Thursday, 20 November 2014

Extreme Thursday: Arkan

Life. Don't talk to me about life. Brain the size of a planet, and I can't even write a blog post once a week to publish on a Thursday. What's the point, eh? Well, the point is to talk about kick-ass bands who do awesome things, of course. Just because real life (ugh) commitments get in the way doesn't mean there aren't amazing bands putting out fantastic music.

But enough hyperbole. We're here to talk about music, not sporting events, and this neatly segues us into our band of the week, Arkan, from Paris. Their French influence, though, extends only as far as their location and the former band of founder Foued Moukid, who was drummer for progressive goth legends The Old Dead Tree. The band's sound is billed as melodic death metal with middle eastern influences. Not the shortest genre tag but probably not the longest.

Foued's initial vision of the band was a side-project highlighting Maghreb metal in reference to his Moroccan heritage. He hired Mus El Kamal and Samir Remila to play guitar and bass respectively from the Algerian band Worth. Finally Florent Jannier and Sarah Laysacc from French/Algerian band The Outburst joined on growls and clean vocals respectively, with Florent picking up some guitar duty too.

Not afraid to show their hand, Arkan's debut EP Burning Flesh, released in 2007, got straight to the political and ideological heart of the band. It follows the psychological journey of a suicide bomber. While lyrics are available on the internet it appears that finding a place to listen to this early material is very difficult.

Arkan came to the fore with their debut album, 2008's Hilal. A more philosophical and less political album than Burning Flesh, it deals with Sumerian legends of the first great civilisation on the ground of what is now Iran and Iraq. It primarily deals with the contribution of ancient Mesopotamian civilisations and their contribution to the philosophy and religion of the western world.

Interspersing dense, thundering death metal with Arabic influenced clean vocals from Sarah, all wrapped up in Eastern melodies, the sound evokes bands such as Master Of Persia and Orphaned Land, while at the same time being even heavier. Even during the quieter, clean sections the undercurrent of death metal runs deep and bubbles to the surface, transitioning vocal style and heaviness seamlessly.

The success of Hilal got Arkan a contract with Season Of Mist and tours with many well known bands such as Septicflesh and Orphaned Land. After touring for a number of years the band started work on their second full-length and, in 2011, released Salam, Arabic for peace.

Taking another turn with this album, the music becomes more melodic and incorporates even more middle eastern influence. The riffs and tunes feel more accessible, and unrelentingly heavy. Using more of the mood and emotion of the Arabic influences than earlier releases, coupled with a distinctly (to my ear) goth metal vibe, rather than relying on heavier sections for emotional weight gives the whole album a subtly different feel.

Things took a serious turn with the 2014 album Sofia with a complete shift in musical direction. The death growls are played down, the crushing riffs are replaced with plaintive melody, and the heavy drums are supported by delicte percussion. A more melancholic, sadder, more emotional album is presented. The only reason given is "a serious personal event experienced by one of the group members." The identity of the member is not given, nor is the precise nature of the event, but the lyrical content of the album is enough to give a good idea.

It is a mournful legacy of a young life lost too early. The grieving and pain of a family who have lost one dear to them. The Arabic influences are more evident, Sarah Laysacc's vocals carrying the lament and evoking every emotion associated with such a traumatic event. The heartbreak has been put to music as a catharsis, building up a beautiful memory rather than wallowing in self-pity and misery, while always remaining faithful to the memory of, one can only assume, the eponymous Sofia.

It is on this mournful note that we leave Arkan, for now. As a band they have matured together, still signed to the same label and still with the same members as originally formed the band eight years ago. Their sound has matured, become at the same time more subtle and more powerful.

Check out Arkan's Facebook and Bandcamp pages, but definitely take a look at their homepage. While I normally despise auto-playing video, this one is done so well I'm willing to let them off. And the music that auto-plays is pretty damn good, too!

Follow Arkan at:


Originally posted on Femetalism by Craig Andrews.