Arkona is back.
Formed in Russia in 2002, the band is led by Masha « Scream » (vocals/folk instruments, Nargathrond) and currently completed by Ruslan « Kniaz » (bass, Rossomahaar, Nargathrond), Sergey Lazar (guitar, Rossomahaar, Nargathrond), Vladimir « Volk » (folk instruments, Rossomahaar) and Alexander Smirnov (drums, Chatalhüyük, Rossomahaar, ex-Kartikeya) announce the release of Kob’, their tenth album, on Napalm Records.
The drums were recorded by French drummer Kévin Paradis (Benighted, Aronious, Mithridatic, Death Lab, ex-Agressor, ex-Svart Crown, ex-DeadlySins…).
The band immediately envelops us in ominous sounds with Izrechenie. Nachalo, a long, dark introduction which lets a few voices lead us into Kob’, a martial composition at first, but occasionally softened by a few folk instruments. Rocky howls increase in this massive, heady rhythm, crushing everything in its path before pausing to let a soaring break soothe it, before returning to Black Metal’s dissonance while keeping its mysterious Folk influences. Raw aggression stops just before Ydi bewitches us with a soothing melody, only to return with visceral howls, but the band still manages to keep a contrast with its more ethereal elements. A few choirs add the sound a ritualistic touch again just after an epic solo, and there’s no brake the mad rush to Ugasaya and its worrying introduction. Whispers and a vocal sample slowly build some insecurity up, followed by a much more cheerful bass melody accompanied by keyboards that set the scene for heady clean vocals. Saturation naturally comes back with airy Atmospheric Black Metal tones, which are confirmed throughout the rest of the track, adopting warlike Folk patterns before a majestic final. Mor takes the same elements than the previous track’s beginning up, but melancholic sounds quickly erase anguish before welcoming the vocalist’s growls, then the veil of saturation strengthens the band’s melodic approach. The intense contrast will eventually let aggressive elements gradually take over, adopting heady tones and morphing them into majestic darkness, naturally joined by screams, before Na zakate bagrovogo solntsa reveals a fascinating sound oscillating between all facets of this broad musical spectrum. Although governed by dissonance and aggression, the surge still has some more surprising elements, such as melodious touches and choirs that accompany the rhythm changes, but also the striking touches of melancholy that the band brings in before giving way to Razryvaya plot’ ot bezyskhodnosti bytiya and its strange introduction. Divided between disquiet and driving tones, it gives way to a more energetic rhythm which lets the playful roots express themselves between two waves of intense darkness, just before the album slowly closes with Izrechenie. Iskhod, an ominous outro whose sounds are obviously reminding us of the introduction.
Arkona‘s universe has always been very rich, divided between its many roots, and it now reaches its paroxysm with Kob’, a long album capable of enchanting you with ritualistic tones, then frightening you with massive howls and an impressive rhythmic. A true masterstroke.
Few questions to Masha “Scream”, lead singer and founding member of the band Arkona.
Hello and first of all, thank you very much for your time! Could you please introduce yourself and the band Arkona without using the usual “Pagan Metal” labels?
Masha “Scream” (vocals/folk instruments): The label « Pagan Metal » can be applied exclusively to the ideological component of the band, musically we have never been tied to any particular subgenre, our later creations are held in a darker and more atmospheric mood, most likely it is closer to Black Metal; while our earlier works contained a lot of Folk music influence, but even in that material you can find some echoes of all directions of heavy music. Due to the fact that we are ethnically Slavic and perform songs in our native language, we introduce ourselves as « Slavic Metal ».
How do you link the name Arkona to the music you play?
Masha: It isn’t linked anyhow to the music we play. But there is a close connection with the lyrics on our earlier albums, because it was directly linked to Slavic paganism, and the town Arkona was a sacred place where the main and last pagan temple was located, destroyed by Danish Christians in 1166.
Kob’, your tenth album, will be out soon, how do you feel about it? Do you already have some feedback?
Masha: Little correction : Kob’ is our ninth album (I was focusing on Enclopaedia Metallum’s ranking, my bad! e.d.). The album hasn’t been released yet so we haven’t received any feedback so far. While we were working on this album, I already experienced all the feelings and emotions towards this creation. Since I am Arkona‘s sole songwriter, I always see the whole final picture in my head from the very beginning, carefully considering all the smallest details before we have the final outcome in our hands. Of course, in my opinion, this album is our darkest creation in our whole discography, because I tried to bring the most apocalyptic atmosphere to all the details that are inextricably linked to each other on this album, from the music to the artwork concept. Until now, I have been haunted by vague, slightly dreary feelings of a certain completeness, a certain understanding has come that another stage of something very long and important has come to an end and this feeling creates some kind of internal disharmony, a feeling that we have made a very complex deal with ourselves, having come to the end point of completing what we have been going for so long.
How would you sum Kob’ up in only three words?
Masha: I think one word would be enough : Katabasis.
How did the composition process happen for Kob’? Did you notice some changes with the previous records?
Masha: I can’t say that this process was painful, because if I don’t have the desire to write something, I simply don’t do it. I need a trigger that will plunge me in a state of mind where I simply need to throw out emotions into my work, if there is no trigger, the band can wait new songs from me for years. And certainly, these songs differ from those that I wrote earlier as much as I differ from myself back then and now; and since they are a mirror of my mental and spiritual state, you can observe from them what was happening to me at one time or another.
What were the guidelines for the artwork, and how do they fit with the music you created?
Masha: The artwork, design and layout of the album from scratch to the very end was handled by the same guys who we had already worked with on the artwork of our album Khram, they’re a mysterious duo with the already world-famous name Rotten Fantom. This time our collaboration was all-encompassing and more painstaking, we worked together on every detail in the design of the booklet content, despite the fact that the guys drew the cover themselves, based on their own insights in the process of getting to know the music and lyrics of the album. The very picture of the album artwork has several levels, interpretations, so to speak. Since the album is also very multi-level and dedicated to the dark path of humanity, the first and main level of the cover shows an abstract image of a woman of different ages, whose different faces represent the entire path of human development, from birth to death, showing humanity itself from different angles of its existence and correlating these faces with each of its step-by-step.
Here is what the artists themselves have to say about it: “Actually, this is the whole process of sorcery, which is made through a spell (Kob’). We didn’t want to present it with some hackneyed images – like, for example, a witch with a cauldron of herbs and frogs, but we intended to give a more complex and allegorical image with many layers of meanings. All these images are supposed to show the tree of life, in a way, they all represent some kind of incarnation of the same person, the many-sided image of the old witch (she is in the middle). This witch is conjuring and here the process itself is a journey and metamorphosis from one entity to another. There is pain and suffering, and withering, and the authority and motherhood, giving birth. Actually, it is like a whole nation with its history and lives, and at the same time it is one person. The snake is a symbol of both witchcraft and wisdom, and it seems to be woven into a cycle (Ouroboros).”
Where do you find inspiration to create music?
Masha: I’m inspired by everything. It can be anything: philosophy, cosmogony, humanity and observing humanity, or Higher Energy, as something non-material, but just a perfection. I try to look at it from different angles from which a human consciousness can allow me, in terms of feelings, emotions, physical or abstract visions… My interests are very diverse. I always think too much, and sometimes my thoughts are so annoying that I want to get rid of them, but nevertheless they continue to haunt me every day, every minute and every hour, and as a result, all this turns into multi-level diverse creative canvases, which not everyone is able to understand, comprehend and accept. I really liked how a famous Soviet filmmaker Konstantin Lopushansky said in one of his interviews: “All creations of art are a cast of the soul”. Actually, this is the reflection of the personality in everything what they see and feel. And I think that only the people who are spiritually, on the inner level, very close to me and to my worldview, are fully capable of understanding my work. Although I see very few such people around me, this does not prevent me from continuing to create.
All your compositions are made of a natural melting of several influences, such as Folk elements and more raw Black Metal riffs, how do you manage to keep the balance between everything?
Masha: I never think about what kind of style would be appropriate in my works or individual parts. I write what comes to me spontaneously, this is how the higher energy passes through you, and this is how it dictates its own rules to you. You completely submit to it and create only what you feel deep inside yourself, without clinging to any labels and without thinking it through in advance about how any parts should be combined with one another. This is the way I saw it, perhaps thanks to some kind of clever scheme that prevailed in my head at that time.
I also noticed a great diversity on the vocal parts, how do you choose which tone or technique to use?
Masha: All my vocal lines emphasize the emotional coloring of this or that part of the song, based on the conceptually well-thought-out musical and lyrical scheme. I try to express the certain emotions with the various possibilities of my voice. And since there can be a lot of emotions in one song, there are a lot of corresponding vocal techniques, each of them emphasizing a certain emotion.
Maybe you have a favorite song on this album? Or maybe the hardest one to achieve for the album?
Masha: I don’t have some favorite songs. They’re like my children to me. I love them all. When I’m writing, I put the same amount of my soul and strength into each of them, for me they are all equal.
Do you think you are still improving yourself as a musician and songwriter?
Masha: Any person is improving and perfecting throughout his life, no matter what kind of field he’s involved in or what interests he has. In the same way, our creativity and our performance improve, our outlook on life also changes as a result of experiencing certain emotions or life situations. Accordingly, experience and constant practice allow me to improve my professional qualities both as a creator and as a performer.
I know that Covid fucked everything up in 2020 and 2021, but did it play any role in the creation of Kob’?
Masha: It goes without saying – that period played an important role and marked the 4th stage of humanity’s immersion into the abyss through the song Mor on this album. In a hidden context, this is the time of the appearance of Covid on the planet and it is directly related to this song.
Some of the last shows you played in France were at Hellfest back in 2018, then with Delain in 2019. Do you enjoy playing in France? What memories do you keep of the French audience?
Masha: As for live performances, no doubt, France is one of our favorite countries to play live. We always meet the fiery ardent support provided by our French legion of admirers, the memories are always only positive and we are eager to return to your country again and again.
Are there any musicians or artists you would like to collaborate with? Whether it is for one song, or maybe more.
Masha: As a band, Arkona is self-sufficient and does not need cooperation with anyone, especially since I don’t have and I’ve never had any musical authorities with whom I would see further collaborations. But still, we sometimes invite our close friends or like-minded people who participate in some parts or songs of Arkona, so this time our good friend A.Thanatos (Thanatomass band) played the guitar solo on the song Ydi, in fact, that was exactly my latest desire or vision, if I may say so, of a collaboration with a person whose work I respect.
If you had to organize a concert for Kob’ release show, with which bands would you love to play with? I let you create a poster with Arkona headlining and three other bands!
Masha: In our Motherland we always organize release shows, and they are held as huge 3-hour solo concerts, without any supporting bands. The support of the band, first of all, depends on concerts within the framework of various tours. For example, soon we are going on a European tour with the band Batushka, where we will also give a presentation of our new album Kob’, but at home before this tour we will do a big 3-hour concert presentation of the album, where only Arkona will be playing. In a word, if we are talking about a single concert, then we prefer to do without support bands and we limit ourselves exclusively to solo performances.
Funny and last question: which dish would you compare Arkona’s music with?
Masha: It would definitely be meat, but for “rare” or “blue rare” we are not raw enough, let it be « medium well », because the blood in our work does not flow like a river, but still it is quite present there.
That was the last question for me, so thank you very much for your time and your music, last words are yours!
Masha: Thank you ! Hope to see you soon !