Arcana XXII - This Burning Darkness
Hardware Records
Iced Earth influenced Death Rock
11 songs (58:43)
Release year: 2003
Reviewed by Jay

I know what you are thinking. “Iced Earth influenced Death Rock? Has Jay gone mad? Did he take an entire cache of hallucinogenic drugs before he decided to write this review?” These thoughts are justified but that’s what Arcana XXII (read: Arcana 22) really sounds like. There is some Maiden influence as well but overwhelmingly you can hear Iced Earth crossed with some of the darker punk bands that formed the early death rock movement. The Damned, Joy Division, and Sisters of Mercy surely are influences on “Namibia’s hardest rockin’ band.” That’s right. Arcana XXII is from Namibia. The band members are of German decent however. This may be why they’re on a German label.

They cite Maiden as an influence however, their guitar work is slightly on the simplistic side. They do have the chugging riffs of Iced Earth in several of their songs. In keeping with the death rock motif, there are pseudo-surf guitar parts as well. It manages to blend well. The vocals are an interesting focal point. At times, they’re more like Matt Barlow’s style but they can quickly shift to a Dickinson or an Ian Curtis (Joy Division) style in a matter of seconds. The backing vocalist sounds almost female. The vocals are high and similar to that of Freddie Mercury. Occasionally there seems to be a bum note here and there but that can be overlooked. When it comes to the rhythm section, it’s all rock solid. Drummer Thomas Hoffmann is comparable to Richard Christy in terms of his solid hold of the kit. The production is pretty good but could be knocked up a tad. When Johann Smit sings some very low notes, the words are imperceptible at times. The bass hits are not distinct at times. These are minor flaws however and could be corrected easily on the next release.

The fault in this band lies in the composition. After sampling the first few tracks, I was able to predict with near perfect accuracy what would come next in the songs. They’re good but predictable. This is the problem with the death rock influence. Death rock songs don’t take much talent to write. This doesn’t apply to Arcana XXII, since it is evident that they are quite talented. In applying the Iced Earth motif, they extracted the sound but not the composition. It would be more interesting to see what happens if they were to jettison the death rock. We could have the first African Maiden styled band. One of the best songs on the album is “Ramses,” which has the best double bass work on the album. It also has the least death rock mixed in. Occasionally shades of Something Wicked styled chords are evidenced. The Egyptian theme is carefully crafted here. “Burning Darkness” starts off with the ambience of a surf stoner type song but escalates into a metal feast. The lead here is beautifully executed and is certainly one of the more memorable ones.

While there are highs and lows on this album, the band is worth investigating. They may not be you’re thing if you live and die by Iced Earth but they’re somewhat close. Regardless, this is an accomplishment for a Namibian metal band. Celebrate in their first major release.

Killing Songs :
Burning Darkness, Ramses, Breathing in Me
Jay quoted 70 / 100
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