Arkan - Sofia (2014)
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
Arkan is a gothic metal band that utilizes Middle Eastern folk instrumentation such as the frame drum (bendir), the Latin American percussion instrument known as the cajón, the goblet drum (derbouka), the pear-shaped stringed instrument (oud), and the Indian hand drum (tabla). The quintet calls its home France, but four out of five members are actually from Algeria and Morocco. The band started as a more extreme metal-orientated group in 2005, with male singers only. However, its third album, Sofia, is dominated by hypnotizing sounds and enchanting female vocals somewhere between Katatonia, Lacuna Coil, and Orphaned Land.
The strong points of the album are its hypnotizing and slightly depressing atmosphere, the organic use of folk instruments, and the calming use of unique female vocals. The flow of the album is very coherent and organic, with many tracks harmoniously progressing into new ones without any breaks.
The enchanting “Leaving Us”, with its gloomy and slow riffs, dragging vocals, and mysterious folk passages toward the end is a track that represents the sound of the band very well. Conversely, the more rhythmic opener and album highlight, “Hayati”, sounds more dynamic thanks to a diverse vocal performance despite the dark instrumental atmosphere, and probably features the catchiest chorus on the entire album. Those who care for the extreme progressive metal roots of the band should try out “March Of Sorrow”, “Wingless Angels”, and “Scar Of Sadness”, all of which feature some short but really potent death metal growls. The other extreme is the longest song on the album, entitled “Deafening Silence”, which comes around as the calmest, featuring acoustic guitars, light vocal effects, and floating instrumental passages that could have been pulled from a contemporary Opeth record.
The second half of the record turns out to be less diverse and gripping than the first. A few tracks sound too much alike and feel like unnecessary filler. This is especially true of the slow closing songs “Cold Night’s Dream” and “Dark Epilogue”, which aren’t much more than dark ambient pieces that go nowhere. I also miss a truly outstanding and catchy song that might permanently stay on my mind, even though “Hayati” comes quite close.
In the end, this release is interesting for its consistently dark and mysterious approach. It’s the kind of album you have to listen to in one shot with your headphones on in order to get absorbed by its strong atmosphere and to discover all the small details that make most of the songs sound slightly different. It’s an album that requests some attention, and the band has somehow developed its own signature style by now. In the future, I would like the band to push its extreme and progressive boundaries even further, and to include maybe a few catchier and more addicting tracks as well.
3.25 // 5