It is fair to say, if not something of an understatement, that Arkhan, a Swedish death metal act formed in 2003, have had their fair share of disasters including broken bones, medical problems and line-up shuffles. Still, the old adage that suggests one gains strength through adversity rings true and Arkhan’s third offering is as brutal and streamlined a piece of twisted death metal as you could wish for.
Offering a mere eight tracks in thirty-seven minute, ‘Primal’ is not an album that hangs around. Throughout you’ll find yourself pummelled by almighty riffs, beaten down by thunderous percussion and then flayed alive by the rock-hewn vocals which gargle lava and spit gravel at you. So far, so death metal, but this does not mean that Arkhan aren’t capable of pulling out a few surprises on the way and fans of the genre will not find themselves disappointed by this crushing release.
Opening track ‘Martyrs’ sets the scene well with an eerie sample of harrowing scream fraying the nerve endings just long enough for the gnarly riff that shatters the ambience to feel like a blessed relief. From here on in you can expect gleaming riffs that are executed with a sense of groove and power and which benefit greatly from the violently beautiful mixing job of David Castillo whose previous work with acts such as Bloodbath, Katatonia and Opeth makes him perfect for this kind of thing. It’s not all speed however – tempos shift and change and various themes and motifs emerge from out of the blistering melee of furious riffs and acid-seared vocals. There’s both groove and power here with the band crafting tracks that are both furiously powerful and yet strangely accessible. Take the awesome ‘fragile equilibrium’ for example, with its misleading intro giving way to the sort of fast-paced brutality that saw bands like Obituary claw their way to the top of the death metal pile whilst Chris Butticaz (who also oversaw the recording of the album) lends the whole thing a touch of class with his fluid solos. ‘The lost resonance’ showcases the band’s twisted sense of humour with the intro made up of the cheesiest Euro-pop ever heard before it collapses in upon itself to be consumed by the flesh-crawling riff that slams out of the speakers, crushing everything in its path and rendering you numb as its poison works through your system. Even on such a roll the band can’t resist stirring things up and as the tempo slows, so the song actually gets heavier, the leaden riffs remorseless in their inevitability and Stephane Diez’s drums throughout providing the living heart of the band, furiously circulating precious life-blood to the other members.
A personal favourite, ‘you monster’ has a vicious groove to it, the riffs swinging out of the speakers as Gregoire Duc’s rhythmic vocal delivery hypnotises the listener just in time for the tempo to change and the guitars to suddenly blaze into life in a flurry of blistering activity. It says much of Arkhan’s ambitious nature that they cram enough ideas for at least three songs into each track, yet the whole thing sounds fluid and natural and no element outstays its welcome demonstrating that the band more than have the talent to match their imaginative approach to song-writing. ‘Atomic Supermen’ is a furious blast of toxic riffs and scorching vocals delivered at a furious pace. ‘Shutdown’ slows the pace and yet sounds even heavier as its chunky riffs graze against the grinding percussion and throbbing bass (courtesy of Loic Loup) with the sound hinting at elements of Meshuggah’s vital groove and grind. ‘Lolita’ takes the pace back up a notch, slamming almost physically into the listener with its belligerent attitude and wah-inflected solo and then ‘dead end’ heralds the end of the album with a regal sense of melody creeping into the band’s typically ballistic barrage of epic guitars and gruelling vocal excursions. It is a fitting and suitably grandiose ending to an album that constantly strives to (and frequently succeeds) to expand upon the genre from whence it came, in traducing new and ambitious elements and showcasing a band with furious imagination and the skill to back it up.
Overall this is a fine death metal release that offers up a flawless production job, an intelligent take on the genre and even some rather impressive artwork on the packaging. If you’re a fan of the likes of bloodbath, Meshuggah, Obituary, or indeed extreme metal in general, then Arkhan a band you should be rushing to check out. Intense, intelligent and played with skill and precision this is an album with enough attitude and aggression to crush skulls – well worth checking out.
Find out more about Arkhan here: http://www.arkhan.ch/
Check out this teaser here: