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Arkan - "Hilal" (CD)

Arkan - "Hilal" CD cover image

"Hilal" track listing:

1. Groans Of The Abyss (6:59)
2. Lords Decline (6:09)
3. Mistress Of The Damned Souls (6:07)
4. Lamma Bada "Under The Spell Of Haughtiness" (3:15)
5. Tied Fates (5:58)
6. The Seven Gates (5:55)
7. Athaoura "Shaped By The Hands Of Gods" (3:47)
8. Chaos Cypher (5:31)
9. Defying The Idols (6:09)
10. El Houdou (1:09)
11. Native Order (7:21)
12. Amaloun Jadid (3:41)

Reviewed by on October 13, 2008

"Arkan clearly has no interest in letting the frequent ethnic sounds in any way reduce the level of intensity that pervades the album, which is mostly an admirable trait as it keeps the music thoroughly brutal."

As the borders of the world come down due to faster forms of communication being more widespread and access to the internet becoming more readily available, the gaps between the genres of music, and the people who are traditionally associated with listening to them, come much closer together. No one would usually think of places like Algeria or Morocco when discussing metal music, but the time has finally come for the Arabian cultures of those countries to get their say in how metal continues to evolve in the years to come. Arkan’s first full length album “Hilal” is truly a multicultural experience, with the band members hailing from France, primarily coming from Algerian descent, and completing the recording in Sweden alongside the death metal magnate Fredrik Nordstrom.

“Hilal” starts off with the sounds of a bustling Moroccan market in full swing permeating the background as a man shouts out reminders in Arabic to the passing crowd about minding the lessons of those who came before. The band goes beyond simple sound effects to produce an authentic Arabic feel, using ancient instruments like the oud and bendir at different points here and during the rest of the album to make the experience more genuine. Without warning an inexorable and unyielding intense yelling that is similar to a death metal growl pierces through the Arabian sounds to portend the coming of one colossally heavy song. The massive heaviness evident on the opener, which could easily give the likes of Gojira or Meshuggah a run for their money, remains steadily apparent through almost all of the songs, with the exception of a few brief interludes.

There are a wide range of diverse sounds and styles on “Hilal” that keep interest running high. The companion to the death vocals are a clean male singing by the band’s second main vocalist that are the equal of just about any huge name band out there, compelling without dropping into the mainstream, and understandable without losing any amount of power. The throaty and drawn out style of male Arabian vocals also makes regular appearances, provided by a professional Tunisian singer making his first foray into the metal world. Clean female vocals round out the singing mix, giving lingering background moans and a bit of a gothic feel.

Arkan clearly has no interest in letting the frequent ethnic sounds in any way reduce the level of intensity that pervades the album, which is mostly an admirable trait as it keeps the music thoroughly brutal. There are times when the songs would have been better served if the metal had been toned down a notch and allowed the Arabian style sounds to play a larger role. Despite a few instances of good musical meshing, “Hilal” overall seems to take a rather "either/or" approach with their particular breed of music. Most of the songs are either entirely traditional Arabian or full force metal, and when the two mix it is usually for nothing more than a short intro to set a mood or for the ending of a song. Very rarely do the more traditional instruments actually play alongside the guitars, and in those cases when they do they are typically much lower in the mix or simply played at a low enough volume that they don’t get to make much of an impact. It is a little unfortunate that the most compelling song on the album is “Chaos Cypher,” which has the least amount of cultural influence and is the most like straightforward melodic death metal.

The mixing of Arabian instruments with brutal death metal isn’t entirely perfect on “Hilal,” but it is good enough that it should pique the interest and keep someone hooked for a good long time, and the simple fact that it has influences from a culture that generally ignores metal is reason enough to give it a shot.

Highs: Massively heavy, lots of diversity, and cool Arabian influences in the music

Lows: The Arabian sounds aren't meshed all that well into the heavy parts

Bottom line: Interesting mix of brutal death metal and traditional Arabian music

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)