Saturday, June 7, 2014

Arkona - Raw Years 1993-1995

This compilation of Arkona's early demo material and unreleased tracks from the recording of their second album, Zeta Reticuli, showcases how this Polish band was at it's heart a little goofy and yet still was capable of crafting interesting albeit slightly bizarre black metal. Arkona's Raw Years 1993-1995 captures what would become an important band in the Polish scene in their infancy. What is even more significant is the insight this release gives to what Eastern Europe's black metal scene began as. Arkona were one of the first Polish black metal bands and one of the earliest in the east. While most bands fizzled out relatively quickly, Arkona were able to tough out what must have been difficult early years and take a stab at putting out some material. The songs can come across as superfluous with the usage of keys and the drums add a level of pomp rarely scene in other scenes.

With that said this is a must have tape for anyone heavily invested and interested in Polish black metal, especially the formative years. The quantity of ideas here, even if their execution is of questionable quality, is enough to warrant thought and consideration. As mentioned, the drumming is particularly 'out there' and very atypical with strong triplet snare hits and a martial and authoritarian personality. Many of the guitar riffs are two part constructs which fluctuate between two main notes and root notes. The exception to these rules is the first track which is also from those Zeta Reticuli sessions forenamed. It's of a different quality - a better quality overall - but it's also the least interesting and most generic because of the lack of the characteristics of the other tracks.

The real meat of the album begins with second track "Victims of Gore." Kicking off several tracks from the unreleased The Unholy War demo, we are able to experience some of what makes this release a unique listen: back and forth melodies and weird militant drum beats. "The Unholy War," the demo's title track is superior in this style with excellent vocals spat out by Messiah. "Follow Me... And Be Amazed," other than having a title which Richard Simmonds should have used on one of his Jazzercize vhs tapes, is one of the more commanding tracks, once again making use of triplet drum patterns and marching percussion to create a military-like atmosphere. A music video should have been made for this in the style of "Call of the Wintermoon." Even a strong melody on guitar makes itself known. Somehow, this is my favorite track on the whole tape. From the very beginning it captures the imagination of these early black metal years, when everything was still new and a bit special from these parts of the world. The slight rhtyhms and muffled nostalgia here adds to the whole experience.

Keyboards appear for the first time on "Sacred Iced and Bloody Tears." They sound like a Fischer-Price kids toy. This silliness is followed by a cover of Mussorgsky's "Ice In My Heart." Not being able to find a version of the original but being able to find other material from In Harmony With The Universe, I can only say it's an interesting conundrum. Arkona here are covering a track which was essentially written by Arkona (Mussorgsky was made up almost entirely of Arkona members) but under a different band name. They are still officially calling it a cover though. As an educated guess, the original would be much more industrial sounding and contain no black metal influences at all.  The keys are also present on tracks seven and eight - different versions of songs from the An Eternal Curse of the Pagan Gods demo. These come across as somewhat generic black metal however the keys give "W Cieniu Umierających Wierzb" a creepy vibe. The faster "Barbarzyński Ogień Wichrowych Wzgórz" also has some keys though they are brief. This song is mainly notable for it's faster pace. Both tracks have windy and stormy atmospheres.

The release ends with a rehearsal track, "Przyszły Zdrajca Chrześcijańskiej Masy" which was originally on Arkona's debut Bogowie Zapomnienia demo as a proper track. The rehearsal here has two takes of the song. It's an unnecessary addition really though the addition of a live rehearsal of the band might be of interest to die-hards. Ultimately, the tape finishes a bit weak with these other tracks. The track from The Unholy War demo are the real gems here for their personality.

My writing - to know which side was what. The original tape is just a black shell.

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