Review Summary: Pagan black metal goodness.
I’ll admit off the bat that I find other languages fascinating when they’re represented musically. Most of the time it adds to a level of mysticism, building on that foreign element whilst highlighting one simple fact; I don’t know everything. From understanding that broad statement, it creates a wonder when listening to other languages. It’s like witnessing an occult ritual, without knowing what’s going on and yet, completely unable to look away. Arkona’s eighth studio record defines this niche for me as a listener while simultaneously highlights Khram
as one of 2018’s premier metal releases so early in the year.
At a first glance, it’s pretty easy to dismiss Khram
as yet another black metal record with obvious “pagan” influences but fortunately Arkona’s execution allows for the (almost) seventy-five minute run time to translate into an excellent foray into what these Slavic-Russians are capable of. At Khram
’s core is an opus of controlled musical virtuosity, building into an opus of sound while only suffering in small part to some minor “filler” work. Arkona’s 2018 work revels in a melodic approach to primal black metal that respects its pagan elements, rather than forcing a cliché sound down the throats of its listeners. Khram
is a cohesive, welcome release improving on Arkona’s back catalogue, while respecting the very influences that allow such an album to exist.
For the English [only] speakers, who (like me) went looking for more insight into Khram
, or Temple
as it translates showcases a centralised theme surrounding Slavic mythic, celestial beings, life/death as well as a host of other tying features. Of particular note is the record’s longest track ‘Tseluya Zhizn’ (‘Kissing Life’) clocking in at just over seventeen minutes building on the very basis of Arkona’s monolithic soundscapes and in turn helps represent Khram
as an opus not to be taken lightly this year or the next. The track itself showcases a host of sounds, contrasting from section to section while tying in with the record’s theme. Traditional layerings of stereotypical black metal, filled to the brim with blast beats tie in with atmospheric minimalism and pagan influences. From frenzied riff work to galvanizing folkened tid-bits, Arkona are coming full circle, eight albums from the debut. In places Khram
can be downright catchy, without becoming pretentious.
Despite how well put together Arkona’s latest full-length is, there are some minor flaws to be mentioned. At seventy-five minutes Khram
runs into the usual problems of maintaining listenability. New listeners can become ‘lost’ within certain sections, while losing where they are through the record. One track may blend into the next as the record’s minor filler work blurs the lines between sections. The trick is to allow you as a listener to become fully immersed in the deepening sound, pushing past what can only be considered as a small gripe.
With repeated listens, Khram
gains further depth, heightening the quality of each listen as more of the album reveals itself. The ‘blackened’ sections take point over the ‘pagan’ elements but tie together. It seems the four years between records has done this Russian-based band a whole lot of good. Khram
is fresh, well thought out and a welcome addition to the band’s catalogue. Overall it’s a wonder that Arkona don’t have a larger following, but chances are that Khram
can become the gateway record for new fans.