Arkan - Hilal Review
by Mark Hensch
For quite some time the notion of mixing Middle Eastern music with death metal has rested firmly in the hand of musicians outside of Middle Eastern culture. Though bands like Nile, Morbid Angel, and Behemoth are all excellent death metal acts, not a single one of their members hails from the Middle East.
Though residing in France, the same condition does not affect Arkan. The band – started by Old Dead Tree drummer Foued Moukid – is quickly making waves for utilizing the band members' shared Moroccan and Algerian heritages to create something quite different.
The result of this cultural clash is a sound deeply rooted in the Western tradition of death metal but unafraid of existing outside of it. For starters, the band obviously enjoys the brutality of Behemoth, the rhythmic slam of Meshuggah, and the melodicism of At the Gates. Like a whiff of incense from a desert caravan, Arkan spices up these already familiar methods of violence with some very exotic elements. Non-Western time signatures, folk instruments, and throat vocals sung in Arabic abound, all of which give the blistering death metal a unique twist.
At times, Hilal suffers from a tendency to overdo this experimentation, the disc occasionally getting bogged down in interludes and prolonged periods of Arabic rhythms. Despite this, the overall tone is fresh and visceral, the metal on offer simultaneously chaotic like a sandstorm and inviting like a harem.
"Groans of the Abyss," for example, encapsulates the band's sound with a mix of roaring riffs, quivering folk strings, and some vocal chants from a waifish woman of the sands. "Lords Decline," meanwhile, sways like a palm tree with sensual guitar textures and furious grooves. "Tied Fates" twists an Arabic folk melody into a face-shredding death metal war chant, replete with mournful wails and explosive fury. Speaking of which, "Chaos Cypher" serves as an excellent imitation of death metal-era Behemoth.
All these elements coalesce into a promising debut from a unique band. In much the same way Meads of Asphodel surprised black metal devotees by injecting Middle Eastern elements into their music, Arkan too changes death metal by turning away from old ideas and heading instead for older ones. Hilal mixes modern death metal with ancient folk, the end result being an almost mystical journey through a desert called time. It is a trip well worth taking, for death metal fanatics and more general metalheads alike.
Groans of the Abyss
Mistress of the Damned Souls
Lamma Bada ("Under the Spell of Haughtiness")
The Seven Gates
Athaoura ("Shaped by the Hands of Gods")
Defying the Idols
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