Whenever the second wave of black metal enters the kvlt konversation, the obvious geographical focus is Norway with bands like Mayhem, Burzum and Darkthrone guiding the discussion. Occasionally, Sweden rears its head via the early 90s offerings of Marduk and Dark Funeral. However, it’s a rare thing for Poland to enter the fray, despite it lying just across the Baltic Sea from these pioneering countries. 1993 already gave us the genre-defining Behemoth EP From the Pagan Vastlands, but it also saw the formation of Sacrilegium  and Arkona . Lunaris may only be the band’s sixth full-length release in these 23 years, but their contribution to black metal should not be disregarded.
Unlike the currently popular Litourgiya  released in 2015 by fellow Poles Batushka, Lunaris does not, at first listen, bring anything new to the table: it can be neatly characterised as mid-tempo black metal (in the vein of Mgła or Drudkh) with some symphonic flourishes, topped off by neat, high-quality production values (very much in keeping with the approach followed by Behexen ). They also follow a recipe begun in 1996 with Imperium, and start their album with an ambient introduction before getting down to black metal business. They also rely heavily (as on previous releases) on choral elements and church organs – an ironic touch, given their prevailing anti-Christian and Pagan themes – for added ambience. Despite these characteristics, however, Lunaris does evidence stylistic development – not a band stuck in the 90s, resting on past laurels. The most noticeable aspect of this is in the pacing of the music: Arkona display a tendency towards slower tempos (à la early 90s Bathory), a trait shared by their countrymen Graveland , resulting in a much more palpable groove than they have shown before. Add in a serious front-and-centre presence from the bass in the final mix, and you end up with a delightful pulse driving the compositions, rather than a straight up blasting assault. The ebb-flow structure on ‘Droga do ocalenia’ highlights this particularly well.
What Arkona achieves with Lunaris is a lesson in subtle menace: other second-wave bands are largely associated with bleak, frozen soundscapes where atmosphere is concerned – instead, Arkona deliver a seething malevolence that is equal parts unsettling and exciting. The clever use of dissonance on ‘Ziemia’  typifies this methodology.
Clocking in at just six tracks, Lunaris may not seem like a full-length album, but with the shortest track coming in at a hair over six-and-a-half minutes long, there is more than enough music happening here – the whole album clocks in at a respectable 48-odd minutes. Furthermore, it’s all relevant: clever pacing (as mentioned earlier) and arrangement result in tracks that are dynamic, well-rounded and maintain engagement with a listener. Add in excellent production that delivers a gorgeous treble-rich black metal tone without sacrificing any clarity or losing bass presence (‘Śmierć i odrodzenie’ exemplifies the best low/high end balance on the album) and you’re left with a record that might not offer compositional or stylistic surprises, but is still eminently listenable. In this way Arkona can be favourably compared with the likes of Kampfar – another late addition to the second wave that are nevertheless reinventing themselves for a new black metal audience without distancing themselves from an existing fanbase.
- Dayal Patterson, author of Black Metal: Cult Never Dies, describes Arkona’s 1996 debut, Imperium, as follows:
“A genuine masterpiece, it is a record that epitomises everything great about the era and despite the Nordic influences its Polish character is undeniably present throughout. With the use of church organ, choir and string synth sounds and a nicely unpolished production, the record is rich in atmosphere and carries an air of almost religious fanaticism, an element only heightened by Messiah’s superb and zealot-like vocals.”
- The video for ‘Yekteniya IV – Milost’ in particular is making waves on social media.
- Behexen‘s 2016 release, The Poisonous Path, was reviewed on Brokenamp earlier this year.
- Arkona featured on the 2006 Graveland ‘Tribute’ album, Chronicles of Tyranny & Blood (more information about which can be found here)
- No Clean Singing premiered the video for ‘Ziemia’ on 13 October.