You’ve got to hand it to Poland’s Arkona, flying their black metal freak flag for over twenty-five years, weathering changes in tastes, technology, and personnel without wandering a smidge from their original Mephistophelian masterplan. Their unique blend of earthy black metal and fancypants symphonic trappings has corrupted many a vulnerable mind over the last couple of decades, leaving their victims humming wicked hooks long after the chaos has ended. The combination of beaut and brute still can’t be slowed by conventional weapons, despite their mix of Polish/ English lyrics and their release history of obscure splits and full-lengths on tiny labels – this is a band fighting the good (bad) fight.
And they’re enjoying a resurgence of sorts – the last couple of records on Debemur Morti have proven particularly strong, mainstay guitarist/vocalist Khorzon catalyzing a consistent lineup of Slavic ne’r do wells, and clearer, punchier sonics bound to please the metal productionistas (that means you). Long gone are the thin, machine-like percussive predilections of earlier records – their latest Age of Capricorn simply screams from the speakers. Drummer Krzysztof Zalewski’s blast-heavy style and storming double-bass pumps seem the key to the band’s renewed power, pushing the envelope alongside Khorzon’s dry rasp and the two guitars cycling gracefully between tremolo-picked tribulations and riffy low-end hoodoo in cuts like ‘Deathskull Mystherium’ and ‘Alone Among Wolves’, the latter of which vomits so much skull-hammering power, even the piano and synth lines can’t derail it. While many bands playing this style come across flouncy and overblown, Arkona’s haggard tuffs never seem to waiver, steamrolling along for 7 or 8 minutes at a clip like unhurried majestic devilnaughts.
Impressive as it is, the record doesn’t take a lot of chances. Despite the band’s history and pedigree, they don’t incorporate any surprising instrumentation, switch vocal styles, or flirt with other genres. In some ways, this is a good thing – no puffy orchestration or Disney-style witch cackles corrupt these proceedings. I know it’s a struggle to assemble and maintain a quality lineup, but with thousands of bands playing this style and competing for our limited dollar and download, it would be great to see them take it to the outside more, dig out a weird bassoon, layer in some shredaholic eccentricity, or experiment with some uber-dense blacker-than-thou arrangement.
As it stands, this one’s still a keeper for fans of old Dimmu or even newer stuff like Mgla. Degenerates obsessed with that fabled crossroads of pomp and hellfire could do much worse than checking this one out.
7 / 10