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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Nox Arcana

Necronomicon

Review by Gary Hill

This disc is certainly different from any other progressive rock CD. Indeed the band might not even consider it to be such, and I'm not completely sure it is, but it really feels like prog in many ways. Truly there is little "rock" involved in the disc, but the emphasis on electronic type symphonic arrangements seem to make it feel like prog to this reviewer. Necronomicon is the second release from Nox Arcana, and they say that "this dark symphony, based on H. P. Lovecraft's legendary book of shadows contains pulse-pounding orchestrations, sinister melodies, gothic choirs and ominous chants". That comes pretty close. I would say that this music would be great film soundtrack music, but that really is putting limitations on it. Indeed, the whole album seems to be one creation, building as it goes along. It has a lot of elements of classical music, but certainly would not fit there. It is dark, and obviously the subject matter could place it in the realm of gothic music, but again, that only fits so well. The lyrics for the most part are delivered as spoken words; the only song that has any kind of real vocals does so in the form of a ritual.

Nox Arcana might not be a household name, and their music might be very hard to classify, but in Necronomicon they have produced what might be the most impressive and effective musical interpretation of the writings of H. P. Lovecraft ever. The group is the brainchild of Joseph Vargo, who is perhaps best known as an artist whose work is based on dark gothic imagery. Along with William Piotrowski, though, Vargo formed Nox Arcana and began creating music that might seem to be the sonic equivalent of that artwork.

The musicians have paid very close attention to details from Lovecraft's work, a sure sign of their admiration and reverence for the source material. They use electronic insect sounds, as the language that words like "Cthulhu" were supposed to be derived from is one spoken by an insectoid race. A song like "Temple of the Black Pharaoh" has a decidedly Egyptian tone. "The Haunter of the Dark" ends with the sound of thunder, a nod to the story climaxing with a lightning strike. This is a first-class effort that should be a thrill for fans of the legendary horror writer. One thing is certain, flowing as one unit this disc starts off a bit slowly and continues to grow to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. While there are both recurrent and newly emerging themes, each song seems to carry the whole album forward. This disc is definitely one of the most interesting of 2004, and one that both fans of creative dark music and fans of Lovecraft should really give a try. It also includes some dramatic examples of Vargo's graphic art, and a very informative booklet.

Track by Track Review
Mythos
Buzzing of insects and evil choral vocals present the theme of this track. The vocals are a spoken powerful reading describing the background of Lovecraft's Mythos.
The Nameless City
Furtive dark music with eastern tones begin this one. As the track carries forward it gains a dramatic movie soundtrack-type texture, gradually building in intensity and moving the tension forward. This cut, basically an instrumental, brings in choral vocals more as an instrument later. It is quite powerful and ominous.
Alhazred's Vision
Eastern tones in a symphonic gothic style start this, and it gradually builds in frightful tones. This instrumental does not wear out its welcome.
Necronomicon
With the somber chorale texture starting this instrumental it is still symphonic in nature, but has a more electronic texture than the cut that preceded it.
Ancient Shadows
A dramatic and mysterious faster paced electro-symphonic texture creates the main focus of this cut with dark chorale vocals and eastern textures appearing over-top to flavor it. This is one of the more dynamic tracks, running through very progish movements as it carries forward. It ends abruptly.
Azathoth
This is a very brief (less than half a minute) spoken word narration over the top of keyboard elements.
The Black Throne
Although beginning with more of the chorale vocals, as this carries forward a slightly noisy keyboard sound gives it a very minor industrial tone.
Nyarlothotep
This cut has a mysterious Egyptian sound. It is another brief (under a minute) narrative.
Temple of the Dark Pharaoh
Dark, appropriately Egyptian sounds create the texture of this haunting cut. It is one of the strongest compositions on the album. This one has actual vocals in the form of understated dark chanting.
Eldritch Rites
The most electronic sounds thus far start this one, another spoken word piece. The narration here features a more understated approach.
The Haunter of the Dark
Another dark haunting atmospheric piece, this has the some of the most neo-classical elements of the CD. It ends, as the story does, with the sound of thunder.
Yog-Sothoth
This one minute cut features a spoken narrative over a tolling gong and percussion.
Guardian of the Gate
A driving, but understated rhythmic texture starts this, and they gradually build it in dark and ominous tones. This is another stand out cut. 
Lords of Darkness
Mystical pounding textures create this soundscape.
Dagon
Another brief narrative, the weird sounds that provide the backdrop here are among the strongest sounds of the disc.
The Stars Align
More electronic driving tones create the main focus of the early segments. As this carries forward a vigorous percussion and dark keyboard elements create some of the most energized and powerful sounds of the album so far. This one comes the closest to rocking of anything so far.
Ritual of Summoning
This less than half a minute piece starts appropriately with a whispered incantation. Weird swirling sounds begin to build as the intensity of the magickal invocation also increases in intensity. This ends in a powerful crescendo that leads into the heaviest cut thus far.
Cthulhu Rising
The music here, although sharing themes with some of the earlier tracks, is the most powerful and articulate to this point. It is very intense while still not moving into a full "rock" vein. This is certainly proof that the album just keeps getting stronger and stronger.
The Great Old Ones
A hammering sound begins this, and a powerful melody with the most symphonic sounds of the CD overlaid takes over. This is the most dynamic and potent number on show, making it the perfect climax for this dark adventure. A noisy crescendo dissolves into brief chaos before silence takes it.
Hidden Track
This is the first of two unlabeled compositions on the disc. After a couple minutes of silence electronic sounds and processed vocals enter. It dissolves into insectoid tones.
Hidden Track 2
A short reprise of the processed words followed by a quick buzzing shows up to end the disc.
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