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Arkan - "Sofia" (CD)

Arkan - "Sofia" CD cover image

"Sofia" track listing:

1. Hayati
2. My Reverence
3. March of Sorrow
4. Leaving Us
5. Soiled Dreams
6. Deafening Silence
7. Endless Way
8. Wingless Angels
9. Beauty Asleep
10. Scar of Sadness
11. Cold Night's Dream
12. Dark Epilogue

Reviewed by on May 22, 2014

"...there's been a significant shift in sound to the point you probably wouldn't recognize this as Arkan if you'd only ever heard the first album."

Working for a metal news site, some of the most satisfying elements of my job are seeing those amazing underground bands finally getting a label deal, and watching the development of lesser known bands from inception onward as they change and grow with each release. It's been quite the ride seeing the French-by-way-of-Algeria/Morocco outfit Arkan kick things off with the debut full-length “Hilal” back in 2008. After “Salam” in 2011, the band is now dropping third album “Sofia” via Season of Mist, and there's been a significant shift in sound to the point you probably wouldn't recognize this as Arkan if you'd only ever heard the first album.

While “Salam” witnessed the addition of clean female vocals to brutal death metal, “Sofia” sees them completely take over and dominate the album. While still very much a metal album, the actual death metal elements are almost entirely gone, except for some small, isolated incidents across the disc. Likewise, the traditional ethnic instruments that made “Hilal” so intriguing have also shifted out of focus, and now most of the Middle Eastern feel comes from the tone of the acoustic guitar strumming, rather than being a front-and-center component.

On the “Salam” album review I wrote that Arkan was for fans of Orphaned Land who wanted a more brutal experience. This time around, Arkan has more in common with the last two Lacuna Coil albums than with either Orphaned Land or the average death metal band. Obviously that will be a satisfying (or at least acceptable) change to some while less-than-welcome for others. The death metal hasn't been entirely removed, but those appearances are now few and far between. Harsh vocals don't actually show up until halfway through the third song “March of Sorrow” and then don't come back until eighth track “Wingless Angels,” along with an encore on the album's tenth offering, “Scars of Sadness.”

There are other changes as well, like the repeated atmospheric guitar chords with clean chanted vocals on “Cold Night's Dream” or the focus on acoustic guitars in the background coupled with booming drums. Even with the major sound shift, “Sofia” is still a high quality listen, and there's enough of the unique atmosphere that Arkan is known for to keep fans interested, so long as they are willing to recognize ahead of time that “Sofia” is several steps removed from the extreme end of the metal spectrum.

Highs: The music is still interesting even with the shift away from death metal, and there are some interesting stylistic choices not present on previous releases.

Lows: The loss of most of the death metal will make this a non-starter for some, and several of the tracks on the first half of the disc have overly similar song structures.

Bottom line: Arkan moves away from a brutal death metal sound with tinges of Middle Eastern influence to something more along the lines of recent Lacuna Coil.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)