Album Review: ARALLU Desert Battles 2018
While there are plenty of disagreements within the metal community ranging from which band is subjectively better than others to more ethical based concerns, I strive to find universal truths amongst the vast diversity of heavy music. Over the past couple of years, I have gradually gained an understanding that metal music is not only a force that brings individuals together but also a phenomenon that reaches all across our globe. Of course, the roots and foundation of metal history reside in the Western hemisphere, yet the notion of extreme music has inspired artists and fans from practically every country on Earth.
Isreal isn't necessarily known for their heavy metal. Still, Arallu has been working towards establishing a name for themselves and a space for metal in the Middle East for over two decades now. Metal Injection previously interviewed the band, reviewed their sixth LP, and exclusively premiered their "Adonay" music video. This time it's a dive into Desert Battles 2018, a re-release of their previous 2009 record. While I am a fan of Arallu's material, the notion of re-releasing an album has always seemed like a strange move to me.
Comparatively, this new version of Desert Battles includes re-recorded vocals, a new mix by Dory Bar Or, updated cover art by guitarist Pixel, an altered tracklisting, and a different closing track. Of those aspects, the new mix is the most obvious change. When going back to listen to the original 2009 release, it sounds pretty decent actually, so it was surprising that the band had a desire to re-mix the material. There are some tinny parts here and there, but most of the vocals and instruments come through quite clear. After listening to the two versions back-to-back, I finally realized that the intent wasn't for clear production, but instead shining a light on Arallu's chaotic black metal roots. Furthermore, the updated mix brings the Middle Eastern instruments to the forefront. A prime example of the variation between the two albums would be the "Old Form of Evil" track.
Like my impression of the 2009 mix compared to the remix, I found the re-recorded vocals to be a lovely improvement. While frontman Daniel Moti a.k.a. Butchered delivered some fierce growls on the original renditions when compared side-to-side with the updated album, there's a solid difference. Butchered's vocal range has notably strengthened within the past nine years. On the original LP, the vocals sounds a bit more immature, raspy, and restrained as every vocal take on Desert Battles 2018 reveals his impressive, deep gutturals and war cry screams.
Lastly, I found the band's efforts to shift the tracklisting to be an interesting choice. Although I appreciate the attempt at creating variety between the two releases, the original order of songs was just as effective. If there was one aspect of this deviation that I found to be significant, it was the selection in the opening track. The new version of the album opens up with the instrumental "Al Macbara," which demonstrates the act's fusion of Middle Eastern music and heavy guitars quite seamlessly. This contrasts with the 2009 form of the LP, beginning with "The Doom Beating," yet another instrumental but far more experimental in instrumentation. I personally feel that "Al Macbara" eases the listener into Arallu's musical identity smoothly, where the tonal qualities of "The Doom Beating" are a tad abrasive to start a record off.
I don't think there's a vast difference between the two releases in terms of content. Sure, the aesthetic of the artwork and mix has shifted, but it would've been nice to have some extra instrumentation or material added to create a completely new perspective. Nonetheless, I believe the choice to re-release Desert Battles was advantageous considering it prompted me to dig deeper into this band's discography. Additionally, I believe the lyrical themes of this re-release allows the Western world to reminisce on the issues of the Middle East where we have recently been emotionally occupied by the drama between America, North Korea, and Russia. Arallu's stylistic innovation continues to impress me and I'm glad that they took it upon themselves to redo a record that they weren't personally satisfied with. Desert Battles 2018 is a fantastic aural experience for those curious about eccentric Eastern music with roots in extreme heaviness like death and black metal.
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