Ever since their debut Vozrozhdeniye, Arkona have been slowly but steadily growing from an underground metal cult to a top-class pagan metal titan. While I must admit I haven’t heard any of their output since Ot Serdtsa k Nebu, their latest record Yav has convinced me to catch up with this amazing ensemble.
The term “yav” stems from Slavic mythology and stands for the world of the living, as opposed to “nav”, the world of the dead. Yav captures the band at its creative apogee and honors the Slavic heritage that inspired it; this is done through intricate songwriting based on progressive and black metal, upon which layers and layers of orchestration, traditional instruments and eeire chants are built.
The longer running tracks, such as the opening “Zarozhdenie,” “Zov pustyh dereven” or “Chado indigo,” are full of rhythm changes and incorporate various elements: acoustic parts, furious shredding and epic, marching sections. “Na strazhe novyh let” with its raging blast-beats is a nod to the band’s black metal roots, while “Ved’ma” shows they are more than capable of taking on mainstream folk metal bands like Korpiklaani or Eluvietie. “Serbia” and “V ob’jat’jah kramoly” show hits of 90’s gothic metal with epic keyboards playing the central role.
Arkona in general, and Yav in particular, show that music transgresses all borders. While some may be initially repelled by the fact that they don’t understand Russian, the colorful atmosphere, coupled with Masha “Scream” Arkhipova’s versatile and passionate performance, paint a picture where words are superfluous and the music speaks for itself.
The core instruments work in perfect harmony, one never overshadowing the other in terms of how they are produced. And while Masha deserves nothing but praise for her outstanding performance, it was Ruslan “Kniaz” Rosomaherov’s bass that really caught my ear. The bass lines are brilliant, reminiscent of Steve DiGiorgio’s work in Death and Sadus, and without them the album would have definitely made less of an impact. Although production is perfect for the most part, at times the traditional instruments are too quiet in the mix or aren’t accented as much as they should be.
Yav is a complex release that might take a few spins to digest, and each time you may end up hearing something you’ve missed. It is a testament to the band’s growth as musicians and raises the bar for many pagan metal bands.