Arhat – Dead Life


Arhat hail from Kiev and play death metal infused with oriental and groove elements. At least that’s what the press release says. On paper that should mean they walk the line between the hard-hitting metallic onslaught of Jinjer and the middle eastern melodies of Ignea. But think again if you believe their art can be reduced to such a simplistic equation. This is fierce extreme metal locked into a spiral of head-crushing riffs, frenetic drums and hyperaggressive death growls.

It’s clear Arhat value Sepultura as much as they love the brutal rhythmic grooves of Lamb of God, but we need to define their sound before we continue. The term ‘ethnic metal’ is nonsensical. Instead, we will use the term Phrygian metal after the famous Arabic mode they use for their guitar scales. You’ll know that quintessential Arabic sound after the first ten seconds of ‘Freedom’ and in the opening notes of ‘Outcast’. We westerners often associate it with late night belly dancing contests or the musical accompaniment to a stage performance from A Thousand and One Nights. Yet the Phrygian scales played in the key of E can sound evil, which makes it a wonder more bands don’t experiment with it since Death pioneered it as an integral part of their arsenal as early as 1987’s ‘Zombie Ritual’.

Arhat use the Phrygian scale to great effect on the title track by introducing it in a thrash attack with double-kick drums accenting the onomatopoeia of the palm-muted guitar notes. Fuck, this is wild and heavy, like one of those multi-faceted torture machines in the Saw series of horror films. The rhythmic precision on ‘Stetaly Ruins’ is tighter than a gastric band and as malevolent as Morbid Angel at their mid-tempo dirtiest. Djinn-djinn-gee-jida-junjun. It’s hostile but groovy at the same time and will get your head spinning in seconds. On ‘Arhat’ they serve up a death-thrash number like Germany’s Entorx and add a wonderful female wail among the backing whispers that will remind you of the erotic croons of the Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Temple of Love’.

Every song on here revels in crunchy metal rhythms, but the real star is drummer, Dmytro Sycho, who pounds his drums with the same intensity as Sepultura’s Eloy Casagrande. ‘Danger of Death’ is the perfect consummation of Lamb of God playing death metal in the style of Bolt Thrower. Vocalist, Alex Sitkoff, toys with a BDM approach to the microphone on this song, but the musicians behind him are far too expressive to let the music slip into a haze of monotonous brutality. True, they’re less inclined to furnish their sound with melody than most bands using the Arabic scales, but we should not hold that against them. You’ll find no gimmicks here, but the band guarantee to bludgeon. Listen to the extended vocal roar on ‘Dead Life’ and try to remain calm. Sitkoff’s power should make the back of your neck shiver.

A strong ending to the album with the excellent ‘Mantra’ only adds to the impressive ease with which this band smash through the speakers. Guitarist, Anton Skrebov, alternates his rhythms between chunky grooves and a surprise dose of atmospheric black metal techniques, but the introduction of wailing female melodies illuminates it beyond the harsher climate of their other songs into a marvellous piece of progressive death metal. It showcases how Arhat could evolve on their next album without sacrificing their Phrygian sound or trademark heaviness.

Instead of comparisons to their Ukrainian peers, we should be referencing Russian prog-metallers, Neorhythm, as Arhat’s obvious contemporaries. This is a fine way to end 2020 and begin the new year.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 23/12/2020

Record Label: Self Released

Standout tracks: Outcast, Arhat, Mantra

Suggested Further Listening: Neorhythm – Terrastory (2020), Jinjer – King of Everything (2016), Decapitated – Anticult (2017)