Released: 2016, Debemur Morti Productions
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
What's the first thing that you think of when someone begins talking to you about black metal? To most, visions of frost-bitten woodlands, burly folk daubed in corpse-paint and a particular disdain for churches would spring to mind. As for the music itself? Vicious, unrelenting and rabidly aggressive, with haunting atmospheres and the sort of harsh cold that would give a brass monkey more than a fleeting concern for its balls. So how about safe?
Poland's ARKONA have been around a fair while – their first album was released back in the snows of 1996 and they've built up a solid legacy of five full releases amongst a smattering of EPs and splits. With “Lunaris”, their sixth full-length, they continue to plough their furrow with accomplished ease: gnarly, tremolo riffs sit atop blasting drums with typical larynx-bothering snarls, courtesy of session member Marek “Necrosodom” Lechowski. It's all rolled together in a lovely little bundle of hate by the oh-so-familiar bite of cold atmospheres – a wee bit of joy any self-respecting black metal fan will enjoy.
“Droga Do Ocalenia” opens with abandon, before weaving in touches of melody towards its close, whilst “Nie Dla Mnie Litość” seethes with unfettered menace and feels positively Arctic. But whilst the execution and songwriting is admirable, there's more than a hint of “safe” and “reliable” about “Lunaris”. At times it feels contained, knowing where to go and what to do for each track without pushing the boundaries. It's by no means a deal-breaker, because what ARKONA have produced is black metal to a T, but it just comes across a little restrained. The production likely doesn't help matters, either – it's balanced enough, but it has that early wave of black metal approach where it errs on the treble-side. A fuller production (with bass) may offer that cut and thrust that seems a little absent.
Despite this, the orchestrations and atmosphere on “Lunaris” are sublime – opener “Droga Do Ocalenia” could have been lifted from a classic horror film with its menacing choir and organ whirling about it. Despite the production, it makes for a surprisingly grand sound and just adds a little extra Hollywood to ARKONA's sound.
If you enjoy black metal, then this will appeal to you, no doubt. If you're looking for anything other than that (save for some opulent orchestrations), then you'll need to keep looking. It's true to black metal traditions: obsidian, evil and chilling, with nowt taking out. It may feel a little by-the-numbers at times, but despite this “Lunaris” is a competent album from ARKONA and will be best served in a dark, candlelit room with some fine whiskey on a cold, snowy day.
Review by: Lee Carter