Review Summary: Arkona's debut succeeds in defining the band's music and making their own Slavic folkore known to an audience that may or may not be tired of the same old concept. 'Vozrozhdeniye' is one album which doesn't get bogged down in unnecessarily excessive mater
Folk metal seems to be available in many nationalities these days. Finnish, English, Swedish, Norwegian, Irish and even in some cases Scottish. However, if you were to have a conversation regarding folk metal with another person, and asked them what they thought of 'Russian Folk Metal', they would probably look at you as if you were from another planet. Of course, it's not that person's fault at all for not researching deeply into the careers of such Russian folk metal band as Arkona and Alkolost, but just a coincidence that Folk Metal tends to be much more popular in Scandinavian countries and Great Britain. Arkona are perhaps the most famous Folk Metal band from Russia, yet are still not fully recognised as important players in a genre that, regardless of whether you like it or not, can certainly stand its own ground against other sub-genres such as Black and Thrash Metal. So just why are Arkona hailed as leaders of Russian Folk Metal then? 'Vozrozhdeniye', the band's first full-length album, should answer that question with ease. It's interesting to know that the band had only formed two years prior to this release, and also that the band's main vocalist and arguably focal point, Masha “Masha Scream” Arkhipova, was a historian before the band members even met.
Translated from Russian into English as 'Renaissance' (Ironically another non-English word) or 'Revival', 'Vozrozhdeniye' sees the band vary between extreme sub-genres, as well as keeping their traditional folklore-inspired ideas fully intact. Many of the song titles here seem to bear some significant meaning to Russian folklore. 'Kolyada' (also known as 'Koleda' in some Russian dialects) is an ancient slavic Winter ritual celebrating the so-called 'Old New Year', 'Maslenitsa' is a religious and folk holiday, and 'Rus' (Full name being 'Rus' Khanagate') refers to a state that was built between the 8th and 9th Centuries by norsemen, later to become an important part of Northern Russia. It is apparent here that Arkona weren't exactly trying to make us depressed with their music at all. These three songs merely apply to happy, local events and geographically significant places, as opposed to the criminalities of war and torture, which seems to be a big part of general Folk Metal.
The most instantly recognizable thing about this album is the vocals. Wherever they stand in any of the songs on 'Vozrozhdeniye', you can be sure to find something admirable about them. The harsher vocals which dominate the title track and 'Pod Mechami' (meaning 'Under the Swords') flow incredibly well with the other instruments, as do the clean vocals, which seem to have exactly the same purpose as the keyboards-to make everything sound as epic as it can be. The transition between clean and harsh vocals is also very well executed, using such unbelievable vocal talent on outstanding opener 'Kolyada' and homage to past Norsemen, 'Rus'. Admittedly, depending on whether you are bothered by female vocals in Folk Metal or not, they can be slightly annoying on 'Vozrozhdeniye', but this is all just personal preference. Masha isn't the only vocalist here however. On some tracks Alexei 'Lesfar' Agofonov's vocals are used as a boost for the music itself, although the majority of these vocals are either whispers or shouts, as opposed to actual singing or roaring.
The other instruments used never seem to be out of sync with each other at all. The guitar work is generally fast and heavy, in the way that the second wave of Black Metal was fast and heavy, and the drums act as a suitably unique addition to the the music itself. However, you can certainly get tired of the endless uses of keyboards and atmospherics, as they seem to be the truly dominating technique running throughout 'Vozrozhdeniye', but this is Folk and Pagan Metal, so if you do get bored, do not be unpleasantly surprised.
Besides the preferences of the vocals and the atmospherics, there are minor flaws with Arkona's debut album, even if it is polished with such beautiful sounds and harmonies. Some songs seem to be purposefully drawn out longer than they should really be, as on the melodious but eventually monotonous closer 'Zov Predkov' (Call of the Ancestors). The first half of the song is basically dominated by Masha's keyboard skills, and the guitars and drums don't come in until a minute before the song itself is finished. It may act as a break from all the intensity of the Black Metal-esque influences and epic songs, but it feels as if the rest of the band, besides Masha, wanted to get their two minutes of fame-and that's another negative aspect of the album. The fact that, even though they are very well executed, the guitars, drums and bass (the latter of which being barely audible) never really have their own 'room to breathe', where atmospherics and keyboards seem to splatter a grandiose yet pompous sound over everything.
This isn't to say that Arkona's debut album isn't one of their best, because it certainly is. The band surely must have, with the obvious help of historian Masha, researched a lot to back up their take on Russian Folk and Pagan Metal, and that helps to boost the power of their music in such a way that other bands of the similar genre are almost put to shame. Many debut albums in Folk metal often fall flat on their face because of unnecessary sounds or ridiculously cheesy aspects of history. 'Vozrozhdeniye' is not one of these albums.'Vozrozhdeniye' is a breath of fresh air in a genre that, not necessarily all the time, often refers to the same themes and concepts in its music.