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Why the hell am I still listening to folk metal? I like to think of myself as an adult, but I’m still balls-deep in love with the passionate accordion-squeezing, lute-strumming, tambourine-beating antics of all those European troubadours who look like they just came back from a marathon role-playing session.
I should know better. People who have far better taste in music than I do have laid it all out in front of me in the form of detailed reviews, essays, and hate-filled blog posts, all explaining exactly why the folk/pagan genre is shallow and rehashed, the bastard offspring of black metal musicians and nerdy people that decided to become pagan because their parents made them go to church on Sundays.
But I've accepted it. I am fully aware that the music and image that bands like Arkona produce is ridiculous and cheesy and might be slowly transforming me into some sort of white supremacist, but that cheesiness is really what makes them so appealing to me, and why albums like Vozrozhdenie work so well in my book.
Ah, yes, Vozrozhdenie, that’s the album I was going to review… It’s pretty good, I think. Definitely one of Arkona's best. Considering it was the band’s first real release, it’s astonishing how defined and distinct their sound is on here.
By folk metal standards, there aren't a whole lot of folk instruments in the mix here. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t remember hearing any folk instruments at all. The dramatic, sweeping Slavic melodies were coming instead from some well-selected keyboard patches. This doesn't hurt the atmosphere of the album at all; in fact, the synthesized choruses and orchestras make everything spectacular and larger than life, which is exactly the sort of feeling you want to get from this sort of music. This epic ‘folksiness’ (I just made up that word) isn't tacked on to the metal elements of the music, which is a mistake many lesser and shittier folk metal bands make, resulting in a God-awful patchwork quilt of different styles. Instead, the folksiness is fully integrated with the metal, resulting in a sound that comes across as unique and cohesive. Nothing on Vozrozhdenie sounds out of place.
The musicianship is excellent throughout, even though it’s not quite as hectic and technical as on some of Arkona’s later albums like Lepta or Vo Slavu, Velikim!. The guitars are often relegated to a supporting role, either accompanying the same melody as the keyboards or Masha’s vocals, or providing rhythm. That isn't to say there aren't some awesome guitar solos here and there, but they’re not the most interesting thing going on most of the time.
Masha Scream is a talented vocalist when it comes to both pretty, clean singing and harsh vocals alike, and she's the one that really brings the soul of the album. Her voice gets layered a LOT on almost every song, which can get irritating occasionally, but most of the time the layering helps the music, not hurt it.
The production, composition, and performance are all excellent, especially for a debut album. It’s a shame that this underrated gem is often overlooked in Arkona's discography.
So go listen to it, or something.
Arkona is a five-piece Russian folk/pagan metal band, they've been around since 2002, and this is their debut album from 2004. I've been listening to plenty of folk metal bands, this one is labeled pagan, and I must admit I do not really know the big difference between these three subgenres (viking, pagan, folk), but I still decided to review this album, because it's pretty good!
During this whole album I felt like I was sucked into a Russia many years ago, and it seems like a beautiful place. The album starts off with a sample of some wind and then synthesizers opening up the world, sounding really epic. The drumming slowly builds up then along with the synths, to reach a point when bass and guitar kicks ind with some interesting melodic riffing, the atmosphere is still pretty good here, and the guitars sound fits nicely. Then Mashas beautiful voice joins also (singing in Russian, and it sounds really good), there are also some harsh vocals in this song and in the whole album performed by Alexey Agafonov who have performed with other Russian folk metal bands. The song is pretty good and I feel welcome in Russia.
"Maslenitsa", the second song, only contains some faster tempo, pretty good drumming here and the synths are still very good, creating some more Russian atmosphere. Only clean vocals are present here. The album also goes into a more dark and rough black metal sound, the song "K Domu Svaroga", is pretty aggressive with Alexeys voice used as main vocals and fast riffing. The bass is also very audible, which is shown perfectly in this song. The basslines are melodic and you can hear, that there is put some effort into it. "Chernye Vorony" also has great great basslines.
The synths are also very present in some songs, "Vozrozhdenie" for instance, has thick synths creating a thick atmosphere between the verses and in choruses, where the guitar and other instruments are put more back.
The synths on the album are pretty cheerful at times, but can also be pretty dark, Mashas vocals can go from clean and beautiful down to dark and evil, she is not afraid of using her voice, and I am really liking them. They fit nicely on the album, and Alexeys vocals give some variation.
I'm pretty impressed with this album, it has great melodies and great atmosphere, and besides that are the musicans pretty good, knowing their instruments entirely and knowing how to put up some creativity so you wont get hit by boredom. And on top are the vocals top notch once again. Every folk metal fan should check out this album, it's really good, and I love this atmosphere. Welcome to Russia.
Following the release of "Ot Serdca K Nebu", the fourth full length from Russian pagan-metallers Arkona, Vic Records have seen fit to re-issue the bands first three albums in an effort to support the growing profile of the band outside their native motherland. "Ot Serdca K Nebu" really was a most excellent listen, full of what makes a lot of pagan/Viking/folk metal great (catchy melodies, driving blackened riffs) and genuine sounding Russian flavour and vigour that resulted in some deeply passionate songs.
Debut album from 2004 "Vozrozhdenie" displays a band clearly on the way to writing an album like "Ot..." as it is based primarily on vocal melodies and the lead harmonies of the keyboards but without the knack for writing with the same conviction that was to come to the band in the very near future. Album information is scant I'm afraid so deciphering whether a re-mix has been conducted in the name of these re-releases is hard to tell; but if it hasn't the production and sound quality is very good for a debut album from a band outside the primary countries of metal releases, at no point giving the indication of it being a debut album. Opener "Kolyada" in its 7 minutes is as free-spirited in it's structure as the themes of pagan and Slavic freedom mainwoman Masha Scream composes, including numerous different vocal patterns and riff structures. The dominating vocal melodies to be found in every song can be resembled to their usage in Blind Guardian enabling the band to sound so much more fluid than is actually the case with the instruments and allowing Masha's powerful screams and Eastern-tinged clean vocals to take pride of place sitting alongside heavy synth usage in the likes of "Chernye Vorony" and periods of what sounds like pipes but is probably effect-laden keyboards in "Solntsevorot". It must be said though that much of "Vozrozhdenie" begins sounding similar towards the end with the thought that we've already heard some of these hooks before with a style yet defined in amongst the masses of Turisas's and Korpiklaani's of this world wearing thin.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
Rome wasn’t built in one single day, so they say, and as it seems neither was Moscow. If Arkona (the Russian one) has now become a well-established name in the Pagan metal scene, the comparison of the band’s debut album with later works clearly reveals a long way was still to be walked. Vozrozhdenie isn’t bad, it sets up the blueprint of future Arkona and with Maslenitsa and Rus’ features two songs which were soon to become band’s classics, however it certainly isn’t the masterpiece seemingly coming from nowhere some acts will put out as their debut album – often before lacklustre followers, but that’s not the point.
Because if all Arkona albums are at first listen somehow hard to digest this one has to win the prize though. The Russian band first is perfectly unable to record a short album (with 40 minutes Lepta is an exception), second is so overblown in every aspect its exuberance is likely to turn the most austere, sober listeners down. All the more as unlike on the following albums there isn’t any folk instrument used here but only an omnipresent, overmixed keyboard which would make Windir and Moonsorrow appear simplistic. It naturally sounds kitsch as hell, but Arkona’s always sounded kitsch in some way and that’s how we love it; so over-the-top, so EPIC. But in the present case, almost sickening.
What doesn’t help is songwriting-wise Vozrozhdenie is undoubtedly the band’s weakest effort. It’s fast, in fact it probably features some of the fastest songs Arkona ever wrote, but even this epic whirlwind can’t hide the fact said songs are far less worked up than on our favourite Pagans’ other works. Compared to them there are few really memorable moments, and a close listen would quickly reveal similar melodies are sometimes recycled from one track to another (it’s particularly obvious in Koljada and Maslenitsa which are consecutive). Not to say all the songs aren’t eventually different, that they don’t show some pleasant folk tunes (Solntsevorot...), but they often rely on the same primary tricks, making the whole appear too systematic. The band’s majestic hymn to the motherland, Rus’, thus appears like an oddity, first as a slower track on an overall upbeat album, then as conveying a mood slightly deeper than what could be summed up by I run through the forests slaying everything in my way. Not that it hasn’t always been Arkona’s primary concern, ask the dead fox around Masha’s neck about this, however Arkona is also supposed to be more than that.
So Speaking about Masha "Scream" Arhipova... while she still can’t write perfect songs, her voice already sounds close to perfection. She may not make as an extensive use of her high range as on the following albums, but she’s fully at ease with all kinds of both harsh and clean vocals, making the guest male vocalist, in spite of some nice raucous growls (on K Domu Svaroga for instance), unnecessary. It’s not before the third opus Vo Slavu Velikim the band will manage to make good use of mixing male and female vocals anyway. This girl is genuinely aggressive, that’s a fact, perhaps parents should be told allowing their children to play with wolves isn’t always the best idea. Indeed, that’s probably the little lady’s barks which definitely save this release from being little more than another synth-driven pagan metal anecdote. The other musicians are pretty solid – that’s already the complete, definitive Arkona line-up – but are less given the opportunity to shine than usually. The drums are of course worth some attention, both varied and energetic with occasional blastbeats and the likes, without ever sounding brainless, however like every other instrument they’re a tad too much drowned into the keyboards ocean.
Eventually one can’t avoid mentioning Maslenitsa, the track every epic band once dreamt to write – funnily, it’s also the shortest non-interlude track Arkona ever wrote. That would have been their potential hit if they’d ever cared for hits, and of course it’s complete synths overdose; indeed Arkona nowadays seems to be willing to distance itself from this sort of songs given when asked about the Ot Serdtsa K Nebu album one of the first things Masha had stated had been... there won’t be any track like Maslenitsa. The appreciation of such a song purposely written to instantly stick into the listener’s mind all comes down to a matter of taste I guess, but let’s admit it’s masterfully crafted. Oh, I like it and I don’t care anyway.
All in all Vozrozhdenie has to be taken for what it is, the not too original debut from a band promised to a bright future. The distinctive Arkona flavour is already present especially thanks to Masha’s unique voice, it’s overall fast and refreshing and it has Maslenitsa on it, however rating it as high as the rest of Arkona’s discography would be dishonest. Besides, on a totally unrelated note has anyone noticed the original version still shows the Sunwheel into the band’s logo?
Highlights: Maslenitsa, Rus’, Solntsevorot
You know those albums, or bands, that have no personality? The ones that lack anything that stands out, or grabs you? When a band just doesn't have that magic? That's everything this album is not.
This is an amazing album of the Pagan, and very noticably Slavic persuasion. Led by a female vocalist that is extremely distinct (singing in Russian helps in that effect), singing lyrics about Paganism, Mother Russia, ravens, heritage, forests, etc.
The song writing is not at all straight forward. This isn't just simple melodic death or black metal topped off with Pagan lyrics and a little symphonics. The song structures seem slightly lax, but not aimless, with subtle time changes and almost what I'd expect from a progressive metal band in terms of direction. The symphonics, guitars, and even bass all have their roles in the music, atop the fresh drum style. The drums can sound like beats to Russian folk dances, at least that’s what I draw from it. However, there is plenty of blastbeats and doublebass. The female vocals trade on and off, or sing along with the male vocals which are frequently harsh but sometimes sing too. There is a keen, and ample, yet not unnecessary application of symphonic sounding keyboards: violin sounding effects, mystic, icy effects, sombre bells, and a frequently used flute sound that is just impeccable. The songs even border on symphonic power metal at times. Heroic, larger-than-life symphonic power metal, that is.
Heroic and grand could really sum up the scale of this album. There is copious character and dynamics in each song; every song sounds different.
I like to list pros and cons, but I honestly think this album has no cons. This is flawlessly executed, dynamic, epic-as-hell Slavic Pagan metal. An essential gem.