Khram, the first release from Moscow based Arkona in four years, sees the band continuing to sharpen their black metal side with sophisticated results. While some of Arkonas’ early work was a more accessible folk driven style, Khram, is a blackened arcane trip alight with tribute to their pagan heritage while simultaneously delving deeper into darker territories producing nine raw, yet, refined tracks.

Continuing thematically in much the same vein as each of its seven predecessors Khram (which translates into The Temple) is rich with themes of Slavic mythology. Khram, in comparison to its predecessor, Yav, sees the band tightening up and adding clearer definition to their direction while offering up, perhaps, their most cohesive and, certainly, their blackest album to date. Where earlier albums like Goi Rode, Goi! often conjured a lively, almost Fintroll styled, blackened folk-metal: the songs on the groups latest efforts have a refined darkness to them.

The nine tracks on Khram lend themselves more often to the rawer side of bands like Vintersorg or Eluveitie (see “Шторм (“Storm”)”) while, at times, tapping blacker staples like the, now, classic black n’roll percussion of early bands like Dark Throne and touches of progressive black metal can be found, as they were on Yav, in the rolling base lines (see track “Ребёнок без имени (“Nameless Child”)” and “Целуя жизнь (“Kissing Life”)”). Overall, the sound and blend of instruments feels more honed than previous releases. With a seamless interweaving of throat singing, bagpipes, mouth harps and various wood instruments a true sense of authenticity comes through on each song. In doing so the band showcases the maturity in their songwriting capabilities; as at no point does the album feel like it is a black metal band featuring overlays or samples of traditional instruments. The production and mix are also improved on this release. Quality production values and a mix that strikes the critical balance between all of the different elements allows space for each instrument while working together to build flowing, memorable songs.

The bookending intro and outro “Mantra” tracks set an arcane soundscape in much the same way Andrea Haugen did in her early works with Hagalaz Runedance or Wardruna have in more recent years: offering an authenticity to the craft one must feel to create. This esoteric vibe continues throughout the album (see “Storm” or 15 minutes into “Kissing Life”) but in comparison to previous works is subdued somewhat and adds a key ingredient to the impressive results. With the atmosphere invoked the group weave through six well-constructed album tracks (ranging in length from 5 to 17 minutes) and an excellent, completely revamped, cover of Vedan Kolod’s “She Wolf.” Interesting keyboard fills in tracks such as the towering monolith “Kissing Life,” as well as, the near dark wave touch added to the outstanding “In Pursuit of a White Shadow” added depth and personality to the tracks. The ethnic instrument sections on this album were not only sublime in their presentation but very authentic feeling: conjuring imagery of by-gone eras’ steeped in thick fog, beneath brooding charcoal skies and alight with the flames of pagan ceremonies.

Everything from the decidedly darker album artwork, to the sophisticated songwriting, to Masha’s most polished and direct performance to date defines the sincerity of this album and, hopefully, the bands new direction. While the band would do well to continue to hone, tighten and meld their new sound direction the material presented on Khram is, none-the-less, excellent and certainly worthy of repeated play. Arkona’s darker, more pointed approach is sure to attract a broader fan base and deservingly so!

You can purchase Khram, out now via Napalm Records here!