Arka’n Asrafokor – Dzikkuh Review

Despite comprising 20% of Earth’s land mass, Africa is sorely underrepresented in metal and worldwide music. Though subject to centuries of oppression and colonization, the influence can be felt internationally, but its unique cultural voices are sorely lacking. While Egypt is stalwart in its evocative depictions of ancient civilization (Scarab, Lycopolis), you’d be hard-pressed to find the music of Togo without some serious digging. Based in the capital city of Lomé, what seems to be the only Togolese metal band, Arka’n Asrafokor offers its sophomore effort Dzikkuh.

Arka’n Asrafokor embodies another interpretation of lesser-known and underrepresented native folk music utilized in hard rock and metal styles, following acts like the Māori Alien Weaponry, Polynesian Shepherds Reign, Hindi Bloodywood, and Mongol The Hu or Tengger Cavalry. You won’t find Jacoby Shaddix showing up as a rock feature in Dzikkuh, but instead a much more punishing breed pervades, chuggy riffs colliding with blistering double bass and vocal intensities throughout. Riffy influences of Alien Weaponry, Sepultura, and Pantera run rampant, layered with percussion, melodies, and motifs from the band’s native Ewe culture. When the quintet embraces the brutal and balances it with more warfaring tendencies,1 Arka’n Asrafokor accomplishes something truly powerful.

The backbone of Dzikkuh, like any good folk metal, is chunky rhythmic guitar, and guitarist Rock Ahavi is in no short supply of groovy riffs. Utilizing a seven-string, expect wonky rhythms, thick slogs, nimble noodling, and pinch harmonics galore chucked at the listener with reckless and energetic abandon, while the rumble down under from bassist Francis Amevo and blistering double bass and rabid beats from drummer Richard Siko add to the intensity. Vocalist Enrico Ahavi offers raspy barks and sporadic raps that add a jolt of intensity, while percussionist Mass Aholou offers a plethora of native instruments.2 When the act’s heritage in Ewe tribal warrior motifs are used to enhance Arka’n Asrafokor’s groove-metal assault, like layers of percussion and Rock Ahavi’s soaring battle cry-like cleans and grunge-inspired howls, tracks like “The Truth,” “Walk With Us,” “Angry God of Earth,” and “Home” expertly blend punishment and evocative tribal elements in adrenaline-pumping intensity reminiscent of Alien Weaponry. “Mamade” is the clear highlight, with recurring tribal motifs of percussion and melodies adding further weight to the crushing intensity through its bulletproof dynamic songwriting.

When Arka’n Asrafokor’s teeth are gritted with blistering heaviness, Dzikkuh hits like a bomb. When they slow things down, they sound a bit like a toothless Five Finger Death Punch. While Ahavi’s grunge rumble enhances the attack in songs like “Final Tournament” and “Angry God of Earth,” they lose their impact when utilized excessively, making “Still Believe” and closer “The Calling” revel in dad rock-inspired cringeworthy melodrama. Elsewhere, while intensity is generally best, tracks “Not Getting in Line” and “Asrafo” nearly fly off the rails with an almost mathcore wildness in rhythmic complexity, made stranger by unprecedented rapping vocals, although usage adds a certain desperation to “Home.” Tracks “Not Getting in Line” and “Angry God of Earth” feature awkward tonal shifts, like jarring bridges of silence between passages as well as weird shifts between clean choruses and harsh verses. Also, although unmatched in animalistic intensity, Enrico Ahavi’s raspy and smoky barks can be an acquired taste in tracks like “Home” and “The Truth.”

Being the only metal act in Togo, Arka’n Asrafokor had to record their albums in a tiny makeshift studio outside of Lomé, and the solidness of Dzikkuh pays off mightily as a labor of love. While it ends on a bit of a sour note with “The Calling” and there are some wayward hiccups throughout, this does not discredit cuts like “Walk With Us” and “Mamade” from being unique and pummeling tracks that add a new chapter to the growing body of ethnic voices in today’s metal. Technical without being too flashy to focus on the act’s native elements, each member contributes heartily to an act of passion and power. Reflecting roots in tribal warrior customs, Dzikkuh is a formidable album from an act with only more to offer going forward – a bold representative of a continent too often neglected in metal circles.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Reigning Phoenix Records
Websites: Bandcamp | Facebook
Releases Worldwide:
May 24th, 2024

Show 2 footnotes

  1. The band’s professed style “asrafocore” is based on asrafo, the Ewe word for “warrior” – “music of the warriors.”
  2. Including, but not limited to: the gankogui (a local cowbell), axatse (a percussive shaker), Evù drums, djembe, and the West African talking drum.
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