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Këkht Aräkh is the Ukrainian project founded in 2018 by Dmitry Marchenko. The sophomore album Pale Swordsman follows yet expands on what Dmitry was already experimenting with in the debut Night & Love. Originally released on the Finnish label Livor Mortis in 2021, Pale Swordsman goes to even greater extents in building a bold and atmospheric sonic palette, and it’s now seeing a worldwide reissue via Brooklyn label Sacred Bones.
Work on the record started in spring of 2020. “I decided to give my absolute everything to the next album” said Dmitry reflecting on this period “and for the sake of better concentration, I tried to isolate myself for a couple of weeks at our family’s country house outside of the city. There I came up with half of the songs for the album (Thorns, Night Descends, In the Garden, Amid the Stars, Crystal).”
For the sound design of the album, Dmitry was inspired by The Stooges’ Raw Power to deliver a more soft sounding album, decisively less “metal”. Traditional black metal song structures still persist in songs like “Night Descends” and “In The Garden”. However, their rawness and fast tempos is quickly cut through by dark ambient passages in “Amor” and “Intro” and softly played desolate ballads like “Nocturne” and “Lily”.
The crown jewel is the album closer “Swordsman”, a track that displays a superb gothic sensibility, a poem recited over a deeply melancholic piano melody. “The Christian concept of a person ridding themselves of evil to find inner peace or to be able to leave this world safely has become the core inspiration for the song.” Dmitry explains “However, this is not the only reading possible. I purposely avoid specifics in my lyrics so that the listener can always give the song their own meaning.”
The inspiration for the concept of the album also came from David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. “I really enjoy it when an album tells a story about some character so I came up with one.” says Dmitry when explaining the origin of the Pale Swordsman. The character is portrayed on the striking album cover art - a figure sitting aloof with a sword and a rose in each hand - and clearly symbolises the romantic juxtaposition of belligerence and fragile beauty that permeates the album’s sound and atmosphere.
On this album we follow the character’s journey through haunting despair, longing and resignation. The imagery is decisively romantic, almost vampiric with recurring themes of spectral symbolism, darkness, night creatures, blood hunger, the close connection of death and life. “the fresh air of inspiration was blown into my mind in the shape of Bladee’s verses” says Dmitry when discussing the writing of the lyrics.
Pale Swordsman delivers a foreboding yet bittersweet melancholy through poetic lyrics, soft interludes, raw and distorted guitars, eerie drums and harsh vocals - a fragile yet potent mix that successfully amplifies the ambience.