Arkan: Salam

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Arkan: Salam
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Arkhan: Salam
Gothic Metal, Melodic Death Metal
Season of Mist Records
April 19th, 2011
Release length: 59:49
Myspace
Website
Arkan hails from Paris, France, and is a band that formed around 2005. This rather young group is a little more unique in the Metal world in that they take a Gothic Metal approach and mix it with Melodic Death Metal, but throw some Middle Eastern musical influences into it. While it’s nothing that new, there’s not a large group of bands out there, especially outside of the underground, that many fans of Metal can name off the top of their head that happen to do this, though obviously there is still a good number of them. The band signed to Season of Mist to release their debut full-length effort, Hilal, and now three years later brings us Salam, the group’s long awaited follow-up. So, with a somewhat unique approach to the music, the lingering question is whether or not it’s enough to really make anyone take note, or if it just feels like a gimmick to the music overall.

As an overall combination of Gothic Metal and Melodic Death Metal, it’s not that bad a release. Musically, it sounds like older Tristania. The band incorporates a strong overall Gothic Metal sound that feels heavy in a slightly Doom sense, but at the same time it has some Melodic Death Metal inputs to the music that often a little hard to pick out given the heavier Gothic vibe and sound. The songs are never really that fast, being a mid to slow pace through many of the songs, which actually isn’t bad given how crushing the music actually comes off from the heavier distortion and inclusion of male gutterals that seem to duet with the female clean singing, though they seem to take more of a backseat in the songs to the clean singing. However, at times it does become a little formulaic with the traditional Gothic Metal sense of having the softer music use clean singing by the female vocalist, or sometimes male clean singing, and the heavier moments whip out the deep gutterals that feel very commanding against the heavy atmosphere.

The lighter music on the recording is essentially where the Middle Eastern approach shines through. Some tracks, like “Deus Vult”, do include additional Middle Eastern elements in the heavier music, such as some traditional Middle Eastern chords being performed in the background at a much faster pace and really offering a diverse layer to the music, as well as some traditional male clean singing that comes in to replace the gutterals during the track. However, for the slower, softer parts, it’s essentially the same thing in the guitars, except they aren’t usually in the background and become more the driving force of the music, and the clean vocals are performed by the female lead vocalist of the group, who does a good job, but sometimes feels a little too soft in pitch for her own good, giving off a bit of an open vibe that feels like an attempt to emulate female singers like Liv Kristine of Leaves’ Eyes, but not necessarily projecting to make her voice sound rich. This actually becomes pretty evident in many of the songs that contributes a performance too, though it strikes you right away with “Origins”, the starting track that seems to focus on her performance more then the male vocals. Luckily this is not always the case as some tracks, like “Deus Vult” that finds more male vocals then female, though the female clean singing does actually start the song off, though don’t last long as the song progresses.

One of the biggest positive things that can be said about Salam is that the band doesn’t solely focus on making the Middle Eastern sound the most prominant aspect of the recording. There are plenty of tracks where the band does clearly push it a little more, such as “Sweet Opium”, but it feels more like just an extension of the song, and doesn’t go over the top with the sound to reach levels of pure overkill. This track has traditional Middle Eastern sounding chords that are coupled in with the traditional Metal chords, a few breaks away from that particular regional sound in the music in some bridges, and the female vocals sound right at home with the music, though still a little weaker then one would hope. However, you alsop have songs like “Inner Slaves” that have that music more in the background, helping to aid the atmosphere and become more of an additional layer that doesn’t affect too much of the main music being performed by the band, which is a stronger, heavier, slower pace then anything else.

Out of all the tracks, however, “Amaloun Jadid II” is perhaps the most misleading. The song clocks in at one second shy of seventeen minutes. The actual music on the track lasts for just one minute and nineteen seconds counting the echoing out of the guitar. The rest of the track is basically silence. However, at one point in the song at nine minutes and forty seconds that lasts about six seconds. It just sounds like noise and distortion before an ominous sound effect kicks in around the ten minute nineteen second mark, almost like wind closing in with a spoken word section over it, fading out into what starts off like the Middle Eastern theme for the film The Godfather before taking on a Middle Eastern song with the spoken word section continued with the female vocals harmonizing in unison with the music int he background until the end of the track.

But, don’t go into this album expecting truly moving music, or songs that are jaw dropping or even awe-inspiring. For as well done as the music is for Salam, the music here is simply solid Gothic Metal with Melodic Death Metal that doesn’t really have much going for it outside the regional-based music extension the band brings. The slower pace makes the music sound much heavier, and with tracks like “Origins” and “The Eight Doors of Jannah”, it sounds great and becomes something you can just have on in the background and unwind to. This becomes the vibe from most of the songs on here, though there are some, such as “Sweet Opium”, that stand out for their stronger presence making the listener’s blood begin to boil, whereas the rest will have your head banging lightly, or feel like you should be and perhaps don’t for the sake of convenience. This isn’t to say Salam is bad, which is definitely is not, but rather to say that the music doesn’t really have that strong an impact as one would help despite the Middle Eastern influences that appear in the music, lyrics, and overall atmosphere of the recording, which in itself isn’t bad as it doesn’t become boring or all that repetitive after a while, leaving the listener to come back at various times for another encounter of the album, but just not placing it at the top of the list of albums you’ll want to instinctively run to and throw in your player.

Is Salam something to drop everything and pick up? Not really. While the way the band incorporates the Middle Eastern influence in their music is a little more unique to Metal then some bands who take it too far to the point of overkill, it feels like a strong extension of the band that is rooted deeply in the initial compositions to begin with. The heavier tracks are just that, heavy, and the lighter songs aren’t anything special, but can be rather soothing and still quite enjoyable for what they bring to the table. It’s a solid piece of regionally influence Metal that any fan of heavy music can sit back and enjoy, coming off more as a rich, cultural, artistic expansion then many other releases of today who focus on hooks and simpler, catchy music. It’s not one of the best examples of incorporating a Middle Eastern style to music, but it’s definitely not a gimmicky approach either, and will be something you can easily pick up on a rainy day and just sit back and listen to despite whatever mood you happen to be in.

01. Origins – 4:34
02. Inner Slaves – 5:29
03. Deus Vult – 5:00
04. Blind Devotion – 4:41
05. Jerusalem – Sufferpolis – 3;02
06. Beyond Sacred Rules – 5:54
07. Common Ground – 0:37
08. Sweet Opium – 2:58
09. Salam – 0:33
10. Call From Within – 4:46
11. Lightened Heart – 0:58
12. The Eight Doors fo Jannah – 4:19
13. Amaloun Jadid II – 16:58
Overall Score: 7/10

Digital review copy of this release provided by Season of Mist Records.