Review – Arkona: Stenka Na Stenku

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Review – Arkona: Stenka Na Stenku
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Arkona: Stenka Na Stenku
Folk Metal, Pagan Metal
Napalm Records
May 27th, 2011
Release length: 24:33

??????, the English version of the name being Arkona and the version we will use throughout the review, primarily since not all windows can properly view Russian characters for some reason, are a respected Pagan Folk Metal band from that very country. The group founded back in 2002 and have started making some waves in the Folk Metal scene here in the States as of late. Their previous full-length, Goi, Rode, Goi!, had earned a good deal of positive press, and for good reason. Two years later, the band gears up to issue their follow-up full-length, simply titled Word (in English anyhow), but before that, we are given Stenka Na Stenku, a six track EP featuring some new material and b-sides to wet the appetite of their fans until Word is actually finished. So, does this EP do it’s job, or is this an EP that proves waiting for the official upcoming album is better?

The production quality of the album is much like you’d expect from the group. The audio sounds great and is done in a way that it quite often captures the band’s Folk Metal ideas nicely. The guitars sound rich and heavy with a strong, dominant bass presence that is clearly heard and felt. The bass really shines through at times more then any other instrument, especially with the opening title track “Stenka Na Stenku” and it’s more upbeat Finntroll-esque Humpa beat and music with Folk instruments. The track is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and have you want to join in with dance, perhaps the stereotypical Russian dance of folding your arms and kicking your legs out to the beat and shouting a random “hey” or “oi” at key moments. Of course, the vass also shines through on other songs with and without that Humpa sound to them. The drums sound fantastic as well, and pretty loud too without overtaking everything. The snares sound thick and make a good impact with the bass kicks having a click that is nice, but hard to seperate from the snares at times, which is actually more of a downfall then anything. The cymbols sound great and are just a little lower in volume, allowing the other Folk instruments to shine through around the some level without being drowned out. The vocals also feel a little lower in the mix, but not enough that the music completely dwarfs them out, and can sometimes be a little louder due largely to how they are being performed. Much of the time the vocals are done in a highly energetic manner that matches that same kind of output found in the music, and then there are slower moments, such as during “Valenki,” where they become softer and more passionate towards the emotional music.

As mentioned already, the title track is just a blast to hear. The song’s upbeat manner is similar something one might expect from Korpiklaani, and fans of their song “Happy Little Boozer” will take delight in how fun this track is in comparison, being a song that will instantly lighten any mood of everyone able to hear the track. But while this track’s loud and energetic sound really makes the band stand out, one of the more impressive elements to an Arkona CD is atmosphere, and there’s a good amount of that with the tracks that come. “Goi, Rode, Goi! (Acoustic Version)” takes the solid track off the album from the same name and makes it a slower acoustic Folk rendition. Between what sounds like throat singing harmonies in the background coupled with darker, haunting Russian-based tribal beats and melodies behind beautiful, passionate female singing vocals really makes the song’s atmosphere envelope the listener and not let go. This is the kind of song one would expect to hear being performed in front of a roaring fire, perhaps more in a ritualistic fashion on a spring’s eve, or even in memory of someone or something while being enchanted by the music or even something provided by the ancestors one would imagine performing the song in front of you and enticing you to join in somehow through their dancing or singing. It’s this kind of emotional and mentally vision alure of the song that really makes Arkona stand out.

But this is definitely not the most interesting track of this effort. In fact, the one song that will bring the most intrigue here will be “Skal”, the shortest track off the entire release. “Skal” blends together a slight Black Metal presence to it with catchy Pagan Metal ideas and strong, less-Humpa and upbeat Folk Metal presence and gang harmonized vocals for the chorus. The main vocal duties to the track are handled by a guest vocalist and is listed simply as Varg. His performance on here sounds fantastic and works perfectly with the band’s sound. The only complaint is that vocalist Masha Arhipova is not present in the track, as some kind of duet between the two would be great and quite interesting. At least, it would if the Varg listed were actually Varg Vickerns of Burzum. Instead, it’s actually Freki of the band named Varg. While this may catch fans unaware of the band (such as myself) off guard, and hopefully will be clarified for those who assume the same thing when the EP drops, Freki still does a good job at his role in this track and should be commended for his input in it. But, with that being said, “Skal” is far from one of the more impressive tracks on here, only because the song is far more traditional Folk Metal then the rest of this EP gives, especially when compared to the following track “Duren” which has some really epic moments coupled with rich Folk music that paints a mental picture through it’s vivid heritage-soaked music and both beautifully passionate and energetic vocal performances throughout the song that you simply cannot help but be really moved by.

It is very rare that a band will issue an EP the prepare their fans for an upcoming album and it greatly dwarfs some of their more recent efforts. Stenka Na Stenku just happens to be one of those types of EPs, and with it, the band may very well have put themselves in a tough spot. This release really puts a lot of pressure on Arkona to deliver with Word when they finally release it, especially since pretty much every track here is simply stunning. The only one that doesn’t really move the listener the same way is “Skal”, and that is mostly due to the band dropping by the ball by putting a more contemporary Folk Metal song among five really rich and atmospheric, as well asjovial and fun material on other tracks, as well as not going the route you’d expect and making the song more of a duet. Given the performance in the vocals, it would have been very easy to do and they would nicely complimented one another. Either way, if you like rich Folk music, or are already a fan of Arkona, then Stenka Na Stenku is simply a must own recording, there’s no way around it. The production values are great, the songs are engaging, and you’ll find yourself coming back time and time again to live through the moving and fun twenty four and a half minutes of solid Folk Metal.

01. Stenka Na Stenku – 2:36
02. Valenki – 3:06
03. Goi, Rode, Goi! (Acoustic Version) – 5:46
04. Skal (feat. Freki of Varg) – 2:35
05. Duren – 6:27
06. Noviy Mir – 4:03
Overall Score: 9/10

Digital review copy of this release provided by Napalm Records.