Arkona – Ot Serdca K Nebu (2008)
For many, it’s hard to picture what Russia must have looked like in the time before Putin…before the Soviet Union…before the czars…before the Kingdom of Novgorod…before St. Cyril and Methodius, and the Orthodox Church.
But if one was forced to guess, Arkona’s artist has saved us the trouble: a pagan native of the countryside in traditional dress, in the throes of worship of his graven idols before a sacred fire.
And if one imagined how pagan Russian would sound, one might hear the flutes, woodwinds, string instruments, and booming war drums of the ancient tribesmen. One could imagine the shifting moods and melodies as they celebrated and marked the changes of seasons, the exploits of the battlefield, and the stories of the Russian pantheon.
Such is the sound of Arkona, who has chosen heavy metal music as its way of exploring this ancient part of their motherland’s history. Indeed, the only thing on “Ot Serdca K Nebu” that sounds less than 1,000 years old is the distortion.
2. Pokrovy Nebesnogo Startsa (Shrouds of Celestial Sage)
3. Slava, Kupala!
4. Ot Serdca K Nebu
5. Oh, Pechal-Toska (Oh, My Sorrow, My Anguish)
7. Strela (The Arrow)
8. Nad Propastyu Let (Over the Abyss of Ages)
9. Slavsia, Rus! (Long Live Rus!)
10. Kupala I Kostroma
13. Katitsla Kolo (Kolo Rolls)
Russian (in which all of Arkona’s lyrics are written) is a deep, guttural language that sounds best from deep within the throat. So as frontwoman Masha “Scream” trills and whispers the album’s prologue, you’re forced to overcome the language barrier and let the music itself (and eventually, the emotion and tone of the voice) carry the day. The majority of “Ot Serdca K Nebu” features her impressive growl against the backdrop of a full suite of folk instruments–battle horns and choirs of “Pokrovy Nebesnogo Startsa,” flutes and pipes on the title track, traditional guitars on “Slava, Kupala,” and touching piano on “Oh, Pechal-Toska.”
Even relatively short songs like “Pokroby Nebesnogo Startsa” tell a detailed story; as explained in the notes, the song is about a young warrior who dies in battle and offers his spirit to Veles, the pagan Russian guardian between this world and the next. And the music reflects this: the intense battle sounds of metal give way to the celestial air as he passes beyond. There is also “Slava, Kupala,” which talks about the summer festival complete with the imagery of jumping over a fire while holding hands, the electrified traditional folk song “Kupala I Kostroma,” and the pastoral instrumental breaks of “Gutsulka” and “Tsygular.”
As an album that put Arkona (and Russia) on the map of metal, “Ot Serdca K Nebu” is a beautifully executed (and beautifully illustrated!) piece of work.
Written by Matt P