Album review: SARKE Aruagint
Across the spectrum in today's metal scene there are albums done with computers, triggers, effects, and a ton of studio tinkering, and then there are bands like Oslo, Norway's Sarke. Formed in 2008 by guitarist Thomas 'Sarke' Bergli (Tulus, Khold), and featuring one Ted 'Nocturnal Culto' Skjellum on vocals (Darkthrone), Sarke boasts the inimitable Asgeir Mickelson (Borknagar, Ihsahn) on drums, and the accomplished Steinar Gundersen (Spiral Architect, Satyriconlive member) on guitar. Instead of a typical super-group spending tons of money and time in the studio to bedazzle the masses, the goal of Sarke is to encapsulate the true, old-school spirit of heavy metal. And therein lies their beautiful ugliness.
Third album Aruagint (which looks like 'arrogant' at first glance) continues the musical journey embarked upon by their first two albums; invoking the spirit of Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Candlemass and Celtic Frost and reminding this generation of hipsters and shoe-gaze experimental-ists that the metal in heavy metal derives from groove and riffs, analog equipment, and the raw spontaneity of a group of guys in a room banging out their songs the old way.
If you think this method will result in a sloppy or lo-fi listening experience, you could not be more wrong. This isn't a bunch of kids in mum and dad's garage. This new album by Sarke is a return to the roots for these veteran 'bangers, and the album is another success.
Just let the Sabbath-y groove of "Icon Usurper" take you back to simpler, more honest times. The song isn't just a nod to the past; its excellent tone and atmosphere sound perfectly fresh and original. The double bass gives it ample bottom-end strength as well, and Nocturno Culto's tortured vocals fit the menacing groove perfectly. You can understand what he's saying, for one, lending the whole album a less black metal and more rock-n-roll vibe, but without sacrificing its down and dirty 'evil' nature. The cool tempo jump at around the 3:00 mark leads to just an absolutely killer tone on the following guitar solo. As the lyrics state, you will most definitely 'feel the cloven hoof.'
The songs on Aruagint feature a plethora of tempo changes and moods. The tongue-in-cheek punk burst of "Ugly" fits nicely alongside the slow menacing rumble of "Jodau Aura", whose tortured hooks become a rocking jam-out around the 2:00 minute mark featuring a great solo over a complicated time signature. Each instrument is clearly enunciated.
Keyboard effects appear throughout the album courtesy of Anders Hunstad, and I don't have to tell you that they are both subtle and tastefully done. The touches of black metal atmosphere are there to remind us the members of Sarke helped cause that early nineties earthquake; you know the one. It detonated the second wave of black metal across the musical landscape. But that is just one element in Sarke's powerful sound.
This is nowhere more evident then on album opener "Jaunt of the Obsessed" with its mission statement pace that will have you instantly nodding your head, cracking a beer, and donning your favorite patch jacket. This is metal from the pit; gritty, raw, and slicked with spilled beer.
Aruagint traverses a variety of moods for such a determined sonic statement, truly striking a chord with the many influences of its earnest creators. "Skeleton Sand" has a doom-laden feel to it, like taking a walk along an icy shore, a dead winter dusk bleeding into a leaden sky above your head. Tony Iommi would be proud. Closer "Rabid Hunger" seems to be leading us down the same path until about halfway through when the rhythm section drops out, the guitar tone changes to a very '70's strumming, augmented by a menacing horror tone in the background. That walk along the shore becomes a plunge beneath the ice as the metal comes roaring back with Nocturno Culto's cranky, but legible bellowing to carry us home.
Aruagint on the whole is a little more controlled than the prior albums by Sarke. It lacks just a touch of the dirty immediacy of their awesome debut, but it makes up for that with atmospheric touches and overall musicianship. The band is scheduled to appear on U.S. shores at this spring's Maryland Deathfest, which I believe will be one of the finer acts to take the stage that weekend.
All things considered, Aruagint is an excellent addition to the band's growing discography, a shot in the arm to a scene that sometimes relies too much on gimmickry and technology. Turn it up and break out the whiskey.