Arkona – “Khram” (Napalm Records)
Titled after the Russian word for temple, Arkona return after 4 long years with this 8th offering. If the blackish elements were evident on predecessor “Yav”, then “Khram” takes this on full force! Compared to the band that brought us the crowd rousing chants on “Goi, Rode, Goi!” today’s Arkona are a far more serious band, incorporating even death doom into their music, making for a far darker experience and pagan intensity comparable to Primordial or Moonsorrow. With most of the songs beginning at over 7 1/2 minutes (!), these Russians are also aiming at more epic masterpieces, which I have to commend given the band obviously want to show their composing and musicianship while evoking massive pagan atmospheres that the 10 tracks pull off magnificently. Charging in with ‘Shtorm’ the barrage of double bass drumming and heavy bass are contrasted brilliantly by crystal clear guitar melodies and a number of sounds including folk woodwind instruments and the equally alternating roars from Masha Scream along with her soulful harmonies and synth melodies. In stark contrast is ‘Volchitsa’ with Sergei Atrashkevich’s tender guitar infusions and the choral harmonies laying the foundation for growing intensity by Andrey Ishchenko’s tribal drums, all the while accompanied by Ruslan Rosomaherov’s deep hewn bass lines which are nicely prominent in the mix. It all definitely adds to the atmosphere here that reaches a climatic peak of spiritual intensity with bestial roars and wild animalistic screams before returning to the ambient splendor of Vladimir Reshetnikov’s medieval woodwind melodies – fantastic! Heading into the mammoth 17 minute ‘Tseluya Zhizn’ Rosomaherov’s strummed bass almost takes on rhythm proportions as the drums thunder and crash to a mix of vocal styles and Atrashkevich’s metallic guitar melodies adds to the intense pagan fusion. Almost divided into sub sections although without any break, some of which repeat the pagan folk pattern while others bring in new sounds like ambient electronics with weird child talking samples a la “Resident Evil”, cellos and brass parts, the track seems to take on cinematic sound track proportions – all making for quite a live experience I’m sure! “Khram” is without doubt Arkona’s deepest release and while it might come as a shock to some – not to mention a demanding listen – it is also reflective of an imaginative and artistic expression that many would fear to tread.