With its iconic cover image of pagans and heretics gathered about in robes, masks, knives and sticks, one draws the implication that the antiquated minds behind Kawir are about to unleash a work of both naturalism and ritual in Arai. Surely, this is the most interesting of their albums to stare at, but it's also a step forward from the rather faceless, cosmic Scandinavian dust-storm the Greeks had kicked up with their sophomore Epoptia (six years earlier). The time was put to good use, and the earthen, full-bodied production of this album feels authentic and organic, without the crude snags of To Cavirs. That said, despite a few of its strengths, Arai still seems to fall short of the unwashed charms of that debut.
The writing is rather similar, with simple guitar riffs embedded into gentle, flowing compositions, with synthesizers used as proxies for the instrumentation of Hellenic myths. Several tunes like "Ode to Time" and "Typhoon Magic" are threaded with vapid, faster paced breaks with standard black metal riffing, but a number of them feature a punk or rock reduction with a mere few, uninteresting chord patterns fused into the pagan pomp. Bass performance is more of a standout here than either of the earlier albums, flowing and swerving about the lower depths of "Oneiropompos" and "Katadesmos". What's more, the grimy vocals here seem to have more of an individual character than those of Epoptia or To Cavirs, as if some decrepit hag or specter were reciting them as part of some archaic allegory or conjuration. There's a more constipated characterization than the flatline rasping one has come to expect in some of the band's prior work.
At its best, the tracks alternate between passages of metal energy and ambient rituals ("The Curse of the Old Witch"), or offer some straight up departure from the heavier content (the martial, droning choirs of "Nekydaimon"). The variation and serious execution of what often feels rather silly is reminiscent of the Czech greats Root. Taken as a whole 40 minute experience, the album offers several peaks and valleys of immersion into the ancient world whose fires they continue to kindle. In this, it reminds me of To Cavirs, and album I quite liked despite the flaws inherent in almost all of its components. Once you start to break Arai down, there is nothing all that resonant about any of its individual instruments, but for merely zoning out into times long past, or the seductive enigmas of witchery, it's fulfilling enough, just as long as one is not expecting truly memorable riff structures or compositions even bordering on any sort of complexity.
Verdict: Win [7/10]