Sound: Let's be honest, metal is world music. It has a massive following across the Earth, as dvds like Global Metal and Heavy Metal in Baghdad has proven. Like some of the Scandinavian bands that use folk instruments, Arkan is in the category of metal that mixes the brutality of death growls and heavy distortion with traditional instruments. Whereas bands like Nile can seem to have a definite border between haunting acoustics and blasting metal in their songs, Arkan manages to seamlessly merge the two together.
Their first album, Hilal, was produced by Fredrik Nordstrm, who has been involved with In Flames, Dimmu Borgir, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, Dark Tranquillity, Septic Flesh and At The Gates.
The band members are based in Paris where they recorded their album, but their backgrounds are in Morocco, Algeria and Greece. The drummer, Foued Moukid, has said that they formed Arkan to create a bridge between musical and cultural backgrounds and also revive France's metal scene. If you look up Arkan' in a search you'd likely come across the name of a Serbian war criminal, though that is just an unlucky coincidence. It means Pillars' in Arabic, and so represents the traditional base of what their ancestors were, compared to what they are now. http://www.arkan.fr/eng/
Hilal' means Crescent Moon', a symbol of ancient Mesopotamia and modern Islam, though according to Foued, to them it represents the transition of two extreme states (the full moon and no moon), and so they are trying to suggest that they are running between the extremes of north and south, east and west. And this is exemplified by their album, which is interspersed with the sounds of a busy market. It is like they are performing a metal concert in a Moroccan bazaar (or souk) and makes for an exciting mix. // 9
Lyrics: The concept behind Hilal is ancient Mesopotamian mythology. The man in the market before the first song Groans of the Abyss' tells the crowd to listen to our ancestors' story and then the death growls launch into how mankind will be destroyed by the gods. Although he speaks in Arabic, the songs are in English. The theme can be compared to Viking Metal, where they aren't interested in writing songs involving modern religion so they reach further back into the past for inspiration.
There is a female and male vocalist for traditional parts. The female singer is Sarah Layssac, lead singer of The Outburst, who lends her beautiful voice to a very male dominated genre. Adel Abdellaoui is the male vocalist who is a traditional Tunisian singer. The combination of these two over the harsh death growls and occasional clean vocals makes for a sublime experience as Arkan's instruments don't seems to lose any of their oriental feel when filtered through the brutal distortion. // 8
Overall Impression: Arkan are more polished than Melechesh and much heavier than Orphaned Land. Compared to Nile, Arkan are more melodic than technical. Through this they manage to merge traditional instruments and oriental scales more easily into metal, unlike Nile's way of stopping the traditional sound and cutting to the metal. They have a different feel though, so fans of Nile may not be into them and also vice versa. For me, I'm a fan of both, and I think Arkan's Hilal took highest place in my CD stacker, above Those Whom the Gods Detest when I first got it. // 8