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As scenes come and go, some of those involved will be winners and some will naturally be losers, however the attention directed upon such a scene from the successes of particular bands will always fuel the fire further, and in the case of Arkona could provide their opportunity to make it big with the release of fourth album "Ot Serdca K Nebu". Arkona play a brand of 'Slavic Pagan Metal' - think the rousing euphoria of Turisas copulating with the merry jig of Korpiklaani whilst drenched in Slavic melodies and themes not unlike Drudkh at times - that should appeal perfectly to those caught up in the successes of the two Finnish Folk-influenced bands mentioned.
Like Korpiklaani, I haven't a ruddy clue what the lyrics tell being sung entirely in, presumably, Russian, Arkona's country of origin, but the music is on the whole a more sombre and battle-weary affair than those forest-dwellers, best displayed during the slow and contrite "Oh, Pechal’-Toska" and "Strela". The heavy use of traditional folk instruments gives off a strong air of authenticity, allowing me the listener to drift off during the likes of "Gutsulka" and imagine oneself in a setting somewhat similar to that depicted in Braveheart, such is the feel of an epic movie soundtrack on "Ot Serdca K Nebu". Not that the usage of bagpipes of course doesn't help in this comparison, an instrument I infact have a particular fondness for thanks to the rich and droning sound they create. Feelings of Thyrfing and Windir are apparent throughout, predominantly thanks to the Black Metal feel retained by a lot of folk-influenced bands when the shackles are dropped and the speed picks up ("Nad Propastiu Let"). Moreso than other worthy exponents of this style of Metal mentioned above, Arkona place as much, if not more, emphasis on delivering what could be viewed as an introduction to Slavic-based music rather than an offering of Metal and folk combined. "Slavsia, Rus'!" among others, despite maintaining a Metal rhythm section, is led by Slavic melodies and traditional instruments of the region, suggesting "Ot Serdca K Nebu" could be an used an introduction to anyone interested in Folk Metal or music of an Eastern European origin.
Special mention should also be extended to vocalist Masha 'Scream'. Such is her excellent handling of the choral and notably screamed vocals, I did not realise I was listening to a woman until I read their bio sheet during my 2nd or 3rd listen! The vocals melodies of "Kupala I Kostroma", so heavy that they are in an Eastern European feel a deaf man could recognise from where they originate, provide the catchiest moments that no doubt will work a treat live. Instrumental sections are frequent and a distinct Moonsorrow influence in "Sva" ensures that Arkona should tickle the fancy of fans of pretty much any bands I have mentioned. Such is the epic feel of songs like "Sva" and the weakness I have for epic music (another weakness of mine, check out the recent Primordial review for evidence!) that during these moments I feel compelled to offer "Ot Serdca K Nebu" a brilliant mark, that perhaps isn't quite justified for the album as a whole. However, this is another very good album of 2008 that I have had the pleasure of hearing and with some heavy touring should push Arkona up the increasingly-crowded ladder of Folk Metal.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net