Arkona - Khram
Napalm Records
Pagan Dark Metal
9 songs (74'05")
Release year: 2018
Arkona, Napalm Records
Reviewed by Alex
Album of the month

Arkona is one of the best Russian exports hands down, and that doesn’t cover just the art of metal. I am pretty proud to say that I have managed to make sure many of my nowhere near metal Russian friends got to experience it. Not sure if they necessarily liked Arkona, or became avid listeners afterward, but at the very minimum I was able to show them Russia has quality artists beyond fantastic world renowned opera singers. Whatever my friends’ attitude towards their Russian heritage was – pure arrogance or reserved humility – all of them agreed that Arkona were emissaries who made them proud. Well, I have got news for many of those people who since may have downloaded a song or two or acquired an album here and there. Arkona circa Khram is a different animal, the face of which we have seen starting to take shape on Yav, but now the transformation is complete. Get used to it, and start appreciating a new force Arkona has become. The era of Stenka na Stenku and Valenki is over.

Atmosphere creating opener Mantra, which goes to full shaman mode towards the end, should have really been titled Marevo, which can be translated from Russian as mirage, or even better haze. The closer is the same short atmosphere piece, and in between sits the whole new world Arkona is exploring. Imagine dipping your head into a barrel full of murky liquid, only to discover that if you immerse your head completely, you can actually poke through, and there is another full-blown alternative reality existing past the waterline. Think of it as another Alice in Wonderland, only you don’t have to throw your whole body down the rabbit hole, just have your ears and your brain disconnect from the current existence and go with the flow. The Wonderland Arkona depicts on Khram is pagan, harsh and mysterious. It can be explosive, when Masha “the Scream” Arkhipova becomes a bestial howling she-wolf, or receding from pressure, yet still full of rising dark emotional swells. Storm does it first, either double bass strong or full of quieter syncopation, but Tseluya zhizn’ (Kissing Life) is the totality of the new Arkona. From no joy pressing walls to clearing moments, from Masha’s screaming to children’s dialogue, the feeling of dread and of the foreboding Winter inevitably approaching is palpable. Instead of one melody which is easy to follow, Arkona makes sure you are awash in the sea of them (Rebionok bez imeni - Child without a Name), or uses all kinds of authentic wind instruments to bring something to the immediate forefront (Tseluya zhizn’). Whatever it is that they do, the pain and gloom dominate, and it is most noticeable on the back-to-back convoluted long Tseluya zhizn’ and Rebionok bez imeni, which isn’t even supposed to work, yet Arkona maintained me transfixed. The whole mood is not very conducive to clean vocals, and Masha does little of it on Khram. Wherever she does, she becomes a bright spot poking through the circling ominous clouds.

Whereas way back on Goi, Rode, Goi I thought Arkona explored some of the music from Siberian/Paleo Asian people, Khram took some notes from Russian people of the steppe. Openings of Rebionok bez imeni and V pogonie za beloj ten’yu (Chasing the White Shadow have hints of Mongol Tengger Cavalry, while the title track (translated Temple) is probably the most progressive Arkona has ever been, and you will need two brains to comprehend it. Wonder if that is where Arkona is going next? The cover Volchitsa (She-Wolf) is most Russian folk drive, and V ladonyakh bogov (In the palms of Gods) has profound piano before grinding guitars start, but whether it is Russian folk of Volchitsya or piano plus electroacoustic guitars of V ladonyakh bogov, the sense of phantasmagorical darkness, of walls closing in, of Masha being constantly possessed, that sense has the firmest of grips on Khram. V ladonyakh bogov may be titled about the palms of gods, but those certainly aren’t caressing.

As Masha’s face becomes less and less visible on Arkona’s album band pictures as of late, Yav had her partially covering her face with outstretching arms and Khram has the full on drape of hair pulled up in front, their music continues to evolve. Absolutely convinced in where they want to go, precise and powerful in their execution and musical production, Khram is destined to become a turning point for the band not afraid to make each of its albums a departure from the road well-traveled.

Killing Songs :
Tselyua zhizn', Rebionok bez imeni, V pogone za beloj ten'yu, V ladonyakh bogov
Alex quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Arkona that we have reviewed:
Arkona - Yav 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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