Review Summary: A step in the right albeit even more grandiose direction for Arkona, proving to also be a vast improvement on the sometimes lacklustre soundscapes of 'Lepta'.
By 2005, even though they were little over three years old, Arkona had fully established their sound, and in the process also made themselves known within the genre of Folk Metal, though not by much. 'Vo Slavu Velikim!' sees the band take everything up a notch musically. The title itself certainly refers to a victorious time in the history of Russian folklore, the real meaning being 'For the Glory of the Great'. This isn't exactly perfect English, but one can grasp the idea that Arkona finally wanted to pay homages to the past heroes or warrior of Russian culture, as opposed to the significance of traditional holidays, music and geographical locations.
If you've heard the band's previous two albums to this one, you'll know that the structure is somewhat different. For instance, the first and introductory song, 'Kolymiyka', is merely over a minute long and features some narrative work from Masha, who also contributes to the use of the flute and some acoustic guitar interludes throughout the album. Up until the release of 'Vo Slavu...', Masha had only really sung or growled her way through every song, so it makes for a nice change to hear her actually speaking in her natural voice. Admittedly this technique is a traditional aspect of Folk Metal, but Arkona once again seem to make it work against an atmosphere that is already epic enough by way of the various folk instruments. Some listeners may tire from the consistent use of narrative passages of Masha and the various short interludes throughout the album, but once again, this is what could be called 'True' Folk Metal. That said, there are instances where Arkona do return to the historical influences of 'Vozrozhdeniye'. 'Rus' Iznachal'naya' (Primordial Rus), which is introduced via a male narrator, returns to the past of the state of 'Rus' Khanagate', now part of northern Russia.
The music itself has differed slightly, but not by much. There are additional folk instruments, yet they do not have as big a part of the album as the flute or Masha's narrative speaking, which is something that would be improved upon on the band's latter records. Whenever they are used, they seem to have their moment for five or ten seconds, and then go back to the normal guitar riff+thundering drums+flute solo+Harsh/Clean vocals formula. That isn't an exaggeration by the way, it really is the standard structure of an Arkona song. Masha is also very useful when it comes to choir work, as the songs themselves seem to be much more 'engaged' than on 'Lepta', where pretty much every song (bar the instrumental 'Epilog', of course)stuck to the same instruments all the time. This makes for a nice change, but that doesn't mean to say the band hadn't let up on their aggressive delivery, because 'Vo Slavu...' actually features some very well executed Black Metal riffs.
The basic instruments themselves, including the now more prominent use of the flute, also contribute to the album in a very helpful way. For once, the guitars and drums both have their own significance, featuring some extravagantly brilliant performances from Sergei Lazar and Vlad Artist. On 'Po Syroi Zemle' (translated into English as 'On the moist Ground'), the album's longest song, Lazar's very technical solos and riffs are all supported by the fact that they can stand up well against Masha's harsher vocal delivery, and on the extremely folk-influenced 'Tuman Yarom' (Another traditional Russian song from three centuries ago), Artist's drum work develops a sense of pride and victory, that only Russian Folk Metallers Arkona could produce.
Even though this is one of Arkona's better works, there are still minor flaws to be found, yet again. Two of the three instrumental songs (if at all the listener perceives either of them as an actual song), 'Velikden' (translated as 'Great Day' in English) and 'Vyidi, Vyidi Ivanku' (Yet another song from Russian folklore) both run under or around one single minute, where barely any instruments are used at all. The former merely relies on noises of Russian wildlife and a few flute notes (which could be useful as an outro to any of the longer songs), whereas the latter does favour the flute, but goes over the same monotonous note over and over again. Fillers are frequent in Folk metal, that is true, but as a band like Arkona had never used any of these structural techniques before, it was perhaps a change for the worse. What also may irritate the listener, purely based on personal preference, is one that has recurred in the band's entire career:The fact that everything sounds epic and atmospheric to the point where you wonder why the band even use guitars, drums and bass to make their music stand out.
That may seem like a lot of negative aspects, but it is merely two. What 'Vo Slavu Velikim' is, is both a progression of the band's more basic musical formulas and an invitation of even more additional folk instruments, purely from the land of Russia. If you didn't like the band's previous two albums, Arkona's third album (like 'Lepta') probably won't change your mind about the band at all. Here Arkona prove once again that they can stand out in a crowd of too many bands, arguably lumped in the same genre.