It is probably fair to say that a wider attention on Russian folk metallers Arkona was triggered when they signed to Napalm Records in 2008. Their quality blend of homeland folk music and darker black metal elements giving them a unique sound that drew increasing attention, making them stand out from folk metal bands already established in other countries.
With a new album slated for the end of the summer the band have released the “Stenka Na Stenku EP”, a kind of link between their 2009 album “Goi, Rode, Goi!” and a leader and taster for the forthcoming release, though whether it is representative of what that will contain is something to be revealed. The EP has a lighter uplifting feel to it that is a departure from their darker and more intense catalogue of songs to date but whether this is a mere fun interlude or a notice of a change in the band only time will tell.
“Stenka Na Stenku” consists of six tracks bringing a varied and flavoursome buoyant flow of irresistible songs, five of which are new and one a new version of a song from their last album. Only the opening track ‘Stenka Na Stenku’ is taken from the upcoming release and is the cause of the curiosity regarding whether Arkona have taken a new direction with their sound. Full of refreshing melodies, traditional instruments, and bouncy harmonious gaiety, it is a festival in the ear. Vocalist Masha Scream Arhipova fills the song with her usual glorious voice and as always even in her native tongue inspires clear and often wild images in the listener as to what the music is portraying.
A cover of the traditional Russian folk song ‘Valenki’ steps up next , forced by the hard pace of drummer Vlad Artist, the track flies on the wings of masterful interpretation and impressive realisation. This leads to the track from the last album reworked here as an acoustic version, ‘Goi, Rode, Goi!‘. From the opening dark deep groan like chant to the inviting guitar creations of Sergei Lazar, and the stunning flow and at times enticing gasps of Mash, the track rises high into the musical skies swooping like a mythical bird around the engaged listener.
The remaining trio of tracks all again offer something different and just as essential. The track ‘Skal’, written with German band Varga and featuring their vocalist Freki, is a darker harsher track, and strong as it is, does not quite match the quality of the other ingredients of the EP. The other two though resume the level; the synth caressed ‘Duren’, a cover of the song by Svarga, is a stunning and compelling mix of sounds and imagery, the wind instruments of Vladimir Volk perfectly emotive, a skill he repeats on the closer ‘Noviy Mir’. This is a cover of a song by Shamen, the early incarnation of Korpiklaani, its epic grandeur wonderfully imposing with the bands instinctive and creative interpretation. The bass of Ruslan Kniaz is especially smouldering, adding to the tracks atmospheric and pagan feel.
The “Stenka Na Stenku EP”, though an interim release in preparation for the album, is simply an essential listen for all with a heart for melodic metal. Possibly, it is an early notice of a marked change in the band’s sound or merely a treat to entertain the eagerly waiting, but it certainly is a fine small package of joy. It also stands as the perfect introduction for newcomers to Arkona and undoubtedly will inspire them to check out the impending release and even their older material, hard to imagine the band doing anything but inspire.