Metal with Oriental flourishes is booming nowadays. Bands like Orphaned Land and Melechesh pioneerded this particular style. Arkan, a French band featuring members with North-African roots presented their own take on their latest album, entitled Salam. It’s a very interesting piece of work, especially when you’re into original music. On behalf of the band, drummer Fouad was more than happy to answer my questions about the new album, their special friendship with Orphanend Land and Arkan’s quest for living in harmony and having an open mind towards other cultures and religions…
Hi Fouad and thank you for doing this interview. The lastest album by Arkan, entitled Salam, is a real tour-de-force. The album received some great feedback so far. Are you happy how things are going so far?
Yes, I’m very happy with the release of our latest album “Salam”. Our music evolved quite a lot, so our new album is very different compared to our debut. The oriental aspect has become more significant, especially in the more atmospheric and acoustic parts. We also aimed for mainstaining our agressive edge. All these different elements make Salam a complex listerning experience, however our album got a lot of very positive feedback from the more specialised webzines and magazines. That kind of openmindedness really inspires us to take our artistic visions to the next level. Eastern music is very much becoming a part of metal today. During our gigs with Paradise Lost and our own headlining shows in Paris the audience responded very well to the new material from “Salam”.
Compared to “Hilal” the new album features way more Middle-Eastern/Arab influences, especially on “Call From Within”, “Lightened Heart” and “The Eight Doors Of Jannah”. Was this a conscious decision when the writing sessions for Arkan began?
The material on Salam is composed in a different way, than we did on Hilal. That album is basically a metal album with oriental music. Both the metal and oriental elements were entirely separated from eachother. “Hilal” is a compendium of everything we loved, listened and wanted to say at this time. It’s still a very rich and intense album and it’s a statement of what we were capable of doing at that specific time. In the case of “Salam”, it’s the other way around. We started to work on the oriental parts and use those as a melodic base to create different atmospheres. The aggressive parts communicate with melodic parts and metal is not an end in itself but a tool of communication. This album is more melodic and a more prominent part was given to oriental moods and harmonies. “Salam” is not intended to prove anything. It is just the continuation of our musical approach. We no longer want to scream to the world that we exist. We just would like to share our passion for metal music with our audience by adding a touch of musical diversity.
Can you shed some light on the topics and themes handled on Salam? What are they about?
For this album, we were inspired by events around us, the geopolitical conflicts and misunderstanding between peoples who are supposed to live like brothers. “Salam” relates to the timeless universal fears and resentments of two different groups with two different religions who coexist in the same area. Everyone feels his or her hatred gradually rise inside of them and at a certain point the bubble bursts. Due to intellectual manipulation and propaganda, both groups decide to make war but, exhausted by it, people are increasingly distancing themselves from their feelings of hatred. After all the massacre and bloodshed, they finally realise that cohabitation is the only possible way, they decided to make it actually work. Our tour with Orphaned Land under the Tour Against Racism banner confirmed our choice of theme of Salam.
Most members within Arkan have North-African roots. How do you manage to combine African/Arab melodies and rhythms with metal? How does the creative process work within the band?
At first glance it’s difficult to combine death metal and oriental music, but when you investigate the matter more closely, you’ll realize those two musical styles can be blent. Firstly, the Phrygian mode suits well within the dynamics of metal. Moreover, Chaabi and Charqui, our two main oriental influences are melancholic in nature. They work so well with the dark moods of metal. In regard on how we compose, we don’t have any pre-established patterns. In the first step, we especially focus on the dynamics of each song. Rhythmic intensity is also very important. Once the main structure of a composition is set in stone we’ll start working on the small details. The vocals and guitar leads are usually the last parts we look at. Sometimes we change things a bit in order to add more percussion or change the vibe in a certain part.
On Salam you worked together with the famed producer Fredrik Nordstrom. How was it like to work with him and what did he add to the record?
The recording of “Salam” with Fredrik was a fantastic experience. Working with him was something we really wanted. The sound of an album is just as important as its musical content. We greatly appreciate his work for bands like In Flames and Opeth. For the metal parts of Hilal, we wanted the perfect sound. And for us, there was only one person able to produce this desired sound and his name is Fredrik Nordström. When I contacted Fredrik with two pre-produced pieces of Hilal, he listened to them and said: “I like that kebab boogie music!”. We immediately liked eachother. For us he is a legend and we wanted to work with him, but that seemed like something inaccessible. After we got in touch with him he was very interested in doing the album with us. When we arrived at the studio, some recordings were done in Algeria, but we brought traditional instruments with us that we wanted to record there. When he saw my percussions, he said: “What do you want to do with your funny toms?” I have been struggling to convince him to use my percussions on the recording, which was something new for him. In the end, he confided in us and the result was quite amazing. He is and remains the absolute master of his art. Logically we wanted to work with him again on Salam. We were looking for a slight different sound and Fredrik really understand where we wanted to go with out latest album. He gave the album exactly the sound we were looking for. As far as mixing and mastering we had full confidence in the abilities of Fredrik and his assistent and it worked out just fine. Like I said before, he’s one of the best producers I know.
Because of the adventurous nature of the songmaterial, the use of female vocals, the Arabian inspired melody lines and the use of authentic African/Arabian instruments comparisons are easily drawn with Orphaned Land. What do you think of these comparisons and what are according to you the major differences between the music of Orphaned Land and by your own band?
Like Orphaned Land and Melechesh, the Oriental musical roots of the band is our main source of inspiration. The eastern side of our music is highlighted and therefore the link with Orphaned Land and Melechesh is obvious. There are so few bands which incorporate such influences into their music and Orphaned Land as well as Melechesh being pioneers in this field, the association with us is natural.
Nevertheless, we are more inspired by European metal for all electrical parts and the music of North Africa and Andalusia for the acoustic parts. In all cases, the comparison with these bands affects us for the respect that inspires their career.
Kobi Farhi laid down some guest vocals on Deus Vult. How did you manage to get him aboard?
We got really along with the guys in Orphanend Land and we wanted to celebrate our friendship by having Kobi Farhi singing on one of our songs. It’s also very symbolic, because “Salam” means peace. He was immediately excited. We contacted him by phone and without the slightest hesitation, he replied with a firm yes. He recorded his parts in a studio in Tel Aviv and I felt that the song he performed was just as good as any from his own band. To be honest with you the song really moves me and I didn’t expect our collaboration would have such an impact on me!
Orphaned Land is a band with a really strong message about uniting people from different walks of life regardless of race, religion or nationality. What are your own thoughts on this?
In these times of geopolitical tensions, Salam is an universal term which more than ever: its equivalent in Hebrew is “Shalom” and “Salem”. This universal message is fundamental for the band which gives more importance to common values which bind people together instead of alienating people from eachother. It was important for us this album would incluse those words in the English, Latin, Arabic and Hebrew languages. So, putting Hebrew in the lyrics of Deus Vult was obvious for us. Please note that Kobi also sings in Arabic which creates an union between both languages and cultures. For us, these lyrics and the participation of Kobi are very symbolic because it represents openness. Don’t forget that any language belongs to anyone who wishes to learn. Symbolically, Deus Vult means “God willing”. In Arabic the term is particularly strong and I thought it would be interesting to use different expressions.
Recently Arkan did a tour with Orphaned Land and Suidakra. When you put things in a historical and a religious/cultural perspective it’s quite a remarkable package. Was this something you were aware of during the tour or was it something you didn’t pay attention to?
Orphaned Land is an extraordinary band. Having a very different history, we spent time talking to them in order to get to know eachother betetr and learn more about our respective cultures. Quickly we realized that we are not really different. A real musical and human connection have been developed between us. Our tour with Orphaned Land has reinforced our conviction that peace between different peoples is not an utopia. Creating a tour where an Israeli band and a French band with North African members sharing a new stage each day shows that music can overcome geopolitical tensions and lead to greater solidarity among people through dialogue and sharing. We remain convinced that despite all our differences, we can live together in harmony on this world without killing each other for the slightest pretext.
The last couple of years French metal bands finally to get some recognation outside your native country. Especially Gojira managed to open some doors. What’s your take on this?
For years, the French metal scene was looked on with contempt. Fortunately, things are slowly changing. I think we have some very good bands in France whose technical level is comparable to Scandinavian and U.S. bands. Bands like Gojira or Dagoba are currently restoring the reputation of the French metal scene. I also think that the French public is looking for some originality in music and that they want more cultural innovation. The mixture of cultures in the West favors this openness. Metal fans are becoming more curious and are looking for new musical experiences, particularly via the Internet. Arkan is trying to meet this need and offer original music.
Time for the final question. When can we expect you guys here in the Netherlands?
Even if we had the opportunity to do gigs abroad, for now we primarily focus on our own country. However, our albums are distributed all over the world and we start to be solicited for playing in foreign countries. We have already played in Tunisia, Switzerland and The Netherlands (Rotterdam) with bands as prestigious as Septicflesh and Orphaned Land. We’re booking an European tour scheduled for the last quarter of 2011 and several dates following the release of Salam begin to be planed. So, there are chances that we’ll play this years in your country !
Thank you again for your time. Do you have any final thoughts for the world at large relating to Arkan?
Thanks for this interview. You can learn more about our news by visiting our official website www.arkan.fr, our MySpace www.myspace.com/arkanband and Facebook page. Stay tuned!