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اسفندیار / Esfandiyar - 75%

JackOfAllBlades, January 14th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

I'm quite taken with black metal that incorporates the sounds and themes of traditional word music. There's something about the atmosphere of the genre that lends itself to that sort of fusion, and I have yet to hear a folk sound that doesn't mesh well with the style. As such, Akvan's utilization of Iranian music in this context was of great interest to me. I came first to this EP, finding its short runtime approachable and its aesthetic presentation compelling: if the cover art looked this good, the music simply had to measure up.

Fortunately, it does. Esfandiyar is a captivating listen, featuring a tar instrumental sandwiched between two metal tracks (the second of which seems to have been appended to the tracklist after first seeing release as a standalone single). The songs are compositionally sound and the performances are well above average, particularly the vocals. Hallmarks of Iranian folk music earn the EP some points for originality on their own - something that's always welcome in Bandcamp's black metal tag - but the more traditional black metal parts could easily stand on their own, too.

On "Fereydoon's Revenge", this genre fusion is realized most fully. The track begins with a hypnotic tremolo riff on electric guitar and tar. As other instruments enter, the instruments diverge and solidify an atmosphere that is as pensive and thoughtful as it is aggressive - an atmosphere that most black metal bands try to create, but only the best can. Even the extended guitar solo feels appropriate, despite the otherwise drone-like ambience of the sprawling, mesmerizing tune.

The only real misstep comes on the title track. It's not without its interesting moments; of particular note are the melodies that employ the koron and sori (what Westerners might call 'quarter-tone accidentals'). But where "Fereydoon's Revenge" lets the tar and guitar work in collaboration, on "Esfandiyar" each instrument either plays the same part as the other or disappears while the other moves to the foreground. It's a move that sacrifices everything gained by including the tar in the first place, and without it the song would just sound like regular black metal, quarter-tones or none.

Even if it does kick off with a bit of a letdown, the EP more than makes up for it. Anyone with an interest in musically aware and forward-moving extreme metal will find something to like, and I don't think it's a far reach to say that even the "metal only" crowd might find their horizons broadened somewhat after an attentive pass through this short release.