Back in May the Russian Folk Metal band ARKONA released the EP “Stenka Na Stenku” (see the review here) as pre-taste for the next studio full-length “Slovo”, which means “Word” in English. “Slovo” is the follow-up to the band’s very good “Goi, Rode, Goi!” album from 2009 (see the review here). ARKONA will later this year tour with the Heidenfest package, which also includes SKÁLMÖLD, ALESTORM, TURISAS, FINNTROLL and special guests like TODTGELICHTER, WINTERSUN and DORNENREICH, but they will not be present at all shows. The tour starts at the end of September. But let’s focus again on ARKONA’s newest ouput, which contains 14 tracks, consisting of proper songs and interludes. “Slovo” also features guest performances from the Chamber Orchestra of Kazan State Conservatory N.G. Zhiganova (under direction of Darya Ivanova) and The Choir of Moscow State Conservatory Students (under direction of Alexandra Sidorova). The release date was set on the 26th August. for info on the lyrical context and translations, go to the band’s website at this location.
For those whose knowledge of Russian is at a low level or non-existent (like me), here are the translations of the song titles:
01. The Beginning Of All Beginnings
03. It’s Painful For Me
08. Behind The Mist
09. The Descendant
10. The Word
12. In My Garden
13. Wall To The Wall
“Slovo” begins with an orchestral intro containing Folk instruments, cello, strings, brass… and percussion, which result in an epic piece of music! This rises to a climax near the end to instantly make way for powerful and rough Black Metal-ish Metal in “Arkaim”, where drums blast away at full speed. It’s a massive song, diverse in composition (e.g. hymnic at one time, rough and aggressive the next instant) and even flirting with Power Metal at a certain moment. It’s nice to hear the change in rhythm for the bridge and chorus. Melody and leads are primarily provided by Folk instrumentation. ARKONA is still a Folk Metal band somehow, even though the power of guitars (incl. bass) and drums is vital, too. The break halfway offers a moment of rest, so to speak, with its pipebags, percussion, violin… the lot, in short. The eye of the storm, as they say. After the last outburst, winds carry it all to the next song, “Bol’no Mne”, which also contains the acoustic guitar of the previous song. Cello input is responsible for the leadwork and it’s as if the guys from APOCALYPTICA were asked to play this part. While the acoustic composition carries on, fast Metal is added. The acoustic input is dominant here (as it also ends the song), yet there is also room for a choir moment where Masha sings with her typical hymnic voice, and even throws in some narration. So far, so very good. No complaints at all from my part.
Three tracks done, 11 more to go. And the middle-section of the tracklist, track 4 ’till (and included) 9, are not as strong, at least not like previous efforts. The production is very good, the execution ditto. That’s all fine. “Leshiy” begins with the accordion playing a relatively happy tune. The guitar takes over and the music carries on with a dancey rhythm. Masha’s rough vocals give the song a rough edge and that is also due to the Russian language itself. Maybe that roughness is more than needed. Musically you won’t find much Folk in this song, the emphasis lies on guitar, bass and drums, although there are violin accents, added with flute and similar. The aforementioned accordion returns in the chorus, where the music is played at a higher pace. Overall not that bad and very different from the previous tracks, but still… I personally found it less appealing. “Zakliatie” has a spoken intro at first, then meditative music and sung vocals follow, a bit like in the song “Slavsia, Rus” (off the album “Ot Serdca K Nebu”, 2007). The whispering comes back at a later instant and even if it has a function, I’m not so fond of it. But salvation, to some extent, is near as the Metal kicks in with Folk input. As the song evolves and advances near the end, the flame goes out with a furious outburst.
“Predok” is an atmospheric, spoken interlude. Pretty good. This takes us the the battle that is fought in “Nikogda”. This is a dark song, and yet positive when looking at the lyrical context. The music is rough at first, but you get the typical humpa-rhythm over halfway together with a higher Folk influence. “Tam Za Tumanami” is an acoustic Folk song with clean vocals and choir, which sounds – musically – a bit more hopeful, despite being about a warrior who died and his lover waiting for him to return or until they are reunited in the afterlife. In “Potomok”, another hymnic song, you can hear a child doing the main (spoken) vocals. Now, these 6 songs are far from bad and the lyrics are interesting (judging by the translations on the band’s website, since my Russian is non-existent), but musically I didn’t find these songs as strong as what can be found on ARKONA’s previous albums or even the tracks that preceded or follow them.
The last five tracks are all highlights. “Slovo” is a midtempo Folk Metal song with acoustic passages, while “Odna” contains wolf howling to get you in the mood and create the right setting in your mind. Folk with percussion comes in, while Masha sings in a clean way. Add Metal and growls and you get a different result, which contrasts nicely. But that reverts again to the Folky stuff with a hurdy-gurdy, if I heard right, to then finish the song with a final outburst. Another acoustic Folk tune is “Vo Moiom Sadochke”. “Stenka Na Stenku” comes off the same-titled EP that was released earlier this year and last but not least there is “Zimushka”. Atmospheric at first, but then the Metal flows along in an on-off pattern. Masha is assisted on vocals by Tatiana Narishkina from the band VEDAN’ KOLOD’.
ARKONA continues on “Slovo” where “Goi, Rode, Goi!” left off. Fans of the band need not worry and can buy this new album blind. The sound is good, the songs are typically ARKONA and you get a varied tracklisting. The interludes and acoustic passages help create a certain atmosphere and translate the feelings and emotions in the lyrics as good as possible, but it’s not always a hit. At least, depending on what you like on a musical level. Although you cannot really go wrong with “Slovo”, I do consider it a step back compared to the previous albums.
- Bol’no Mne
- Tam Za Tumanami
- Vo Moiom Sadochke
- Stenka Na Stenku
Masha “Scream” – vocals
Sergej “Lazar” – guitars
Ruslan “Kniaz” – bass
Vlad “Artist” – drums
Rating:More info at www.arkona-russia.com