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Alkonost are present for quite a time on the metal scene and they have crafted a style of their own. While many folk bands use traditional instruments or keys that emulate them, Alkonost does neither. While many folk bands use complex structures and instrumentation, Alkonost doesn't.
Alkonost do use keys, but they don't emulate any traditional instrument, as they are mainly used for atmosphere and to support guitars, rarely they are given a leading role. What creates the folk vibe are the guitars. Lead guitars create beautiful folk melodies, often played in harmonies, rhythm guitars constantly chugg along to provide a heavy rhythm. They have a full, thick, and rich sound to them, the bass follows the guitars and the drums are aptly played, with good transitions between song parts and good fills, beats are often characteristic for slavic folk music (6/8, 4/4). The melodies played by the guitars are simplistic, but very beautiful, being very similar to slavic folk music - simple, repetitive, but beautiful. Each song consists of one main melody that is repeated throughout the song, with sometimes slight variation; sometimes a keyboard played break is heard, or a guitar solo, but mainly it's a variation of the main theme played by the harmonized dual guitars.
Every song thrives in its majestic length, all being above 6 minutes. The tempo of the album is mainly slow to mid-paced, with some faster parts. Alkonost creates a melancholic, sorrowful atmosphere, which is sometimes very dark. Lyrics written entirely in russian are very poetic and enhance the whole dark brooding atmosphere. They have a strong pagan theme (forests, nature), as well as a rustic undertone, as many slavic folk songs deal with such topics - nature, peasant life. But, don't expect iddylles or pastorales, everything here is dark. Death, sorrow and fear are feelings and topics that dominate here, which suits the band name well.
Alkonost has two vocalists. Male vocals consist of growls, some shouted parts and cleanly sung parts as well. Growled parts work as opposition to female vocals, shouted vocals appear to enhance some particular ideas, while clean parts are never solo, but are sung together with female vocals, resulting in a very interesting effect. But, what sets Alkonost apart from others is their female vocalist - Alena. They are of the operatic kind, a rarity among folk bands, especially female ones. Female vocals are leading, which is a bit of a surprise. They are stunningly beautiful. Alena's alto vocals are sung with great skill, as good technically as emotionally.
I see Alkonost labelled as gothic, but why is just beyond my ken. I guess having female vocals and a dark atmosphere automatically means gothic. But this doesn't have any remotely gothic ressemblance. Also, why every band with female operatic vocals is similar to Nightwish? Stupidity! Operatic vocals are the only common ground of the two. Nightwish has not gone pagan here. What a joke...
I urge everyone who didn't discover Alkonost to do it, as this music is just made for pure and unhindered enjoyment. Highly atmospheric and evocative, listeners will remind themselves why music is art. Don't expect music ''to rape and pillage to'', as it's not. Just listen this after a hard working day to be fully absorbed by this pristine beauty.
First off, I would say that a comparison of Alkonost to Nightwish is less-than-correct. Just because they both have operatic female vocalists permanently installed in the band does not mean it's an appropriate comparison. Just because they both use keyboards does not validate the match either. Instead I would say that these two bands are as different as night and day. You have to recognize the fact that both Alkonost and Nightwish have been around and writing music for the same amount of time, over ten years.
Alkonost would have an easier comparison to Amorphis, in that the primary element in the writing style comes from their ethnicity and folklore. The thing I find most intriguing about Alkonost is that Russian pagan folklore is something very arcane to anyone who hasn't studied it. Mostly when you hear of Russian folklore it'll usually be something to do with cossacks and the surf, the adaptation of Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium or the life of Alexander Nevsky. Alkonost has made Russian pagan folklore a very palatable and alluring subject matter through their music.
That being said, the subject here is really their 2006 release, "The Path We Never Made". Much of their material on other albums have been slower, ballad-paced waltz-time melodies, with occasional songs in a common-time triplet fashion, like on "Songs of the Eternal Oak" or "Between the Worlds". This recording, on the other hand, is much more upbeat. The first song, which translates to "The Forest Voices", does start right away with their trademark guitar triplets in 6/8 time, which is also sometimes referred to as waltz time. It is faster and stronger than most of their other tunes. The death vocals used are more aggressive than usual. Still, the vocals aren't outright attacking, but they're definitely not "mailed in" like on some of their other albums. Operatic vocalist Alena Pelevin is in fine form for this song, taking on half of the vocal work.
The second song, "The Indiscernible Path", can definitely give you the feel that this album will end up sounding all the same. The guitar triplets start in again (after the keyboard), this time in 4/4 time (common time), and with much more of a tag-team effect with the vocal efforts, each stanza being shared by Alena and the male vocalist, Alexey Solovyov. Still, the song is very upbeat and able to retain the listener's attention.
At this point, it would be important to discuss the issue of sameness among the songs on the album and the philosophy behind their writing. Many, mostly Westerners like Americans and Western Europeans might view the notion of sameness in the songs as being boring and trite. The other side to this coin would obviously be the notion of sticking to what is proven to work. If one listens to a lot of folk music, the only conclusion is that it all sounds very much the same within the culture. Folk music serves a much different purpose, as the music is not an end to itself but rather a means of delivering a message or feeling. Most Irish folk music, for example, is used to tell stories in a celebratory setting such as a pub. This aspect absolutely must be understood before judging even a folk-metal artist too harshly for being "samey."
The last track on the album, "Heat-Lightning Thoughts", is definitely the most aggressive song on the album. There's a good deal of variety in the vocal deliveries in this tune, a little bit of letting loose from the traditional structures.
All in all, this album is very enjoyable if you very much appreciate the folk-metal genre. I give it a 91 out of 100.
Alkonost is a Russian folk metal band with an already consistent discography I however discovered only recently with this album. Being the only one I’ve heard so far, I must say it doesn’t seem to justify alone the overall praise this act receives. As, if a female-fronted Russian folk/pagan band almost can’t avoid the comparison with Arkona, Arkona is easily winning here. Alkonost doesn’t offer many things in common with their fellow folk-metallers anyway, except maybe a remote name consonance.
Music on this release flows very easily, almost too easily, as it doesn’t really take the time to stick into the listener’s memory. It’s not that the songs are too short, as they’re indeed exactly the contrary: four tracks clocking above eight minutes (and the remaining ones only slightly below) is what one would expect from a good doom release, not really from a folk-inspired one. Without mentioning they don’t sound especially grandiloquent or epic a la Moonsorrow, what could be a worthy reason for their length, but on the contrary again they’re all pretty soft and simple. More-Son (The Dream Sea) is even a genuine ballad – an eight-minutes long ballad! That alone should tell you how aggressive this work overall is.
Song are built in a very systematic fashion, on a short handful of lively folk airs without any tempo change, adventurous break or unexpected solo, what ends up making them predictable and monotonous, a flaw which would have stayed far less obvious had all of them been shortened from two or three minutes. For instance Noch Pered Bitvoj (The Night before the Battle) may be one of the best tracks, still was it really necessary to repeat this annoying chorus? Or, why beginning the closing track by a useless 1:30 long sleep-inducing keyboard-driven intro? Of course the music is overall far from being disagreeable as most of the tunes are fast-paced, the musicians all play fluently, the vocalists aren’t unpleasant and the production sounds clean and clear – even probably too clear for this sort of metal – but the songwriting just doesn’t follow. One might occasionally distinguish, behind the folk-ish varnish, some riffs and melodies reminding of Iron Maiden or Running Wild, but again this isn’t sufficient to make this record memorable.
In addition of this let’s admit everything also smells a bit too much of synths and keyboards, as it’s always a pity to listen to a folk-inspired release where not even the slightest trace of any “traditional” instrument can be heard – not a single accordion, fiddle, flute or pipe, only keyboards which stink like keyboards from ten miles away! What surprisingly brings another unexpected band in the lot, after Iron Maiden and Running Wild – Nightwish. A Nightwish which would have gone pagan, but Nightwish nonetheless with a similar overuse of keyboards and also a similar-sounding female vocalist, with the difference Alkonost’s singer is always singing in tune though, and that the amount of harsh male vocals is far higher.
And as with Nightwish, those songs end up devoid of any strong atmosphere, in spite of the large amount of folk tunes used. While this album is undoubtedly well-done it nonetheless lacks the energy of Arkona or the deep melancholy of their fellows from Svarga; it’s otherwise not happy and carefree enough to supplant Korpiklaani as your favourite drinking band, and above all songs are too long to become truly catchy. Alkonost delivers here a standard exercise in keyboards-laden folk metal, but it’s an exercise which is asking for more thickness and substance. But once again, I’ve heard only this album so far.
Highlights: Golos Lesov (The Forest’s Voice), Noch Pered Bitvoj (The Night before the Battle)
The legion from Russia has released a new album. It’s mostly interesting how the Russia and Ukraine have great folk bands. Alkonost is one of them. “The Path’s We Never Made” is no exception. Released by Metalism Records and with great artwork you see that album will be great.
When you play the first track you will hear nice folk melodies. As they continue through the album you can say it’s done like a one long track. Great female vocals with additional rough male vocals won’t spoil the music. In fact the main atmosphere is made by them. On most part of the album female vocals are lead. Growl and scream vocals are just there to present the anger of the pagan spirits. Guitars are what is most interesting on the album. Usually the keys have lead part in folk melodies, but this time guitar has the main role. Keys also play folk melodies but they are in line with guitar. The only thing I didn’t like are the drums that sound more like the rhythm machine (probably they are), but it still doesn’t spoil the good music that Alkonost brought on the album.
So for the fans of folk metal this album is “got to have”. Really you won’t regret it.