Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Arkona - Goi, Rode, Goi! (2009)

By this time, Arkona is poised to be one of the biggest success stories in the metal realms, with a solid back catalog and a new album which sounds absolutely breathtaking. They also boast one of the better female vocalists in the business, capable of growls and snarls alongside the lot of them. But Masha truly shines when singing her cutting, clean folk vocals. She may be a beautiful woman, but she is clearly not a gimmick, and never has been. And lo, while the metallic core of this band might provide a stable foundation to keep the band well within the metal spectrum, it is the majestic atmosphere and patriotic Slavic folk elements which truly sell the album.

Goi, Rode, Goi! picks up where Ot Serdtsa K Nebu left off, and if anything, it is a more consistent listening experience, though its predecessor did have a few more memorable tracks than what you will find within this 80 minute beast. Goi, Rode, Goi! features 14 songs, ranging widely in duration, and the album also boasts an orchestra, female choir, and string quartet, in addition to the band's expected use of tambourine, balalaika, khomuz and jaw-harp. The myriad instruments on the album are dispersed well throughout its contents, as are the varied vocals of Masha. Screams, whispers, grunts, whatever it takes to embellish each track with a wealth of atmosphere and depth to which the mind can wander and re-visit.

The title track sets the stage as the distant sounds of storm are eclipsed by hammering open chords and Masha's amazing clean vocals; they rise and fall and echo across the gathering, turbulent skies. The track quickly evolves into a groove below her death vocals, as the folk instrumentation drifts playfully across the steady drums. At its midpoint, it segues into orchestration before returning to its verse pattern. "Tropoiu Nevedannoi" (i.e. "On the Unknown Trail") charges forth with a grimmer atmosphere, lathed in somber orchestration, as if to remind us that this album will not be all fun and games, there is still a vile black heart beating beneath its overtures. The intro to "Nevidal" is mildly reminiscent of "Slavsya Rus" from the previous album, but it picks up into another thundering folk hymn. "Na Moey Zemle" (In My Land) is a 15 minute voyage that never once fails to captivate, from its percussive breaks to the narrative verse vocals.

In the chains of oblivion
Of the coming force of joy
You will cry
“Here is my land!”

The remainder of the album maintains its consistent strides, and if anything it is simply TOO ambitious, TOO full of goods to appreciate until you have listened repeatedly. Some of my favorites are the perky, Finntroll-like polka of "Yarilo", the elegaic "Liki Bessmertnykh Bogov", the grinding "Kolo Navi" which begins to soar at its half-way point, and the pure percussion/vocal piece "Kupalets". But honestly, it will take some time for the full experience to sink in...

Goi, Rode, Goi! is an ambitious work, on the lengthy side for what most metal bands can muster, but never growing dull in its 80 minutes. Considering the myriad of voices and instruments present here, the mix is very successful in capturing all of their strengths. Due to the sincerity of the band, the album never feels cheesy, unlike so many of their peers. They very easily convince the listener of the pride they have in the past of their peoples, and the result is alluring. The album isn't perfect, and there are few tracks which instantly cry out for individual replays, but if you're seeking Slavic themed, epic folk metal, this is the band to beat.

Highlights: Goi, Rode, Goi!, Tropoiu Nevedannoi, Yarilo, Kolo Navi, Kupalets

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(return to us the truth)

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