Arkona – Vo Slavu Velkim! – 4/5
I must open by saying that this Russian folk band had me deliberating constantly over its rating. Not as strong as Crimfall’s debut, yet better than the Dalriada reviewed previously, this fits somewhere in between, being enjoyable yet not without its distinct flaws.
The first complaint going into this album is undoubtedly the vocals, not to say they’re especially bad, but given the high praise I’d seen them given I was expecting them to live up to that. Largely performed by a female vocalist, she retains an earthy quality, never straying to the ‘faux-operatic’ style, with a great deal of variety in tones, from the more boisterous and jolly, to the quieter, almost whispered notes, and even a few spoken sections. Combined with this is infrequent use of mid-ranged growls, which are rather more standard Viking-esque affair, and whilst used effectively within the music are nothing particularly special on their own.
The guitars are largely chord based, and serve to provide rhythm, though are given their moments to shine, and perform well. The drums work well in producing an effective tone, and are critical in this regard, being upbeat, aggressive, bombastic or calming, even managing to hold their own in ‘Tuman Yaron,’ which features no instrumentation beyond the female vocals and the drums themselves. Even the use of folk instruments, the accordion in particular are well utilised, never overused but given a notable presence.
In fact, all the elements when considered alone perform well, and whilst they don’t feel out of place in the tracks, they don’t feel integrated either. There is a distinct lack of harmonisation, rather the vocals will have a short bit, then the guitars will play a section before the accordion kicks in, and then back to the vocals. It feels as though each instrument is stepping forward, having their turn then allowing someone else to have theirs, and results in a distinct lack of layers. This is detrimental to its ability to last, as well as its ability to feel ‘catchy.’
Despite this, it remains a good listen, and whilst perhaps not one that is especially memorable, it is very consistent and well performed throughout. This makes for an enjoyable listen, but if this is your starting point for folk, there are perhaps better places to begin diving.
Highlights: Vo Slavu Velkim!, Tuman Yarom, Na Svarogovoi Doroge