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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Review: Arallu – Death Covenant

Label: Hammerheart Records

Date: November 11th, 2022

I guess I’m dealing with “the other” Israeli black metal band with Mesopotamian influences in mind. I’ll admit to never hearing about this band before, even though their career spans a quarter of a century and seven full length albums prior to “Death Covenant”. So, for me personally, this is a debut recording by Arallu. And I guess I’ve explained it all in the first sentence here, right?

Well yes, if I were to take the easy route through the review. But I won’t be doing that. Let me simply shoot out Melechesh’s name and be done with it. I could also add a bit of Orphaned Land, as is to be expected, but whatever they are doing Melechesh has already introduced into black metal, so there’s no bigger need for me to elaborate further.

With all that being said and out of my way, I must confess that Arallu very much stand on their own. To my ears at least. Also, considering the ratio of folk to black metal on “Death Covenant”, I cannot claim to have heard anything similar, however possible it is that something like that exists in the oceans of nowadays extreme metal scene.

Essentially, Arallu presents a perfect “50-50” mix of black metal and Middle Eastern folk music. Neither of them takes the leading role with the other subtly complementing the whole. The quartet uses the Asia Minor musical touches throughout the release, most notably as a substitute for black metal’s trademark melodic lead guitars. Those segments are laid on top of a Mediterranean black metal originators’ foundation, thus giving the impression of Rotting Christ or Moonspell being thrown to the easternmost beaches of the sea.

Other uses for these folk elements in Arallu’s expression are most commonly found in the pieces where they are left alone. Electrified though they remain even then (sometimes in combination with acoustics) and still brimming with excessive energy, those moments tend to ease up the tension a bit, bringing out the atmospheric and emotional sides of the band. However, it wouldn’t be Middle East if there wasn’t for the cracking temper of its inhabitants, which is how Arallu develops the seemingly sunny and idyllic, postcard alike geography with blood boiling demography of the region. Not forgetting the religious aspects of this melting pot of cultures. Just take to the center stage of the record, where “Mystical Sultan” is wedged in between “Satanic Spirit” and “Desert Shadow Will Rise”. This trio of songs is quite capable of explaining everything there is to know about “Death Covenant”.

“Empire of Salt”, on the other hand, embodies all of the above in its almost six minutes. Aggression in combination with emotion, folk on top of black metal, acoustic traditionalism versus turbocharged extremes… Yet the track keeps slithering through as harmonic as a rattlesnake, warning of its presence as it goes along. Warning that you need to stay awake and fully focused in order not to miss a single note, as a miss might lead you into unwanted and uncharted territories. No wonder they chose this particular song as the first single. It encapsulates what the entire record is all about.

Now, on a less positive note, I believe the enthusiasm of the crowd of listeners might just fall on the exoticism of Arallu’s origin and the soundscape still not abused to infinity in heavy metal. Middle East, Israel and the Holy Land are still on their way to fully merging into still western-dominated metal scene. Examples like “Death Covenant” should help in this regard, especially when supported by a label such as Hammerheart Records.

However, exotic though it may sound, it is my opinion that this record needs to be catchier in order to capture the wider audiences. Of course, I’ve got a quarter of a century of material to catch up on, so there may have already been the “defining” record for Arallu. In that case I will rely on Hammerheart Records, known for their re-releases to further push the combination of almost opposing cultures Arallu stands for. As for “Death Covenant”, I’ve tried and tested it. It works as a record of astonishing power and strength. It is compositionally inventive. Instrumental delivery is spotless. Atmospheric and emotional sides effective. Spot on, to say the least, but it lacks moments that just won’t leave the listeners’ mind. Each time I’ve left the record for a while, all I took with me is the said atmosphere and feel of grandeur I’ve just been showered with. And to tell you the truth, for me it is more than enough. There should also be a good amount of brothers in arms that will feel the same, but there are whole armies that will need a “big hit” in order to fully appreciate material like “Death Covenant”.

Also, while I’m critiquing, I could do with a more effective cover artwork. Though it hits the spot thematically, perhaps more contrast between the colors would make it stick out in the record shops. Other than that, it is another aspect of “Death Covenant” that is seamlessly fitted into the whole, ultimately leaving a definite positive impression.