split epFor those who feel that metal is a purile genre and that black metal is purely just noise, this split release from two underground bands will certainly challenge such ideas. Those who harbour such preconceptions are unlikely to step within a hundred miles of this release, of course, but that’s hardly the point. From Krygyzstan, Darkestrah fuse black metal themes with a few traditional Asian musical slants, while Saudi occult metallers Al-Namrood mix up black metal with some heavy folk metal influences. While the music on this split release can take a while to fully appreciate – if, indeed, in the case of Al-Namrood, it can be fully appreciated – it cannot be said that either band play to extreme metal traditions and that these tracks aren’t in some way surprising.

A twelve minute epic from Darkestrah, ‘Akyr Zaman’ opens with vocal droning, the sounds of rain, more droning and finger cymbals, before a big crash unsettles the near hypnotic sounds. From here, the band builds an impressive – and definitely soundtrack-like – arrangement from heavy drums and a wash of keyboards, evocative of a huge expanse of open land. This doesn’t stay for long, before the metal aspects of the band’s work pierce through with a harsh vocal roar and heavy drums. The sounds of black metal very much present, this gives some indication of what to expect throughout the next ten minutes, but clearly being a band that aims to fuse the heaviness with flourishes of world musics, the haunting keyboards stand their ground and fill all available space behind the metal sounds. At the five minute mark, the extreme metal really pushes forth, but in terms of style is exceptionally well played. The drum sound is impressive, as is the combination of grinding guitars and older thrash touches. The vocal, meanwhile, growls obtusely and – as always – will be make or break for some. With the track building in volume and confidence with each passing moment, everything finally comes to fruition with the circular grinding colliding with an orchestral theme and huge militaristic drums, before synth strings add a distinct tone and depth. This is an absolute blast and there doesn’t seem to be any more Darkestrah could do to make this sound any better. …And then a haunting melody soars above everything to finish. Musically, this is spot on: so, so deep; so many layers; so intense. Those with a penchant for cinematic black metal should seek this out as soon as an opportunity allows.

Al-Namrood aren’t quite as easy to grasp, but that’s often down to having an odd – and incredibly loud – vocalist. The first part of their two part extreme folk-metal offering brings a hard and pneumatic drum sound (that sounds programmed) against a riff that’s so busy it actually sounds a little messy. Add a shouty vocal that leans heavily towards Arabic melodies and it’s very hard going for the uninitiated…and by the time that shouting gives way to the frontman cackling maniacally, it’s hard not to wonder what it’s all been about. With the folk metal occasionally dropping into shredding sounds, accompanied by a man growling and barking in the name of a vocal, this is frightening, like hearing Serj Tankian possessed by a demented demon. The only bright spots come from the interludes which reinforce the folk metal aspects with traditional instrumentation. More of these would have helped matters considerably. A good job, then, that the second movement – a slower, very Arabic sounding affair – is happy to oblige with some distinctive guitar riffs splayed over traditional percussion and more of a tune all round. Again, it’s during the instrumental parts that the band’s best side comes across, and this really pushes boundaries in terms of folk metal. It makes the world music elements of System of a Down’s work seem non-committal.

This release is worth experiencing for Darkestrah alone. Their atmospheric but heavy soundscapes present on ‘Akyr Zaman’ show the workings of a band that’s huge on scope and tight on delivery. Al-Namrood often bring interesting music, but would most certainly be a stronger instrumental outfit. Al-Namrood are so clearly the weaker band in this face-off, but on the basis of their chosen offering, Darkestrah were always going to be a tough act to follow. For the extreme metal fan who’s looking for something a little different, while hit and miss, this release should most definitely fill a certain requirement.

April 2016