Alkonost - Between the Worlds
MetalAgen
Folk Metal
8 songs (39' 6")
Release year: 2004
Reviewed by Andy
Archive review

Every so often, I shuffle my metal collection, grab a random 500 songs or so, and dump them onto my phone; then my daughter and I listen to them in the mornings as I drive her to school. For her, it's usually brand new, but even for me there are surprises as I renew my acquaintance with albums I'd never gotten around to listening to. And such an album is Between the Worlds, the sophomore LP of underrated Russians Alkonost. I'm kind of surprised we haven't reviewed any of their albums prior to this review, since this is a folk metal band with an incredibly distinctive and listenable sound, and Between the Worlds shows off a band that was already breaking a lot of new ground in their second album.

Some folk metal is very personal and intimate, and others are more epic; Between the Worlds is one of the latter. Almira Fathullina's keyboards shimmer out at the edges of the echoing, bass-heavy rhythm section, a chugging blunt instrument that is lent sharpness by the lead guitar riddles that play endlessly over the main melody. Bassist Alex Nightbird does the majority of the singing on this album, a black metal-style snarl, but Between the Worlds was the first album that included a key ingredient: The pure soprano vocals of their female vocalist, Alina Pelevina. Later albums gave her more of a role in the singing, but on this one they were still figuring out how to use her in the best way, and Between the Worlds opts for minimalism on the female vocal front, a good move that keeps them firmly out of generic symphonic territory here. And instead of a straightforward melody, the feel is more like that of a jam session, with frequent breakdowns in the middle of a song before the whole band joins in.

Despite the often-depressive lyrics, the music is oddly celebratory, with Nightbird often doing a high-contrast duet with Pelevina when her operatic voice isn't soaring high over the melody (and I do mean "soar"; her vocal style is ethereal enough in places to make Tarja Turunen sound gritty). A standout is Unknown Lands, which changes rhythm to a slower and more luxurious waltz from the band's normal Russian folk-dance beat and puts Pelevtina solely on vocals, while Bloody Grasses and Nevertimes combine the simple, crunching power chords with almost spoken-word vocals for a ritual atmosphere, that of a pagan ceremony in the woods despite the heavy amps and electronic guitar and keyboards.

At their best, this is soundtrack-quality stuff. Later albums refined their sound a bit more, but Between the Worlds remains a favorite of mine for its genre-spanning sound and the effortless sense of atmosphere the band evokes here. Fans of Ensiferum and other primarily electric folk-metal are likely to find this one interesting.

Killing Songs :
Bloody Grasses, Nevertimes, Unknown Lands
Andy quoted 85 / 100
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