Arallu – Death Covenant Review

A great benefit of working for AMG, beyond the weekly bowl of gruel that barely keeps you alive enough to clack out reviews on the blood-stained keys of the staff Commodore 64, is the exposure to bands from around the globe. This is my third review of a Middle Eastern band and my second Israeli band. While new to me, Arallu has been around. They’ve spent 25 years writing about religious wars and the hatred that’s perpetuated in the age-old conflicts in their corner of the world. Their sound began as raw blackened metal, inspired by early pioneers of the genre, but is steeped in traditional and ancient Sumerian melodies and instrumentation. Death Covenant is the band’s seventh LP and sees them building on the folksier sound they adopted on their previous outing, En Olam. Will lucky album number seven be the breakthrough the band has hoped for, or will it be a big Mesopotamia?

In a 2019 interview with AMG’s Master of Muppets, Arallu’s bassist/vocalist/leader, Butchered talked about his early impressions of European black metal bands. He mentioned feeling “the cold and mountains coming out from the speakers” but lamented that he couldn’t play like that. Instead, he said he took the inspiration he felt from the European bands and infused his own music with the same types of textures but using regional influences from his own country. With Death Covenant, he’s succeeded in blending those influences further than ever before. The album is drenched in an exotic vibe that infuses black metal with a much-needed fresh spin. While Nile might be an obvious comparison due to their use of Middle Eastern melodies, Arallu takes the sound much deeper. Instead of the occasional flourish or interlude, the band has found a way to merge their Middle Eastern sound with the frantic, tremolo style of black metal. The guitars play complex chromatic musical passages more than riffs, but the sound is distinctly black metal. The song, “Ruler of the Seven Worlds” is a solid example of the way the band blends the two styles in a blinding sandstorm of musical angst.

The main distinguishing characteristic of Arallu’s music is the use of the saz. A saz is a traditional long-necked instrument like a lute. It is plucked, with the resulting note sounding much like a sitar. By some sorcery, Eylon Bart, Arallu’s saz player, manages to make the instrument sound both heavy and ferocious. Watching him play is not unlike watching a metal guitar player tear across the fretboard. The way the instrument is mixed into Death Covenant is what gives the record its unique charms. Guitarist, Ofek “Omnius” Noy often doubles Eylon’s parts while adding the metal foundation and a generous dash of dissonance to the songs. The two work well in tandem. Drummer, Richard Zwaigoft keeps the beats flying but adds a tribal heartbeat to the proceedings.

Death Covenant is a dense record that takes some time to unpack. Early playthroughs didn’t offer a lot to immediately like. Repeat listens revealed a complex mix of black metal, hardcore, death, folk, and traditional metal. The band throws a lot into their sound, and it’s all done with a high-energy urgency that makes it sound even more chaotic. For a band that has been around for 25 years, Arallu hasn’t lost its fire. The songs on Death Covenant rip with near-relentless ferocity, with “Empire of Salt” being one of the few exceptions. The slower tempo and syncopated percussion give it a folksier sound, much like what Sepultura did on the Roots album. The tune still has its blistering moments and I wish the band would let a few more songs breathe without feeling the need to amp back up every couple of minutes. There are some fantastic songwriting and compelling moments within the slower material. “Mystical Sultan” is a cool little interlude that could develop into more.

Arallu are best when they slow down and play heavy, folksy, twangy, chromatic riffs. There is a freshness and excitement to these elements that you don’t find in many black metal bands. Unfortunately, when the “metal” kicks in, I found my interest waning. The songs lost their unique edge and it felt like the band tried too hard to ape their influences rather than follow their own voice. I don’t share Master of Muppets love of the band’s blistering material, and instead felt that it was the softer pockets on Death Covenant that soared. For fans of black metal, I encourage you to give the album a spin or five. After spending some time with it, I still find it uneven and often unapproachable but a refreshing challenge. I love that Arallu has a unique voice, it just doesn’t resonate with me as much as I wished it would.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Hammerheart Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 11th, 2022

« »