If your knowledge of Arkona was (like mine) limited to the sunwheels-and-frame-drums drama of “Liki Bessmertnykh Bogov” or “Slavsia, Rus” and the drink-vodka-and-punch-your-friends two-beat of “Stenka Na Stenku” (all YouTube favorites of mine), then the diversity of “Yav” may come as a surprise—and that’s all to the good.
From the tricky ensemble figures of ‘Zarozhdenie’ to the head-bobbing grove of ‘Na strazhe novyh let’ to the epic solemnity of ‘Jav’ and the black metal atmosphere of final track ‘V ob’jat’jah kramoly’, Arkona have pressed a slab of Enslaved-like complexity.
After pondering the overall impression of “Yav”, I’ve come to the conclusion that what makes this album—indeed what makes Arkona’s sound a success overall—are the vocals of front woman Masha “Scream” Arkhipova. She’s always really going for it, with sonorous sustained cleans and powerful growls. The resulting effect is powerful music, in which the vocalist’s obvious passion sublimates the instrumentalists’ output. Her rolled Rs and multi-tiered guttural gymnastics on ‘Serbia’ are but one of her salient performances within this album.
Let not the “folk metal” or “pagan metal” tags often applied to Arkona blunt your appetite for checking out this release (unless you already love those subgenres, in which case you’ll still find plenty to enjoy here). One doesn’t get any kind of hackneyed oompah vibe or limitation to simple pentatonic forms on “Yav” rather, the trans-generational nostalgia of pagan metal and the pastoral tendencies of folk metal are merely the foundation of a recording that is capable of taking the listener through a wider range of emotions than might be imagined.
Yet, Arkona might have had a classic on their hands if they had exercised a bit more restraint: a few tracks would have more of an impact if shorter, and after Pink Floyd and P.O.D. rehash of same I think I’d prefer never to hear children’s voices on a rock song again.
Even with these minor quibbles, Arkona appear poised to take their career to truly impressive heights now and even to advance the folk and pagan metal subgenres along with them in the bargain, as long as they continue to flex their songwriting muscles via sterling production values like this. And it all still makes me want to drink vodka and punch my friends.