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Sean16, August 15th, 2009

The most interesting feature of the only demo from well-known Russian Pagan metal act Arkona might well be the old logo which, interestingly, featured the standard Sunwheel which was soon to be replaced by something, let’s say, more politically correct as soon as the band began to reach a wider audience. Because apart from this the three songs featured here are nearly identical to their definitive versions, production set aside. Indeed though the lineup on this demo is completely different from the following albums, Masha Arhipova has always been the creative force behind the band and at least at that time the input from other members seems to have been negligible. As for her, her performance doesn’t particularly differ from the one she’ll put out on the debut: though her range is undoubtedly narrower than on the later releases she’s already pretty solid while the occasional use of her harsh voice, especially on the first track, is already as crazy as ever. Also, no fellow male vocalist here!

Thus the sound is what will essentially make the difference, and it doesn’t especially turn to the demo’s advantage. The production, it has to be underlined, is still of excellent quality, overall very clear and natural. However, if all the instruments can be heard they also all sound a bit thin, hesitating, fragile, the voice excepted. The drums and keyboards are those suffering the most, what unfortunately takes some of the songs’ initial power: Arkona is a band which from the first day has relied heavily on keyboards to build its trademark epic atmosphere, and the fact those sound too synthetic and – why not saying it – amateurish mercilessly harms said atmosphere. Besides those familiar enough with the debut album will probably notice the lead guitars here are slightly more prominent in the mix, sometimes giving the false impression of extra guitar solos, the one around 4:30 in Rus’ working as a prime example – still present in the album version in an only slightly altered fashion, but far less noticeable.

Eventually the songs in themselves may not be the best Arkona ever wrote, but to this respect the debut isn’t their most remarkable album anyway. There’s the slow, majestic hymn Russia which gives its name to the release, but this one will nonetheless only take its full dimension live with hundreds of drunken people singing along the chorus which, let’s admit it, is rather impressive. Kolyada is the opening track and will also be the opening track on the debut, probably thanks to its lengthy keyboard intro; this very one may indeed be cited as THE song foreseeing Arkona’s future insanity with its already complex structure and alternation of epic clean chanting with more aggressive, almost black metal-ish parts. However, once again Arkona will do much, much better once it’s reached its full maturity, meaning with the indispensable Vo Slavu Velikim album. Between these Solntsevorot is a short, fast, simple, catchy track typical of the band’s early days, in the same vein of the better-known Maslenitsa though lacking the extravagance of this last song.

The bottom line you must have understood by now: in the absence of any specific material, this demo is nothing indispensable once you get the debut, which in turn isn’t the most indispensable Arkona release either. Besides these three tracks are featured at the end of all versions of the Jizn’ Vo Slavu live album (if I’m not mistaken) on which they work as a nice bonus for the fan of the band’s beginnings: they shouldn’t be considered as much more.