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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.