Arkona - Yav
Napalm Records
Pagan Metal
9 songs (67'52")
Release year: 2014
Arkona, Napalm Records
Reviewed by Alex
Album of the month
When I set out to write a pair of these weekly reviews I envisioned a symbolic fashion behind it. Both bands playing the same genre of pagan folk metal, Arkona and Zgard, encompassing our weekly slate from A to Z and one of them being from Russia, another from Ukraine – I thought I would lay down a fitful marker hoping against hope. Alas, the world is a real place with no room for desperate hope in it, and it looks like my home country of Ukraine is veering down the tragic pathway. The bands I am about to review, of course, have nothing to do with the political subject, or this pessimistic statement …

For some bands there must be a point in their career when they stop being satisfied with the confines of their genre. Then, damn be the consequences, with their next album they step out from the comfort zone by ratcheting up the complexity of their compositions. Blind Guardian went from thrash to layered symphonics, Dark Tranquillity brought in the whole newfound gothic angle to their melodic death songs and Enslaved achieved progressive heights beginning with definitive blackened roots. Whether all of the changes were embraced and welcomed is debatable, but the bands I listed just could not keep status quo anymore. I believe that Russian Arkona has joined this club with their latest Yav. Translated roughly as “apparition”, the album provides an exquisitely produced powerful display of multiple layerings. This is not Valenki or Stenka na Stenku anymore, although I have absolutely nothing against those direct-to-the-gut hits. Yav is the last thing from straightforward, yet it is the album that keeps on giving, the music you will find yourself completely immersed into, playing its songs on constant replay. Throughout it all, but not easily digested in one quick sitting, Yav is still unmistakably pagan, Slavic and profoundly Arkona.

The album is full of dark mystery, of the kind you see unfolding when staring long into the depth of an unnamed moor (see cover art). Just about every composition on Yav is full of dark swells, be it the slow beginning of Zarozhdenie, the foreboding raven cries of Zov Pustikh Dereven’ mixed with violin (played by Master Alafern from the Ukrainian bands Thunderkraft and Svyatogor) and sopilka/flute, the absolutely monumental title track or the dark brooding impersonated in V Ob’yatiakh Kramoli. To predict how Yav songs are going to unfold is futile. Uneven pulsating rhythms of Zarozhdenie battle it out with calming keyboards, whereas vocalist Masha “The Scream” Arkhipova switches from growls to clean singing. Fantastic outro provides evidence that nothing is really settled between the conflicting trends. Na Strazhe Novikh Let mixes everything from chaotic blackness to exalted pagan celebrations to almost hardcore higher pitch hysterical screams to balalaika to something that I can only describe as modern techno beats. And, guess what, it all works together beautifully as we “depart” on “after the wind” journey. Gutsul melody opens up Gorod Snov, with Ukrainian lyrics to boot, to reinforce my opening point. Ved’ma switches from traditional Russian line dancing (horovod) melody to creeping dementia. Chado Indigo opens up with captivating grand piano, goes through the decisive riffs only to be joined by piano again, along with child singing and folk wind instruments.

Masha Arkhipova, who, it is my understanding, composed a bulk of Yav deserves enormous credit. It almost seems that in emphasizing the dark wave upon wave of Arkona’s music she almost took a step into the shadows, not showcasing her powerful voice as much. You can still hear that there is a demon spirit living in that angelic appearance, but Yav is lot more than just screaming or clean singing it out. The most direct composition here is probably Serbia, a lament on behalf of the country wronged by the West, and Masha does wonderful job spilling out all pain and angst.

Closer to Goi, Rode, Goi than anything in Arkona’s prior catalog, but with much improved sound quality and unmatched compositions, I felt that Yav is going to be a truly defining album for the band. It will certainly appeal to their fans who not only sweat it out in the pit bouncing off each other’s bodies, but to those who stand in the halls swaying with their eyes closed, on their way to lands mystic and mysterious.

Killing Songs :
Zarozhdenie, Na Strazhe Novikh Let, Chado Indigo, Yav, V Ob'yatiakh Kramoli
Alex quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Arkona that we have reviewed:
Arkona - Khram reviewed by Alex and quoted 91 / 100
Arkona - Slovo reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Arkona - Stenka na Stenku reviewed by Alex and quoted no quote
Arkona - Goi, Rode, Goi! reviewed by Thomas and quoted 89 / 100
Arkona - Ot Serdtsa K Nebu reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
To see all 9 reviews click here
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