Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.
Arkan: “Origins”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Arkan-Origins.mp3|titles=Arkan, “Origins”]
Despite some great successes, aspirations to incorporate “world” music into metal has also managed to sink countless bands along the way. Ambition and intention aside, most efforts came off as gimmicky or, even worse, just plain silly.
French melodic-death-metal outfit Arkan showed that it was the real deal with its 2008 debut, Hilal, by delivering on the promise of a more Eastern brand of metal — one not just splashed with Arabian and Occidental influences but fully fused with them. Whereas some bands merely branch out into Eastern sounds, Arkan emerges with fully planted roots. Hilal was not perfect, but the follow-up, Salam (Arabic for “peace”), picks up where its predecessor left off, smoothing out what rough edges existed and pushing the band’s sound to its limit.
By fluidly applying Eastern scales and sounds to Western instruments (the Mediterranean-tinged guitar solo on “Call From Within”) and vice versa (the “death oud” and pick harmonics leading “Inner Slaves”), Arkan flexes not just interest but also an inarguable authenticity. Even in its arrangements, Salam reveals its emphasis on both execution and feel: behind the kit, Foued Moukid emerges as the true anchor of the group’s sound, one moment summoning desert-flavored percussion and the next summoning a crushing double-bass attack (or, as with “Sweet Opium,” both at once). The band pushes outward from there, with guitars switching between melody and brutality as Florent Jannier calls with the growl of doom and Sarah Layssac answers as the atmospheric voice of hope, sounding more like Lisa Gerrard than Anette Olzon.
This equal commitment to song and sound gives clever life to these fourteen songs (thirteen plus one hidden) that, in lesser hands, might otherwise fall flat. “Beyond Sacred Rules” gets to fully stretch out; the titular mini-trilogy is free to groove when it needs and roar when it wants; the secret “Ghost Track” can indulge in its own spooky, hypnotic reverence.
For as tempting as it may be to label the band as “Opeth meets Dead Can Dance” or “Nightwish covering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” the truth is that Arkan is advancing the work that Orphaned Land (whose vocalist, Kobi Farhi, pops in on “Deus Vult”) and others began so long ago. Even though the idea isn’t new, Salam stands with few others in the realm of Arabian-metal fusion — and it may prove to be one of the year’s best albums, metal or otherwise.