Arcane Grail – Arya Marga – 4.5/5
If the concept of an epic toned and melodic metal band on the extreme side of the spectrum, with an opera singer sounds intriguing to you, you should probably be reaching for that download link right about now. Hailing from Russia, this is a real oddity of a sound to figure out; aggressive with as many black growls as deathly howls, blackened symphonic backing not getting in the way of the – almost Gothenburg tinged – riffs, and without fear of calling in the backup artillery, consisting of acoustic guitar, flutes, violins, cello arrangements and choral work. The core of the sound stays between Symphonic Black and Melodic Death Metal, but the arrangements, harmonies lending a variety of tones. The frantic shrieking, the warming folk-ish keyboard work, or gothic/doom violins all lend to create a rollercoaster of sounds, compressed into 40 mins this is one album that I expect will be on my playlist for some time.
The greatest feature here would undoubtedly be the vocalists. Both are impeccable and work unbelievably well, the soprano vocalist proving her versatility and talent time and time again, without dominating the sound and even holding her own through her own track which is completely void of other instrumentation. Yet even her prowess – which is quickly finding its way to my list of top female vocalists – is matched by her partner, capable of high pitched frantic shrieking, slower deathly doom-filled growls, clean vocals and even of a ‘king diamond’ style falsetto at times, it is this range that steals the show from the soprano which – whilst impressive – could all too easily get monotonous.
In terms of the backing, there is little that comes forward as being prominent. The keyboards probably have the most memorable pieces in the form of Classical/Burzum-inspired short passages with the soprano vocalist, and the occasional riff-like interlude within the track, for the most part they lend a backing tone during the more blackened sections. The bass is frequently drowned out by the guitars, which performs a variety of melodies, with notable use of tremolo picking, to sustain the track. Whilst often not as strong as the keyboards they are integral in maintaining the aggression and in keeping the changes in pace and tone during the track fluid, as well supplying the core of the tracks rhythm. The drums can be heard, but are perhaps a little quiet at times. Frequently relegated to maintaining the tempo, they nonetheless succeed in doing so with an energetic enthusiasm.
And despite all the diversity already presented, there’s the whole host of other instrumentation used sparingly and simplistically with incredible effect, and – perhaps even more surprising – is that this doesn’t end up feeling experimental. Indeed, there are changes in tones, aggression, pace and enough changes in instrument use to sound like two bands battling off with each other, but somehow it remains feeling unique. Distinct and separate from anyone else I could care to compare them to without feeling unusual. Unquestionably one of the greater releases I’ve heard released this year.
Highlights: Of Snake and Raven, Renaissant the Reverie, Imprisoned in the Greatest War, Iniquitous Yoke