Double albums are probably the most difficult to achieve. They are highly hit-or-miss in nature, and can be extremely successful or a major flop. There’s only a handful of double albums that generated tons of praise among their initial release due to not only their music, but also due to their concepts. Double albums often have a concept to go along with it, and if not, then at the very least a common theme to accompany the music. As is the case with the music, the concept itself can also be a major hit-or-miss situation. Arcane enter the fray as a band built out of proggers from down under, with ties to another great Aussie band in Caligula’s Horse. Over two hours long and complete with two substantially different discs, the band not only gave us a super interesting album, but a double album that suffers none of the common pitfalls as some of its predecessors.
We begin with the first disc, Known, which features progressive metal. This 70-minute journey is made up of only 8 songs with an average run time of around 8 minutes each and a closing song that is 23 minutes in length. While the genre is no stranger to long songs, accomplishing one song of such length is a feat in itself, and one the band seemed to take on full force. It cohesively brings elements from all over the first disc together in the best way possible, giving a few sparse moments to rest between transitions. Aside from the closer, the rest of the first disc is just pure prog in all its glory. One aspect that will immediately grab you attention is the vocal work of Jim Grey, who sounds like a cross between Maynard James Keenan and Ian Kenny (of Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer and Karnivool fame, respectively). When his voice really gets going, it takes of like a flock of birds circling overhead as the sun sets in the background. While he abstains from harsh vocals, his vocals sound menacing at times and deliver a nice punch at the precise moment it is needed. The rest of the first disc is filled with plenty to love, from blast beats to super fun keyboard melodies and even some post-rock thrown in there. After 70 minutes you’ll be ready for a break, and that’s what the second disc is meant to do.
The second disc is just under an hour in length, but in contrast to the first disc, Learned becomes a softer beast, full of clean/acoustic guitars, hardly any distortion, and beautiful harmonies. Once again, vocalist Jim Grey shines bright, but the rest of the band also begin to come into their own and show their talents. Acoustic guitars, somber bass lines, and perfectly placed keyboard parts all intertwine with the toned-down drumming of Blake Coulson to create a beautiful piece of music. Both albums are really meant to be listened from start to finish as if they were one and the same, and while they don’t necessarily fade into one another, they work really well when transitioning from one to the other. It came as more of a surprise that the second disc was devoid of metal and rock and instead contained ambiance and acoustics, but in the end, it was meant to be that way. After over an hour of metal, it could get a bit tedious to sit through another hour. The band must have realized this and decided to go acoustic the second disc to give listeners a breather, and it worked. After all is said and done, you’ll come to find out that there are no filler tracks, no placeholders. Everything on these two discs belongs here, and after a few listens, you’ll understand why.
At times, however, there were pictures of Maynard flashing through my head. Jim Grey sounds so much like him at certain parts that the two essentially become a hybrid, the same person. This is neither a problem nor a nuisance, because Maynard has one of the best voices in metal music, but Jim’s own style really develops when he sings on the second disc as opposed to the first. His melodies and harmonies come through in a more unique way than on the first disc, which is a nice change. This should not deter you in any way from listening to the first disc, however, because if the only problem you have is that the singer sounds great like another singer, then you can safely bet the album is a good one, at the very least.
Coming into this album, what was known about double albums still remains the same. They can be great or horribly bad, with little space in between the two. They can also be hooked together conceptually or held apart as individual songs and still work out to become a classic (see: Baroness’ Yellow/Green). But, what we learned here is that Arcane developed Known/Learned to be its own special double album, one that sits apart from its contemporaries. And indeed, after repeated listens, it sets itself apart from the rest by employing some beautiful acoustic songs with some really heavy metal songs. After what must have been an arduous writing/recording process, the band can finally take a breather knowing that they’ve given us a modern prog journey that never overstays its welcome, and shows the world how a bands both big and small can make double albums work with enough commitment and passion for the one thing that matters most: the music.
Arcane – Known/Learned gets…