ARKONA – “SLOVO”
NAPALM RECORDS (2011)
Russia is a country which has constantly flirted with art, ever since the time that the first Varangian merchants begun to take full advantage of the country’s interconnected waterways in their attempt to reach the shores of Byzantium. This mixture of cultures and nations, whose power and might reached its zenith with the formation of the Soviet Union on the 30th of December 1922, was the main catalyst in the creation of a very unique artistic school of thought – one that is as much responsible behind the creation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic “War and Peace” as it is of Gorky Park’s same-titled release. Arkona is another Moscow-based band that currently works toward attracting our attention – a band whose musical orientation, however, is much different than that of Gorky Park, as rather than trying to embrace and celebrate western culture they look towards local folklore and Slavic myths for inspiration, all of which being clearly evident in their latest studio effort “Slovo”.
I have to be very honest with you; I was initially not particularly excited by the prospect of reviewing Arkona’s sixth full-length album simply on the basis that they are being promoted as a Pagan/Folk Metal outfit. Why? Let’s just say that I am not the biggest fan of any style of music whose main effect on people involves plastic sword waving and dancing around in circles looking absolutely ridiculous while, at the same time, spilling your beer or any other drink of choice, to those standing next to you. Luckily for me, Arkona is not such a band! Even though there are a couple of moments in the album where the stereotypes of the genre do ‘grace’ us with their presence, the album is predominantly focused in beautiful choral melodies, heavy riffs and dark atmospheric passages, all of which are being enhanced by Maria “Masha Scream” Arhipova’s diverse vocal performances. Though not in constant agreement with the band’s artistic choices, I soon found myself becoming quite appreciative of the album’s varied nature and, even as I write these very words, I feel that it is one of the most impressive releases that this genre has seen in recent years.
The album kicks off with the two minute epic-sounding “Az’” – a composition whose main symphonic theme, accompanied by simple but very fitting cello and bag pipe performances, put me in a very positive mood. It was not long after that I was to realize how unusual this band really is, as I cannot think of another composition which combines hyper-fast drumming, melodic sing-along choral vocals and Cradle Of Filth influenced riffs as well as the five minute “Arkaim” does. “Bol’no Mne” is the first highlight of the album, combining moody acoustic guitar passages and epic orchestral arrangements with dark narrative style vocals performed in the band’s native language. It was fairly disappointing to me that such an epic composition was to be followed by the average and, quite frankly, outward messy “Leshiy” but I soon found comfort in the epic tunes of “Zakliatie” and the eerie background themes of “Predok”. “Nikogda” is another strange composition that features fast riffs and brutal vocals of Cannibal Corpse nature – much different to the acoustic guitar themes of “Tam Za Tumanami” that follows. In the short narrative piece “Potomok” a personal touch is added as the narrator is Maria’s young son, whereas the same-titled “Slovo” finds the band indulging in guitar riffs that have much in common with late period Katatonia. The last part of the album is as varied as the first, with the militaresque themes of “Odna” and the epic arrangements of “Zimushka, on one hand, battling it out against the cheesy accordion melodies of “Stenka Na Stenku” and the simple theme of “Vo Moiom Sadochke” on the other.
I really feel the need to point out once again the fact that when I begun listening to “Slovo”, I did so being in a not so positive mood but my attitude towards the band’s fourteen track album changed for the better with every new spin I decided to give it. I do feel that there are a couple of songs that this album could easily do without but, then again, this is only the opinion of a person who prefers his Epic Metal to lead closer to the dark side of things. I am quite impressed by what these guys have to offer and I do believe that, with a little bit more experience, they will one day manage to bring their unique blend of Pagan/Folk Metal into a wider audience and, based on what “Slovo” has to offer, they have indeed my full support.
Rating: ***1/2 (3.5/5.0)
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