By Dr. Abner Mality

Strong winds have been blowing across the metal landscape from the Middle East in recent years and Arkan is another group trying to meld exotic traditional music with the salty crunch of metal. "Salam" means "peace" and that's an indication right there that this is not the same kind of take on Middle Eastern metal that Nile and Melechesh provide. There are crunchy guitars and growls, but Arkan is far more focused on melody than bashing your head in.

"Salam" definitely takes more than one listen to appreciate. After my first listen, I thought it started strong but became very unfocused, losing its early steam. But I softened that view some after further hearings. If you're in a real headbanging mood, this is not the record to put on. But if you want something meditative with a real Arabic feel, this will work. It gets off to a tremendous start with the song "Origins"...a perfect mixture of mid-tempo death metal with Oriental elements. Florent Jannier has a deep and effective growl, but the real star of the show is Sarah Layssac, whose clean feminine vocals are truly enchanting. It sounds like Scheherazade herself is singing these tales! Lovers of Gothic metal should enjoy Arkan's work.

"Origins" is really the album highlight. There are other good "hybrid" tunes like "The Eight Doors of Jannah" and "Jerusalem--Sufferpolis", but I don't see the point of tiny "micro" tunes like "Common Ground" or the title track. The switch between mid-paced crunch and traditional instrumentation is constant and leads to the songs losing some identity. Last track "Amaloun Jadid II" is a brief instrumental...then ten minutes of silence before an elaborate, almost Gregorian sounding classical piece kicks in. I detest this kind of phoniness where you have to wait through agonizing minutes of silence before reaching the "hidden" song.

I'm warming up to "Salam" more, but it is not a flawless album by far. When it's at its best, you really feel transported to another time and place. I look forward to further growth from Arkan.