Ah, Poland. Survivor of atrocities, war, oppressive socialism, and other turmoil that no country deserves. And yet, one positive consequence of all this is a disaffected, angry youth putting their feelings into musical expression, resulting in metal bands at the top of their game like Behemoth, Vader, Decapitated and Hate – but also less “mainstream” outfits like Arkona (not to be confused with the Russian folk metal band of the same name).
Founded in 1993 – the same year as Norway’s black metal poster children Dimmu Borgir – Arkona have been infecting underground airwaves with frigid, uncompromising evil across six full-length albums, culminating in their seventh, Age of Capricorn, now available on Debemur Morti. The key word in this is ‘uncompromising’ – here is a band that has stuck to their guns, stylistically and thematically, for their entire existence and the net result is that listening to Age of Capricorn evokes similar fire and fury as their 1996 debut, the second-wave defining Imperium. No mean feat, considering Khorzon is the only founding member. Where the aforementioned Dimmu Borgir have fully embraced their symphonic side, Arkona remains true to their roots, merely complimenting their strident, martial metal with cinematic orchestrations that are always a supporting player, not a lead role.
The biggest surprise is the title track: where black metal is almost by definition jam-packed with bleak despair, this song borders on power metal – not thematically or even musically, but in the grandeur and majesty it conjures. Historically, black metal ‘anthems’ have been firmly rooted in the Norwegian tradition, with numbers like Immortal’s “Tyrants,” Emperor’s “I am the Black Wizards,” Mayhem’s “Freezing Moon” or Satyricon’s “Mother North” leading the pack. The epic scale of “Age of Capricorn” easily ranks among these, however.
Age of Capricorn in all its glory.
The remainder of the album should not be undervalued, though: from seething opener “Stellar Inferno” right through to the virulence of “Grand Manifest of Death,” Arkona can simply do no wrong. Age of Capricorn is, quite simply, the perfect end to what has already been a great year for black metal: the perfect blend of deceptively simple melodies with searing riff work joined together by production values that are just raw enough to be authentic, yet still clean enough to fittingly frame the quality of the musicianship. The real highlight, though, is the drumwork. Zaala’s ebb-and-flow, pulsing backbone is more than just a rhythm section, it’s a foundation and a feature all at once.
Age of Capricorn Track Listing:
01. Stellar Inferno
02. Alone Among Wolves
03. Age of Capricorn
04. Deathskull Mystherium
05. Towards the Dark
06. Grand Manifest of Death
Run Time: 46:46
Release Date: December 13, 2019
Record Label: Debemur Morti
Over a quarter of a century of Arkona later, it is a gladdening prospect to see and hear the spirit of second-wave black metal so passionately preserved on Age of Capricorn.