another gentle piece of dark atmosphere.
The Tell-Tale Heart
Appropriately a heart beat laden with dark music and sound effects makes up this short number.
Murders in the Rue Morgue
Very dramatic sounds start things off here. This builds like the music to a climactic building in a horror film. This is another of the more effective cuts on the disc.
The Pit and the Pendulum
Sound effects start this and are joined in short order by a psychotic sounding piano line. This song is seriously frightening. It builds upon its themes in a mode that combines majesty, beauty and a foreboding sense of oppressiveness. It’s another standout. We get some old school horror movie type organ later in the piece as it builds to a powerful climax. This feels like it would have been quite at home on the soundtrack to the film of the same name.
Masque of the Red Death
The organ that leads this one off has a classic horror sound, like the music from “The Phantom of the Opera.” More choral vocals add a dramatic air later and the track is shifted out into a somewhat different section as it carries forward. The momentum is building as this is another highlight of the album. Elements leave and return and then it shifts to near atmosphere for a time before starting a new building process. When this one finishes you need to take in a deep breath. The choral vocal section on the latter portion of the track is awe-inspiring.
Nevermore
As this opens I am once again reminded of the music from the movie “Halloween.” This is built up and worked upon in dramatic and powerful ways as it carries forward. It is another that rises above some of the other material. A short period of silence gives way to a reading from “The Raven.”
Hidden Track
Coming after another snippet of silence we get sound effects and a voice of someone in mortal danger and wrenched with fear. It's a fitting close to the disc.
 
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