Folk metal remains an area of metal more than capable of coughing up some brilliant records every now and then, whether it be an esoteric journey into the dark or something shamelessly joyous and fun, but the boom of the mid 2000s was unprecedented. The likes of ENSIFERUM, KORPIKLAANI and FINNTROLL exploded into public view, TURISAS weren’t miles away from appearing on major magazine covers, and suddenly wherever you looked on a festival bill there was a band with an accordionist, flutist, and hurdy-gurdy player. A band seemingly seeking to tap back into the spirit of this time today is ARKONA, with a new re-recording of their 2004 debut Vozrozhdenie. Not receiving anywhere near the traction of their Finnish counterparts but still benefiting from the zeitgeist of the time, ARKONA offered and still do a distinctly Russian take on the style with plenty to like.
They would go on to do better like on 2009’s Goi, Rode, Goi!, but it has to be said that Vozrozhdenie remains a very good record. In fact listening back to it in 2016 is something of a breath of fresh air. ARKONA are very much a folk metal band for folk metal fans; there is nowhere near the amount of conventional metal accessibility needed to grab your average MACHINE HEAD fan, nor are there the comedy gimmicks to take the internet by storm for all of five minutes with a humorous cover or crazy outfit. Those in tune with it though will find a lot to like here. Kolyada opens things up with a charging flurry of flutes and guitars, more than enough to both kick things off with a bang and play to the melodic ear with slick, catchy leads. The album is predominately mid to fast-paced without ever sagging too much, even with its runtime of nearly an hour, never dipping into self-parody but dishing out one fun, catchy tune after another, the windswept strains of the title track being a particular highlight.
ARKONA also have an advantage over many other folk metal acts in that they have a vocalist with enough personality to stand out from a crowd of generic screamers and Nordic chanters. Masha Arkhipova is the real star of the show here. It’s not a vocal style that will be for everyone, much like folk metal itself, but her distinct Eastern European delivery is the key part of ARKONA’s unique identity in what is after all meant to be an exploration and celebration of a unique pagan culture. The way melodies are cycled around from the wind to the guitars to her voice is gratifying and engaging, and it brings forth the thought that there are honestly not too prominent singers in the world of metal like her.
The flaw of this new re-recording though is quite simply the fact that it seems to have no reason to actually exist. The compositions have not been substantially developed in any way, and the line-up remains predominately the same as on the original album, long-running guitarist Sergey Atrashkevich and bassist Ruslan “Kniaz” re-appearing alongside Masha. All it offers is somewhat improved recording and production values, but this only serves to sap some of the charm from the original which in itself was hardly Filosofem to begin with. Very few ARKONA fans are going to swap out their copy of this band’s debut for a pointless re-do. It serves as a reminder of both a damn fine band and a time which gave birth to a myriad of great records in a style that isn’t quite in the same health today, but maybe ARKONA’s time would better be spent recording new material and finding something new to offer.
Vozrozhdenie is out now via Napalm Records.
For more information on Arkona like their page on Facebook.