Sound: I was a big fan of Arkan's previous release, Hilal, so I've been waiting for this. After giving it a listen-through, it seems that their musical arc has gone from pretty standard death-metal in Burning Flesh, through heavy-folk and melodic-death-metal in Hilal, to Salam, an album that has Oriental vibes embedded in the core of every song. And I suppose that's the difference between Hilal and Salam, if you thought Hilal wasn't heavy enough and diverged from pure brutality too often, then about half of Salam won't satisfy your bloodlust. However, Salam is way more complicated and layered, plus this seems like the album that Arkan had been building up to.
Over the past few years, Arkan have toured with bands including Septic Flesh and Orphaned Land. I'd say that both of these bands have had an influence on their sound, plus the tour with Orphaned Land was a tour against racism - fitting in well with the title of the album 'Salam', which means 'peace' in Arabic. They've announced that they aren't a religious or Islamic band, but want their fans in the places of the world that are susceptible to indoctrination and bigotry (I wonder what places aren't) to hear their message of peace - and playing with Orphaned Land has given them a real outlet to convey those feelings.
To me, is seems that Salam is at once an expression of rage at the results of ignorance and a herald for peace. Arkan accomplish this through death-growls, blast-beats and crushing riffs, melded with Oriental melodies, acoustics and the singing of their female band member, Sarah. Actually, if Opeth had a Middle-Eastern influence and a female singer, they could sound something like Arkan. // 9
Lyrics: The really great thing about Salam is how there never seems to be a disconnection between the metal and Arkan's Oriental influences. The Oud is used in a layer underneath a lot of the songs, and when the guitars overwhelm it, the Oriental riffing patterns are continued. Most songs are a multi-layered journey. Kobi Farhi, from Orphaned Land, volunteers his vocals to the track Deus Vult. He begins the song in spoken Hebrew, over acoustics, then the song launches into the singing of Sarah, followed by the growls of Florent, followed by the singing of Kobi and so it goes all over Middle-Eastern/North African inspired riffs using distortion as well as acoustics. The vocals themselves are also occasionally layered, with Kobi and Florent both performing their extreme vocals over each other in Deus Vult, and, in The Eight Doors of Jannah, Florent and Sarah meld growls and singing. It all combines to create a mystical and otherworldly intensity that flows through the album, and I haven't heard anything like it. // 9
Overall Impression: The songs that really stood out to me are Origins, Inner Selves, Deus Vult, Sweet Opium and The Eight Doors of Jannah but that may be because they are the heaviest. Other songs worth noting are Jerusalem Sufferpolis, which ends in a cool, melancholic solo, and Call From Within that has a really haunting quality to it.
Overall, I'd say Salam is a superb example of Folk (or the Oriental sub-genre if we want to be technical, but what's the point) Metal, and can't be compared to much of anything mainstream at this point in time definitely something worth hearing to see if it's down your alley. // 9