Pagan Rebellion, North America: Part II
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Toronto, ON, M5V 2B7
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The beginnings of ARKONA date back to 2002, when members of local pagan community "Vyatichi", Masha "Scream" Arhipova and Alexander "Warlock" Korolyov, decided to form a band that mirrored their individual philosophy and musical tastes. The band, at the time still known as Hyperborea, comprised Masha "Scream" Arhipova (vocals), Eugene Knyazev (guitar), Eugene Borzov (bass), Ilya Bogatyryov (guitar), Alexander "Warlock" Korolyov (drums), and Olga Loginova (keyboard), but it wasn't until February 2002 that ARKONA surfaced from the depths of Russia's underground scene.
ARKONA soon decided to record several of their pagan/folk songs for their first demo. The recording took place at CDM-Records Studio in December 2002. The demo included 3 tracks – "Kolyada", "Solntsevorot" (Solstice)" & "Rus'" (Russia). These tracks were later included as a bonus on the live album "Zhizn' vo slavu" (Live for the Great) released in 2006.
ARKONA began performing live in early 2003. Many concert-goers experienced the band for the first time at the Yazycheskaya Rus" Festival. By the summer of 2003, ARKONA was ready to record their debut, but disinterest in the band by some of its members saw the band disappear from the scene as quickly as it had arrived. Yet Masha's perseverance would not subside. Continuing on her own, and with the help of the members of Nargathrond, she proceeded to compose new material. Her fellow musicians readied their instruments, read through the partitions, and without ever looking back, recorded their debut album "Vozrozhdenie" (Revival) in March 2004.
"Vozrozhdenie" (Revival) quickly became one of the most successful Slavic pagan metal albums of all time. As soon as the studio work was completed, Masha dedicated herself to the creation of new songs and by the end of summer 2004, the material for the second album "Lepta" (The Contribution) was completed. With the support of the same line-up, the band finished the recordings in autumn. "Lepta" was released in December 2004 and presented the listener with a darker and gloomier style. ARKONA was also supported by poet and vocalist Les'yar (Nevid', ex-Butterfly Temple), who not only performed, but also wrote the lyrics for "Zarnitsy Nashei.Svobody".
The album's release placed ARKONA back on the scene as a contending force. With a complete line-up, ARKONA returned to the stages in the beginning of 2005.
An ever-espousing fountain of creativity, Masha continued writing new material and by the summer of 2005, ARKONA was recording their next album. "Vo Slavu Velikim" (For the Glory of Great) proved to be the most complicated and varied album thus far, as the band withdrew from the use of synthesized sounds, replacing them with authentic folk instruments. As such, the list of guest musicians grew considerably including the renowned folk musician Vladimir Cherepovskiy (Mervent, ex- Voinstvo Sidov, Veter Vody, Trio Mario), as well as members of Svarga and Alkonost.
Though the arrangements for each song at times exceeded 100 recorded tracks, ARKONA was able to finally piece together the album and "Vo Slavu Velikim!" (For the Glory of Great) was finally released in September 2005. During the touring that followed in support of the album's release, ARKONA recorded their performance for the purpose of releasing a DVD and the live album "Zhizn' vo Slavu". Fueled by their outstanding achievements, ARKONA opted not to rest on its laurels and made sure to return with a new album as soon as possible. Fans heard a preview of "Ot Serdca K Nebu" (From the Heart to the Sky) at the 2008 Ragnarok Festival. In addition, the band embarked on a 30-day tour throughout Europe with Brutal Assault being just one of the highlights.
Back at home, ARKONA decided not to take a break, but to immediately begin working on their fifth album. In order to top their previous effort, the band aimed to create something unique. While working on "Goi, Rode, Goi!", the band also planned their second DVD. "Noch Velesova" was released via Napalm Records in May 2009. ARKONA also performed at the German festival Winternoise, taking a well-deserved break from the arduous recording process.
Upon their return, ARKONA continued to work on the new album, completing the recordings in June 2009. It was quite an enterprise, as over 40 musicians were involved in the making of "Goi, Rode, Goi!". The band described the process as the most labor-intensive and time-consuming work in its history. ARKONA made use of a full-fledged chorus and string quintet for the first time in their career. The heart of the album is undoubtedly the 15-minute saga 'Na Moey Zemle' that relates the adventures of a Slav in European countries. This epic features the voices of members of Manegarm, Menhir, and Heidevolk, among others. Vladimir Cherepovsky and Vladimir "Volk!, who has recently become a full-time member of ARKONA, are responsible for the traditional instruments on the album. The artwork was again the work of the legendary Kris Verwimp. He delivered a series of conceptual illustrations for each song on the album.
The result was worth the hard work, as "Goi, Rode, Goi!" proved to be the next logical step in the band's journey. Fans would experience the live power of the new material at numerous live performances. ARKONA also produced video clips to the title track, the anthem "Yarilo", as well as the melancholic "Liki Bessmertnykh Bogov". The band played numerous shows in support of the new album and also released an EP in the summer of 2011 to ease the fans' anticipatory wait for the upcoming album.
The members of Arkona have already managed to make a name for themselves within the pagan metal scene that extends way beyond the borders of their native Russia. Their new album "Slovo" acknowledges their well-earned reputation with outstanding tracks. The band revolving around lead warrior Masha Scream has managed to outshine all past efforts. "Slovo" bundles Arkona's strengths and catapults the band to new musical heights. The foundation of blast beats, double bass attacks, and heavy riffs remain, yet it is the attention to detail that rounds off Arkona's multi-faceted sound. Folk melodies, complex vocal lines and choruses, clean vocals and growls, orchestral passages, and authentic instruments (violins, flutes, etc.) serve to embellish "Slovo". The diversified end result features epic ballads and heavy folk-oriented tracks bound for certain glory at upcoming live performances. Masha's Russian lyrics add a hardened, yet melancholic touch to this latest work. Once again, Arkona has chosen master illustrator Kris Verwimp (Vintersorg, Månegarm, Thyrfing, etc.) to design the album's artwork. "Slovo" is an album full of highlights destined for yet another impressive victory on the pagan metal battlefield.
On 24 February 1999, three men held a meeting at the borders of the Pääsküla bog, in the singer and guitar player Markus’s basement, one of whom could play a little bit of guitar, another who knew how to play a little bit of drums, and a third who had come up with a sufficiently ancient-sounding name that would be just right for a heavy metal band – ’Metsatöll’ (the name "Metsatöll" is an ancient Estonian euphemism for wolf).The thought soon turned into reality and over the next few days four or five songs were composed and a couple of months later there was an entire album-full of them. The demo album Terast mis hangund me hinge was released in the autumn of 1999. Soon afterwards, Lauri joined the band, bringing with him a second guitar, the torupill, kannels and flutes.
In early 2001, the original bass player was replaced by Kuriraivo. A year later, a single and video for the song Hundi loomine were released.
Metsatöll’s current line-up was finalised in 2004, when Atso took up the place behind the kit. At that same year, the album Hiiekoda was released, which multiplied the number of the band’s fans several hundred times, crushed all previous sales records for an Estonian metal artist and won Metsatöll the Best Metal Act 2005 award at the Estonian Music Awards ceremony.
In 2006, the same award was won for the album Terast mis hangund me hinge 10218, a re-recorded and re-arranged version of the band’s demo album. The live DVD See You On The Battlefield! was recorded during the album’s presentation show, and it won the title of Best DVD 2006. At that very same year Metsatöll and the Estonian National Male Choir composed an arrangement of Veljo Tormis’s magnum opus, Raua needmine; a DVD was released in Estonia and Germany of the show that took place in the ruins of the Pirita cloister.
Metsatöll’s third album, Iivakivi, released in February 2008, won the band the now familiar Metal Act of the Year award from the Estonian Music Awards ceremony. At the same year, Metsatöll signed a contract with Universal’s Finnish subsidiary, Spinefarm Records.
To celebrate the band’s 10th birthday, a 2DVD/CD Kõva Kont (2009) was released, which will be Metsatöll’s final release published with the band’s own resources. More than five hours of stuff to watch and listen, from between the years 2000-2008, it provides a thorough overview of the band’s history – from rehearsals recorded in a basement and the very first gigs attended by both of their fans, to the show at the Rabarock festival, cheered by a stadium full of people, and the concert Märkamisaeg, which was attended by an audience of more than 100 000.
In the autumn of 2009, Metsatöll joined Ensiferum (FIN) for an European tour of 31 shows in 11 countries. By today, the band has played more than 250 shows in Europe and the US, and has sold more than 30 000 albums.
On 15 january 2010, the online-single and video Vaid vaprust was released, a first taste of Metsatöll’s fourth album Äio, due out on 3 March. All the music and lyrics on the album were conceived in the isolation of a small farmstead in Hargla, South Estonia. This provided the songs with a breath that, according to the guys themselves, cannot be achieved in a big city. Äio was recorded in Finnvox studios in Finland and Sinusoid studios in Estonia. The album was mixed by the legendary producer and sound engineer Mikko Karmila.
* On their homepage, and to date their releases, Metsatöll uses the chronology of the local natural religion. It begins with the Billingen catastrophe of 8213 before Common Era, when the Baltic ice lake broke its way into the ocean and most of the current territory of Estona appeared from under the water.