Recorded at CDM records studio (Moscow) in autumn 2003. Released in 2004. Re-released in English (“Revival”) in 2005.
As it happens one of my goals for the next couple of years is to return to learning Russian. For as long as I remember I’ve had a fascination with the country, and began learning the language in 1987 in preparation for a school trip to Moscow and Leningrad (as it was still called then). I still have the Russian hat and small bust of Lenin that I bought in a shop just off Red Square. But I digress…
Arkona are a Russian pagan/folk metal band whose lyrics are heavily influenced by Russian folklore and Slavic mythology. According to the Encyclopaedia Metallum, “Arkona was the last pagan Slavic city-castle destroyed in 1168 by the crusade lead by Bishop Absalon and King Valdemar the Great of Denmark.” This is their debut album.
Their music most certainly has a folk sound to it, which isn’t surprising when you realise that they include a number of traditional Russian instruments alongside the standard metal band line-up of drums, guitars and bass. Like Opeth vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt, singer Maria “Masha Scream” Arkiprova moves effortlessly between clean vocals and a death-style growl.
While I love early Skyclad, who were one of the first bands to fuse metal and folk—their first album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth (1991) is still one of my favourite albums ever, I must be honest and say that this is a style of music that I’m not usually drawn to.
But I really enjoyed this album. It’s fun, it’s melodic, and the Slavic lyrics give the songs a strength and bite that they might not have had if sung in English. The music clearly draws on traditional Russian music, being cynical for a moment you could be forgiven for dismissing this as an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest but there’s a depth and atmosphere to these songs that I imagine you can only truly appreciate if you understand the lyrics and something of the culture too.
There’s a progressive feel to this album. These songs feel like more than just songs, there’s a drama, a narrative. The songs are events to be experienced.
If you have a passing interest in folk rock or folk metal then definitely give it a spin. I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I am but there is an integrity to this music, particularly because they sing in their own language.
I’d like now to hear some of their later albums. The few of their later songs that I’ve listened to on YouTube, I’ve liked.
Review score: 85%
One of my favourite songs of theirs (not on this album), plus a great video.