With their 2011 observation entitled Salam, French metal act Arkan impressed me with their ability to follow many melodic death metal conventions, while still incorporating a Middle Eastern flair that is largely unheard of in this genre. The result was an album that felt familiar enough to instantly click with its listener, but also broke enough rules to leave a lasting impression. 2014's Sofia, the band's third full-length, follows down the same path of its predecessor, though I would argue that Arkan sounds even more unique this time around.
Like Salam, Sofia's main selling point is its Middle Eastern-influenced approach to metal, and although other acts like Orphaned Land and Myrath have similar gimmicks, Arkan sounds unique even when placed next to their stylistic brethren. Sofia is also perhaps the band's most adventurous album to date - the melodic death metal part of the band's sound only sparsely appears here, and it seems as though the band is now playing a Middle Eastern-inspired brand of gothic metal, rather than melodeath. Death growls are used sparingly, and the focal point here is the distinct and angelic performance of vocalist Sarah Layssac. Consequently, Sofia lacks some of the "bite" that impressed me on Salam, but it is also the band's most mature and stylistically consistent album to date.
Whether you enjoy Sofia more or less than Arkan's previous outings ultimately depends on your preferences. If you are a gothic metal fan looking for a unique foray into the genre, Sofia will undoubtedly impress you, but if you (like me) were more into the band's melodeath-focused tracks, this may leave you a bit unsatisfied. Regardless of your preferences, however, there's no doubt that this is a well-performed, well-produced, and extremely catchy album from Arkan. Recommended!