Saturday, 3 January 2015

Review: Arallu - Geniewar [2015]

Back in November, I reviewed a metal show called SPAWNFEST. One of the more interesting bands on that bill were Jerusalem black metallers Arallu. I was impressed by their stage presence, as well as their use of Middle Eastern (Mizrachi) rhythms, samples and traditional instruments. Their 5th studio album, GENIEWAR, released just this passed week on 1st January, brings you so much more of that. The album was produced and mixed along with Dory Bar Or from Eternal Gray and mastered in LA by Maor Applebaum (Rob Halford/Mayhem/Yngwie Malmsteen/etc..). At the show, I saw them as more of a thrash band. In this record, the black metal side to them really shines through.

  Album opener, Evil Finest, really helps set the tone of what we're expected from the record. There is an array of traditional Arabic/Middle Eastern instruments such as darbuka, other such percussion and string instruments such as the saz, oud and kanoon. The heavy guitars join in on the melody, reassuring us that this is indeed a metal record. Second but first proper track, From The Desert To The Ice, follows suit, incorporating similar instruments into the song's own intro. They then unleash a demonic riff that slowly works its way into a Middle Eastern rhythm before showcasing Arallu's Slayer style of metal. Song is over 7 minutes long and has a lot of dynamics and styles, including headbanging grooves, hair spinning thrashy parts and the bouncy Middle Eastern rhythm. If you had forgotten the name of the record, we are luckily reminded of it with the "GENIEWAR" gang chant. Everything already sounds super tight on this first track and the production, with all the extra instrumentation, is very impressive. Vocals by frontman and bassist Moti AKA "Butchered" are heavy and demonic, and we even get treated to a Tom Araya-like scream near the end. 

   Third track Bloodshed Around continues the Slayer theme but also incorporates a bit more of a black metal sound with blasts beats. At one point, the blast beats are accompanied by a Middle Eastern melody played on a traditional woodwind instrument (not sure which). This works surprisingly well and really shows how creative this band are and also how proud they are of their Middle Eastern heritage. Fourth track is a cover of Iron Maiden's Powerslave. This sounds as if it's being sung by someone different. Butchered's vocals are very black metal on this; very harsh and evil sounding, more so than on the previous tracks. They also seem to have managed to incorporate every single traditional Middle Eastern instrument possible throughout the track and especially at the song's middle section. The original track already has a bit of an Egyptian/Middle Eastern, which may be why they relate to it and chose to cover it is. However, it is the addition of traditional instruments and the extra evil vocals that really make this a "cover" and not just a carbon copy. 
  Fifth track Coronation starts with quite a simple riff which you expect is going to lead into slow pounding drums. Instead, we get uplifting 4/4 drumming accompanied by, almost tribal, darbuka rhythms.... which sounds amazing. The song swims in and out of an evil distorted vocal section and proper thrash and black metal bits, including anger-inducing blast beats. Pretty sure I even heard a shofar (ram's horn) at one point. At the 3:38 mark (yes...I find this worthy enough of actually displaying the exact time), there is what I would call a bit of a "beatdown", reminiscent of some of the more tougher hardcore I used to (and sometimes still do) listen to.
  On this album, and what I noticed in their shows, the band use Hebrew spoken word samples. We can hear these on sixth track Metal Troops 666, seventh track Giv'at HaTachmoshet (The Battle of Ammunition Hill) and on ninth track Tzook Eitan ("Operation Protective Edge"). When it comes to hearing Hebrew in this way, I am still not perfect at translating, but it all seems to be "war-based". For a band that considers themselves not to be a political band, they do take pride in their state and the army. This is a bit refreshing for me as a majority of people I meet through the punk scene are the exact opposite, having managed to get exemption from the army do community service instead. Song meanings and band beliefs aside, the album continues its merry way through thrash metal, Middle Eastern rhythms and blast beats, with Giv'at HaTachmoshet really standing as a bit different to the rest of the album. Although not stated on the promo packs (although possibly on the physical copies), both this and final track Hayalim Almonim (Unknown Soldiers) are re-workings of old Hebrew songs. In Giv'at... (original song), a spoken word sample leads into a thrashy riff that starts off reminiscent of the Joe 90 theme (for those unfamiliar, click here). It then has an almost punk feel about the when Slayer covered punk and hardcore songs. There are even gang chant "woahs". This is however contrasted by the blast beats which help make the track just that bit more meNtal. It changes pace a little bit in the middle, sounding a bit more power metal. We then get back to the more punk bit after a mental blast beat section accompanied by more samples. This is almost a proper sing-a-long. Hayalim Almonim finishes off the album, incorporating a choir singing the original song's lyrics as the band play at slow, almost marching pace, building slightly, bit by bit.
Track list:
1) Evil Finest
2) From The Desert To The Ice
3) Bloodshed Around
4) Powerslave (Iron Maiden Cover)
5) Coronation
6) Metal Troops 666
7) Giv'at HaTachmoshet
8) Underworld Resistance
9) Tzook Eitan 
10) Hayalim Almonim

  For those of you who like their thrash and black metal (preferably not one or the other) then this is an audio delight. The arabic/Mizrachi flavours might not be for everyone, but if you're worldly and are already aware of bands such as Orphaned Land and even Nile, then this, and even the rest of Arallu's back catalogue, could be an interesting addition to your collection. Guitarists Gal and Omri play tight throughout, not needing to resort to overcomplicated (and sometimes unnecessary) shredding. Drummer Assaf is also impressive; shifting dynamics within songs. I am assuming that most of the additional percussion is also played by him, which is what really makes this album special. Their devotion to the army and acceptance of war certainly will not and does not agree with everyone, but musically this is a ridiculously enjoyable record. Even I, who does not really consider himself much of a metal fan nor fan of Mizrachi music, thinks this is a really interesting listen.

For my Israeli readers, Arallu's official release show takes place this Thursday, 8th January, at Gagarin, Tel Aviv. Doors 20:00. Entry is ₪60, which will include a copy of the album to each ticket holder. BARGAIN!    

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