Dim Arcana is an Italian duo. It was founded with the aim to give a voice to the people of medieval times ridden with plague and suffering, and to serve as a gateway for journeys to those times. This is the band's debut full-length and second release in total, the previous one being an EP entitled Yersinia.
The album opens up peacefully; some low-pitch droning ambient hums and waves in the background for seven minutes with, with some latin preaching and small sound-effects topping it here and there. Some rhythms pop up on occasion, but for most part the song relies on the vast droning blackness. What at first seemed peaceful is now oppressive. After the brief spoken bit "Introduzione," its eight-minute follower takes this oppression further. It relies on slightly heavier but still soft-edged ambient droning as well, but it has been given stronger rhythms and additional detail, such as some small but all the more eerie synth-sounds. The track also features male vocals spoken in Italian, which are present in almost all of the songs. The music paints the setting, the listener's imagination provides its events, and the spoken vocals deepen and explain them. Sadly I don't understand Italian, but those who do can read the lyrics from the booklet.
The whole album is based on vast, minimalistic drones with embedded small details to keep the listener's senses acute, along with the aforementioned vocals that tie the songs together - the end result is almost like a play with different scenarios. The song "Lux Obscura" brings out both the folk- and noise-elements in the duo in the form of some distorted horns and reeds. The following song takes these elements even further with its balancing between utter minimalism, noise-distortion, ethnic rhythms and reeds and ambient-organs. All the elements drift further apart and gain more time in the spotlight the further the album progresses; "La Vestale..." has both electric guitar-distortion and basic synth-loops, "Le Sue..." is an dark and slow-paced European folk-song with a brief electronic noise-attack, and the list goes on. One more I have to mention is "Promessa...": it's opening is driven by simplistic electro-loops of piano and cellos, but later it morphs into a manifestation of terror. Bold and ruthless analogue-synth abuse noise tied together to shrieks of torment and low growls appearing all of a sudden is a true shocker, or at least it was so for me.
The album is truly a bold one, as the different elements are generally not mere "hints of x," but truly potent excerpts of those styles; be it either minimal dark ambient, noise or folk. All the more perplexing is the fact that for the most part these differences come together seamlessly. All the songs commend each other, even out their most extreme differences (such as the most plastic beats here and there) and create a flow from one scenery to another. This is an album you must concentrate on to enjoy it; the flow is what matters here, the switching balances in the dark and oppressing atmosphere. The most minimalistic moments cannot sustain if you are subjected to background noise, and the soundscapes won't reveal their subtle details unless you give them your attention. The sepia-shades and medieval imagery of the booklet further uphold the album's feel, and keep you from realizing you're listening to a product of modern times.
The album has a commendable flow and structure, and its play on dynamics and varying approaches to its themes help it retain its appeal. The only real downside comes with the noise- and electronic bits, as they have a less originality and character than the rest of the album, and thus stand out a bit in a negative way and give the atmospheres a cold slap on the face. They do give the album extra variation, but it's still something that could and should have been done better. This blending of modern and medieval approaches asks for an open mind and patience to focus on the album, but in the end the effort is rewarded.