Pale Swordsman is the 2021 release stemming from Ukrainian spawned but Polish-based Këkht Aräkh. The black metal stylings of a modern craftsman; Pale Swordsman begins in subtle decaying before a storm is unleashed.
The first track simply titled “Intro” is a beautiful but almost melancholic display on the keys while slight fringes of electric feedback course over the angelic foundation. This painless performance is the transitional piece that ties directly into “Thorns.”
As a set-piece constructor, Këkht Aräkh is less frightening as they are able to give off moments and feelings of pure acceptance. Describing, “Wounded by the thorns, painfully embracing. The flowers that are meant to speak for me.” While the instrumentation becomes more intense and deeply focused, Këkht Aräkh comes back in to say, “Love is left unspoken, love no longer matters. Left unsheltered, tramped by eternity. “
This darkened guardian angel for the audience is a shield against the harsh waves of crashing percussion and strings that could lop the head off of a marble statue. Lumbering like some ancient giant, the track “Night Descends” becomes the theme song for Këkht Aräkh on Pale Swordsman.
Depressive, but never overpowering from a poetic standpoint; narration describes, “Put me out of my misery. Night descends but I cannot sleep. Blood hunger is felt on my teeth, pictures of the past now torn to pieces.”
The instrumentation on “Night Descends” is this catalyst for proving how well Këkht Aräkh can be orchestrated. Black metal often consists of unelaborate set pieces where the draw is playing one continuous rhythm to be as evil as possible. Këkht Aräkh changes this method slightly and introduces some slower elements that rely on ambiance and ear-catching melodies.
Tracks like “Amor” or “Nocturn” are soft around the edges and give a gentle reprieve to an otherwise much harder punishment of sound. Këkht Aräkh uses these tracks entirely to cut up the action and deliberately force variety into the mix. Caught somewhere between wanting to decapitate the audience and cherish them for all eternity, Pale Swordsman shifts like a cloaked gentleman riding through the wee hours of nightfall into dawn.
The segue from “Amor” to “Nocturne” is nearly impossible to notice as both tracks are hypnotic in instrumentation. Pieces like these two make Pale Swordsman so easy to fall in love with. The mystery is clouded in hints of tender and nearly merciful ability.
That stance of tenderness is immediately drowned out though as “Amid The Stars” reverts almost immediately with stomping percussion and strings to become swarmed by. Këkht Aräkh’s biggest weapon in the arsenal has to be the way that the alterations are dispersed and seemingly effortlessly.
Grim night and a blissful morning lie in the same hand with Pale Swordsman. The dichotomy is dangerous but gives way to be something that is impossible to ignore.