Arkan - Sofia
Label: Seasons of Mist
Reviewer: Tarek - 2014-08-15
More than thousand miles away from their homeland Algeria, ARKAN carried centuries of musical heritage and artistic culture, to land along the shores of France and tell the stories of the orient mixed with the brutality and intensity of Melodic Death Metal.
I was really waiting to see how this album comes out after the departure of one of the band's main foundations Abderrahmane in 2011, and if they would be able to keep their stamina, but to my surprise they changed the rules and choose to play in a new playground, leaving the appeal of their old style to a very new musical approach that no one see coming.
Despite splited on 12 tracks the album actually feels like one long track that got chopped, which gave me the nice feel of a story being told. It kicks off with "Hayati" (which means my "life"), that radiates sorrow from the first tone with a more distorted guitars than i used from them, with the oriental interludes in the middle light it up a bit and Sarah's voice keep tearing you apart.
It continues in "My Reverence" which the keys and bass riff in the intro make it stands out, with mid-tempo guitar rhythm pushing the music a bit toward a Death/Doomy area, and the oriental percussions and oriental strings backing a rather old school solo, giving it a nice twist.
Florent finally marches in the third track with his grunts, bringing the much awaited brutal kick it needed, with Samir giving some of his finest bass lines in the background with grieving violin and keys making a connection towards "Leaving Us" with the acoustic guitar lines pushing the record to a more tragic place.
The authentic oriental sound, bass riffs over the outstanding drumming with one of a kind vocal performance makes "Soiled Dreams" my best through the album and among my favorite tracks of the year, and its composition echos to "Deafening Silence" that starts from the same point the last one ended, confirming the trend of the album to connect tracks together, and it seems nothing new in this track as Sarah's voice keep chanting the story over guitar arpeggios and the usual chord formations.
The violin over the acoustic guitars and vocal sets a nice intro to "Endless Way" before Florent's growls came back again in "Wingless Angels" after 4 tracks of silence, to shake things a bit mixing it with the male vocals screams and Sarah's clean humming in the back ground over the acoustic guitars, with alittle bit twist in the lead lines making it one of the album's highlights.
The oriental feeling comes back a little with the acoustic solo in "Beauty Asleep", which serves as an intro towards "Scar of Sadness". Foued and Florent's work is what made this one special with well thought drum lines, and the final appearance of the growling vocal in the album.
The synthetic effects over the vocals whisper rumbling with the steady rhythm in the background gives "Cold Night's Dream" a more darker dismal atmosphere, that peaks in the final piece "Dark Epilogue" by the weeping lead line to make the perfect instrumental finale to such excruciating yet enlightening path through the tale of Sofia, who appears on the album cover as a black winged angle lying on the ground with crimson black ground, reflecting the agony and torment expressed in the album.
If you have ever listen to these guys first release "Hilal" and to this one you probably won't suggest they are the same band, with so much dramatic changes in the core of the band's concepts and music, with the first album focusing on the brutal voice of Florent over the death rhythms and a much restless revolutionary concept, and their next album "Salam" offering a little bit more of their Oriental heritage mixed with a better role for Sarah's clean vocal, to be as close as ever to their friends ORPHANED LAND.
"Sofia" has much to stand on its own, as Sarah's voice dominating the whole album diminishing the existence of Florent vocal except in 3 tracks only -maybe due to his need to focus on the guitars section- and her voice also shows more maturity, stability and this grievy yearning echo to it as if Cristina Scabbia got mixed with Lisa Johansson with a charm of orient scent, and seeing how much development she crossed from her old band THE OUTBURST till here, she is paving here way to be on the top list of metal female vocals, but that came with a price as she didn't fill the needed power and aggression expected from them, leaving me asking for more of Florent's vocals.
The Middle Eastern influence in the music seems to be diminished replacing the traditional oriental instruments -as oud- to a more Spanish guitar sections that only appear in interludes and breaks, not as integrated in the music and the rhythms as the last releases, but with addition to new elements -as violin and choirs - it brightened the music a bit, specially when the guitars rhythms seemed a bit repetitive in composition and could have need more divergent.
The production of the album is one of it's highlights, being flawless and much advanced from their previous work, with more clarity and depth to the guitars sound and outstanding execution of the vocals mixing.
"Sofia" is a big risk for a newly established band exploring new musical territories and raising controversy among their fans swinging from style to style. But the sure fact that ARKAN succeeded one more time in delivering a passionate story that you will easily fall for, leaving you in much anticipation for their following creation.
02. My Reverence
03. March of Sorrow
04. Leaving Us
05. Soiled Dreams
06. Deafening Silence
07. Endless Way
08. Wingless Angels
09. Beauty Asleep
10. Scar of Sadness
11. Cold Night's Dream
12. Dark Epilogue