Arkan – Enlightened Hearts

Monday, 7th July 2014

The oriental hymns flowing out of Arkan’s new Sofia are not entirely transcendent, but are capable of putting a new flag in the ground for female-fronted metal. Hailing from Paris, France, the band is not necessarily light-years removed from the grandiose sounds of Orphaned Land (the band they’re sonically compared to), yet the conviction and provocation in which Sarah Layssac’s vocals operate, coupled with the band’s compounded use of brute death metal and melody make Arkan is enticing entity. There are no less than a half-dozen jams found on Sofia that run circles around groups with similar formations, not to mention a deep, ingrained concept born from tragedy and personal experience. In sum, Sofia is one of 2014’s real treasures.

That being said, we found it necessary to corral drummer and founding member Foued Moukid for a quick chat to get to the bottom of Sofia, the band’s background, and much more Here’s how the super-affable drummer responded in kind…

Dead Rhetoric: You formed in 2005 and will hit the ten-year mark next year. Have you enjoyed the ride as a band up until this point?

Foued Moukid: Well, time is inexorably running out! In 2005, my dream was to launch a musical project that combines metal and oriental music. I quickly met Samir [Remila, bass], Mus [El Kamal, guitars] and Florent [Jannier, guitars] who aspired to the same goal. In 2006, we released our first EP Burning Flesh. Subsequently, we began the composition of our first album, Hilal, which was recorded at Studio Fredman in 2008 under the leadership of Fredrik Nordström. Sarah joined us at that time. We realized several tours through France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Tunisia, including two tours with Septicflesh and Orphaned Land.

In 2011, the band released its second album with Season of Mist, Salam, and travelled throughout Europe for a month and a half in order to defend it every night in two major European tours headlined by two prestigious bands: Orphaned Land and Arch Enemy. Such an amazing and rewarding experience! And here we are with our third album, Sofia, another step in our musical career. We all have fully charged professional lives and I’m a father of two. So we’re deeply satisfied and proud of our path and of what we have accomplished since our meeting in 2005. We’re following our way with Sofia and hoping it will bring as much great moments as so far and maybe more…

Dead Rhetoric: A bunch of you came from existing, already successful bands to form Arkan. Combining so many different personalities in such a setup…was it hard at first?

Moukid: Indeed, Samir and Mus were founding members of Worth, an Algerian metal band, and as far as I’m concerned, I was member of The Old Dead Tree until 2007. So, we actually come from different backgrounds, each member having his own roots and cultural influences, but mainly common. We also have common origins since Samir, Mus and Sarah were born and bred in Algeria and I have Moroccan descent. Florent even if he is French, has Greek and Italian origins. Actually, this multiculturalism contributes to our musical and human complicity. Indeed, these cultural differences just makes things interesting. It allows us to have a very large inspiration in terms of composition. Everyone pitches in and brings his personal touch. It’s a real richness!

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve always been a critical favorite (at least from what I’ve read). What do you think it is about Arkan that appeals to more “advanced” listeners?

Moukid: As of yet, we are pretty proud of all the positive feedback! Modestly, we perform music coming from our desire and our heart. We don’t play music to earn money or to be famous. We just want to be honest and propose a new musical experience. And we have no particular constraints to do this.We are aware that we took a risk with Sofia. Those who expected that we continue to play a lot of death metal parts or those who only like growls or brutal rhythms could be kind of puzzled. Oriental parts are still there, more prevalent, less aggressive than the previous album. Oriental music is no longer a leitmotiv, it is an integral part of our music like guitar or drums parts.

Comparing to our previous albums, reactions are different because there is a real musical evolution. We have voluntarily increased the melancholic aspect of our music, we focused on atmospheric and acoustic parts. In Sofia we wanted to broaden the variety of atmospheres. For now, this album has a real success in all specialized websites and magazines and it’s a sign of openness that pushes us to go further in our artistic works. We can say that we are very proud of this project. Arkan has put a lot of energy into it. Indeed, we wanted to propose a different music in this third album and the emotional context during which we created these new songs was very particular. If Sofia brings something to some of our listeners that makes them feeling better, it’s the least than we can do as musicians.

Dead Rhetoric: To these ears, Arkan has always stood apart from the female-fronted crowd based on a lot of things, the most noticeable of which is your approach to writing hook-based, memorable songs. Describe the creative setup within the band.

Moukid: Each one of our albums was composed in a different way. All the more, it depends on our mood when we compose and on what message we want to convey. Sofia is a reflection of our state of mind today as Salam represented our concerns of the moment. Thus, our songs are not composed via a unique way especially for Sofia. For example, concerning “Hayati,” Mus brought the main melody during a rehearsal. It was therefore necessary to compose together the whole melodic and rhythmic structure. This is also something that distinguishes us pretty well. The composition is not left in the hands of a single person in order to avoid redundant music. We are quite complementary. So, we can say that there is a basis (Mus and I) which compose all songs and then we develop the compositions together.

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