• Welcome back, Manuel Munoz! - A review of Arkan's ''Kelem''

    Arkan - Kelem (2016)

    Arkan brought Manuel Munoz of The Old Dead Tree into their band to break new grounds. The charismatic singer reunites with his former bandmate Foued Moukid. They had recorded two outstanding albums together a decade earlier. It's no surprise that Arkan's newest output sounds like a mixture of the group's own melodic death metal with charismatic Middle Eastern folk elements and The Old Dead Tree's mournful progressive gothic metal style. While it seems like a big risk to part ways with beloved former French-Algerian singer Sarah Layssac who decided to focus on her acting career, it really pays off and Arkan leaps forward to release what might be its best record so far.

    The fusion between the band's old and new style is very balanced, coherent and fluid. ''The Call'' recalls the band's classic style and opens with acoustic folk elements before it transforms into a mysterious melodic death metal mid-tempo stomper with passionate growls that sound like a storm passing by. The record's most extreme track might be ''Erhal'' with its pitiless up-tempo rhythm section, destructive riffs and hoarse growls. This song is more brutal than all the tunes from the entire last release combined. It's a welcome change of pace on an overall more atmospheric release.

    I can't express how happy I am that Manuel Munoz is back in a regular metal band. He nails both the mournful clean vocals and his expressive extreme metal vocals. On this album, his clean vocals really add whole new dimensions to the band's already impressive soundscapes. He has a very unique way to sing and even pronounce syllables. Manuel Munoz is the kind of unique singer you can recognize as soon as he sings the first few lyrics of a song. His enchanting, hypnotizing and melodic vocals truly unfold in the sinister ''Nour'' where the vocalist somehow represents the calm before the storm. The track has a sorrowful vibe yet something strangely comforting thanks to the unique vocalist. This song is a true beauty. Another perfect example fur Manuel Monoz' passionate vocals is the calmer and more plodding ''Beyond the Wall'' where softer and lower vocals in the verses perfectly harmonize with more desperate and higher vocal parts in the slightly faster transitional parts. The band's folk elements also harmonize perfectly with the expressive vocals in this song.

    It's not easy to point out a best song on a consistent high quality release like this one but I have to underline the qualities of ''Just a Lie'' that reminds me a lot of the style adapted by The Old Dead Tree on ''The Perpetual Motion''. This progressive masterpiece has a dark, desperate and epic vibe carried by a thunderous rhythm section, sorrowful riffs and heartbreaking chord progressions while the calmer transitional passages with acoustic guitars and soothing vocals take you on a most emotional journey. In addition to this, the inspiring lyrics about contemporary conflicts in the Middle East even add to the appeal of this song and the entire record. This explains the record's mournful vibe that perfectly orchestrates these problems. This was the kind of music I was dreaming of when I first heard that Manuel Munoz would join Arkan and this track is like a dream come true.

    Welcome back to the metal scene, Manuel Munoz! In my opinion, ''Kelem'' is both Arkan's strongest release so far and the greatest gothic metal album of the year. It convinces both musically thanks to a new style based upon atmosphere, emotions and a more progressive approach as well as lyrically because most of the songs refer to the human side in contemporary conflicts and offer a lot of food for thought. If you care for intellectual gothic metal, you must purchase this outstanding record that will grow on you with each consecutive spin.

    Final verdict: 95%

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