Review Summary: 'Slovo' will definitely satisfy fans of the band, but will do absolutely nothing for those who have tired of Arkona's brand of extreme Folk/Pagan Metal.
You may or may not have tired from the majority of Arkona's discography, partly due to the band's repetitive formula of ('Insert relevant folk Instrument here')+Scything Black Metal guitars+blast beats+clean vocals/choir work, and perhaps also to their unbelievably long album works of late (Read my review of 'Goi, Rode, Goi!' for more analysis of lengthy albums). But what has kept the band from straying too far from their ambitiously scoped career path is their unique ability to make something truly stand out, obviously helped a great deal by the powerful range of Masha's vocals and the originality of using folk instruments. Thankfully however, they never seem to exploit these talents too much.
'Slovo' sees the band taking a few different routes to the aforementioned musical formula. Automatically from the get-go of 'Az'' (meaning simply 'I') the music itself seems to be much more coherent than on past efforts ('Lepta' in particular). Not only that, but via the excessive use of violins and harmonics, a classical influence seems to have taken place in the song-writing process, not to mention the choirs this time round having their own significance rather than merely synchronizing themselves with whichever vocal range Masha is taking.
Of course, what hasn't changed at all is the themes and ideas recurring throughout Arkona's career, in which the significance of geographical locations ('Arkaim'), mythological characters ('Leshiy') and even references to the band's own national weather ('Zimushka'). I'm not at all forgetting the awkwardly titled 'Bol'no Mne' (meaning ironically 'I'm in Pain'-a reference to the Obituary track of the same name, perhaps"), which, for a Folk Metal band, seems strange. Nevertheless, the band do still have their 'happy' moments, albeit only with one song on the whole of the album. 'Leshiy', perhaps a bit too happy for it's own good, is introduced via accordion, and basically relies on the same recurring note throughout, with heavy bouncing guitars looming in the background. It sounds like an admirable type of Folk Metal anthem, but when Masha tries to make her vocals flow with the accordion, it just doesn't sound quite right at all. In fact, it sounds as if she's trying too hard to 'go with the flow', as it were.
What also hasn't changed is the use of basic instruments such as the scything guitars, which play a very significant part of the album, as well as the thundering drums, which serve as an apt sidekick in contributing to the overall Black Metal influence of the music in general. The bass, as on other albums, can be heard vaguely if you have a very clean ear, but most of the focus here is very much on the guitars and drums. Masha's vocals act in the same way, but prove to be much more than just a product of the band's range of Folk Metal. She also, as usual, uses her narrative work to try and make the whole album itself a story of some kind, but this only falters when some of the songs are partly ruined by it, namely 'Predok', which, in its unnecessary existence, merely consists of Masha talking for two minutes. Admittedly, listening to the album as a whole, it sounds very fitting for the concept, but would perhaps be boring for someone who likes the band more extreme side.
The band do take breaks on 'Slovo', as on other albums. Fully acoustic number 'Tam za Tumanami' (meaning 'There, beyond the Trees') develops a very melodic yet still generally folky atmosphere, in which Masha almost sings her way through, as Madonna had done in the 80's on her ballad-like songs. This is repeated in the fifty-three second 'Potomok' (meaning 'Descendant'), admittedly very uninteresting, yet focusses on a child speaking with Masha almost crooning on a higher note than usual in the background. These could be minor flaws to some, and instant positives for others.
It really depends on what your take of the genre is. If you prefer the extremities of Folk metal bands such as Finntroll and Eluveitie, than 'Slovo' may not interest you one bit. However, if you can stand a bit of melody here and there to neutralise the intensity of these extreme metal influences, 'Slovo' should be sitting on your shelf, ready to be played again and again. Where the band goes from here it is unknown, but they will probably satisfy their fans with even more accessible choir work and atmospherics, but one thing is certain: 'Slovo', being shorter than its predecessor, is yet another example of Arkona's willingness to stand out from the crowd.