Ok, I'll admit it. Everything I know about Russia I learned from watching "Rocky IV" and that's not very much. That being the case, I knew I was in for a challenge with the latest album from Arkona titled "Yav". To be honest, upon receiving "Yav" in my inbox and reading the description, I became a little nervous when I saw that Arkona is a "Pagan Folk Metal" band. Here's the kicker, though; it turns out I'm a fan of Russian pagan folk metal.
There are so many things about the new album "Yav" from Arkona to discuss, I fear I may lose some focus. From the fact that they're a female fronted metal band, they're from Russia, to their terrific album cover. Ah, the lost art of album covers. I could go on and on just about that. Whoops, lost focus there. Let's just stick to the music.
The more I read about the history of Arkona the more I realize how little I know about Russia. This review is going to be a little short on details as all of Arkona's lyrics are, of course, in Russian. I don't speak Russian. Not even a little bit. I have no idea what lead singer, Maria "Masha Scream" Arkhipova, is saying. But that really doesn't matter much.
Suffice it to say, the lyrics are apparently based on Russian folklore and Slavic mythology. What matters here is the music. Prepare yourself for a taste of Russian, pagan, folk metal. It's a trip, man.
The album kicks off with the song "Zarozhdenie". The first 30 seconds are a very Zen "om" chant followed by some ethereal noises and then it slams into a brutal guitar riff. I love this sort of juxtaposition of sounds. Through the layers of traditional metal you can hear what sounds like a mandolin, some keyboards and the powerful vocals of "Scream". What a voice! Masha Scream will throw you off balance as she alternates between a death growl and an incredibly pleasant singing voice.
Fans of progressive drumming will love the percussion on this album, skillfully performed by Vlad "Artist" (all five band members have nicknames).
There are many, many layers and styles going on throughout "Yav". There's the metal guitar played by Sergei "Lazar", an array of sounds on the keyboard, a demonic chorus backing things up and the stellar playing of Ruslan "Kniaz" on the bass. The songs are punctuated with a variety of traditional folk instruments provided by the talented Vladimir "Volk". Eclectic? I should say so.
The fact that I didn't understand the lyrics may have actually enhanced my enjoyment of the songs. I wasn't distracted by the message being conveyed. Instead I was left listening to the voice as an instrument. At times, Scream is speaking and then she's growling. Then, without warning, she's singing a beautiful melody.
Track two, "Na strazhe novyh let", is a more aggressive cut with some super fast double kicking in the drum department and then a change into a reggae-esque beat supplemented with instruments which are definitely folk in nature but I had some trouble identifying them.
"Gorod snov" starts with what sounds like bagpipes but not bagpipes like I've ever heard before. Then metal guitars, piano and, toward the middle, a heartbeat breakdown.
Are you starting to notice a trend? Each songs is complex, to say the least. Generally, they bounce between styles and rhythms without losing any intensity. If you enjoy the work of Mark Deutrom or Animals As Leaders and the like then you'll get a kick out of Arkona.
The most easily accessible song on the album is "Ved'ma" if only because it has a more traditional song structure and some really great riffs throughout. But for a really great experience, you'll have to check out the 13:26 epic "Jav". This song summarizes everything Arkona is in a large nutshell.
If you kept reading past the part where I mentioned "Russian pagan folk metal" then I think you're open minded enough to listen to, and enjoy, "Yav". It's different. There's no doubt about that. I recommend you listen to this album in its entirety and listen on some quality equipment so you don't miss any of the subtlety contained therein. It's good, well played, high quality music. I do have a favor to ask, though. If you speak Russian, could you let me know what Scream is singing about. I hear it's pagan.