By Rafi Yovell (also posted on his writing blog)
Can you hear it, people? Can you hear the Earth rumbling? The gates of Hell opening? The angels falling? Well, don’t panic. These aren’t the sounds of the world coming to an end (yet…), they’re from Arallu’s epic new album, Death Covenant.
After Arallu‘s disappointing previous two releases, Six and En Olam, I feared they were running out of creative new ideas, but luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I don’t think Six or En Olam were bad, per se. It’s just that, unlike the first five Arallu albums, they lacked a sense of identity or distinguishing features (apart from two or three songs), thus amounting to two rather unmemorable records. But thankfully, Death Covenant will make sure you remember it, and for all the right reasons.
Let’s start off by acknowledging the change of style. Up until now, a prominent thrash metal influence was always apparent in Arallu‘s music, adding a lot of D-beats and rhythmic riffs to the mix, à la Sathanas, Aura Noir, and Desaster. However on Death Covenant, Arallu took on a style more similar to traditional black metal bands, like Dark Funeral, Mayhem, and Satyricon. For the first time ever, there’s an emphasis on atmosphere within the band’s sound.
Despite the thrash influence being gone, Death Covenant still sounds like Arallu. Butchered’s unhinged vocal style is just as intense as it was on previous albums, the lyrics are as blasphemous as ever, and the Middle Eastern folk instruments are all there.
In the interview I had with Butchered earlier this year, he stated that during the making of Death Covenant, Arallu took a new approach towards riffing, “…we started off by writing metal riffs on a saz [Middle Eastern string instrument] and only added the guitars later…”. Through this change, Arallu brought the Middle Eastern folk metal formula to its logical conclusion. As a result, said folk influence is stronger here than it is on nearly any other Arallu album, except maybe Desert Battles, which is saying a lot.
Every song on Death Covenant is a gem. The fourth track in particular, “Under Jerusalem’s Temple Mount,” is arguably the crux of the album, and not just because the words “Death Covenant” are chanted in the chorus. The song has all the previously mentioned aspects found throughout the album, just super-charged. But that’s not to say it’s the only song that possesses its own identity. “Satanic Spirit” is a haunting ode to demonic hallucinations that’s just as intense as it is well written, with paradoxical lyrics such as “bleeding and the heat freezes my skin.” “Empire of Salt” is a not-so-delicate mix of calming atmosphere with brief spurts of visceral grit. And “Skeleton Battlefields” has an intro that’ll make your skin crawl, but I’d rather not spoil the surprise for you.
Even the chill intermission song, “Mystical Sultan,” is excellent in its own right. Apart from proving Arallu capable of nailing a full-on ambient black metal song, it ends with a rock ‘n’ roll-esque guitar solo, which isn’t something I was expecting at all, but I gotta say, I’m pleasantly surprised. Perhaps Butchered and the gang took some notes from Inquisition or Deströyer 666 on that last part.
Sadly though, Death Covenant isn’t perfect. The flaw that sets it back from being their finest work yet is the ridiculous overuse of vocal layering. Arallu have implemented this element tactfully before, but here, it’s abused so much to a point where Butchered’s usually awesome vocals end up occasionally sounding like a clusterfuck which is trying way too hard to be intimidating and ferocious. This doesn’t ruin any of the songs, nor does it prevent Death Covenant from being an incredible album, but it could have been even better if Arallu realized their music is already as intimidating and ferocious as can be.
Nevertheless, Death Covenant still kicks ass. It’s more different than any other Arallu album, but not to a point where they sound desperate to appeal to a separate audience. It’s different because the band evolved and took their style to a new level. This is easily one of the best albums they’ve ever released, and an amazing comeback from the rut they’ve been stuck in for the last few years. Death Covenant is coming out on November 11th; no honest black metal head should miss out on this one.
TL;DR: Even if Arallu used a different colored spark, they still succeeded in reigniting the fire.