Arcana is defined as specialized knowledge that's mysterious or inscrutable to the average person. The same might be said of Arkana, a Cleveland metal quartet attempting to shed its anonymity. Though by no means unknown — particularly to fans of local bands like Cellbound, Konipshunphit and Scalera — Arkana labored in various lineups for a decade before releasing their long-promised debut, Expelled From Paradise, in November. They're now ramping up the touring in a bid to attract label interest.
Inspired by Scandinavian black-metal acts like Dimmu Borgir, Dark Tranquility and Amon Amarth, Expelled blends shadowy bottom-heavy quake, growling vocals, racing progressive-metal melodies and symphonic elegance. It lurches between the leaden throb of "Purgatory," the unchained riffage and surprising, understated but well-articulated bluesy guitar of "Free" and spiraling churn of "Hell."
Arkana spent the past two years crafting their debut, enduring personal and familial trauma that included cancer, heart attacks, divorce and indigence. With this release, they're stepping up their regional profile.
"What record companies care about is seeing you do at least 50 shows a year, seeing you pushing it, selling merch, all that stuff," says Arkana guitarist Jeremy Felten. "So we know what we have to do for 2010."
Formed by Felten and singer/keyboardist William Seelbach while they were still in high school, Arkana went through many members before settling on their current lineup three years ago. Ranging in age from the 28-year-old Felten to 19-year old drummer Jacob Wood, they've already written a half-dozen tracks for their second album, having learned a lot from their first studio experience. "You think you're good, until you walk into the studio and you come out thinking you suck," says Felten. "You learn a lot about tones and playing."
Booking shows has followed a similar learning curve, as they've reached beyond the Cleveland scene to some of the outer stretches of Northeast Ohio and into West Virginia. In the past year, they've discovered the potential of little towns like Upper Sandusky.
"It was like Children of the Corn as soon as we got off the highway, but it was one of the best shows we ever played," says Seelbach. "It's in the middle of nowhere — cornfields and barns everywhere. I was surprised there were so many people at the show, and a guy there was like, 'We've got nothing else to do but get drunk and listen to some music.'"
While persistence, determination and a willingness to hit the road regularly are essential ingredients in a band's success, good music plays a role too. Wood suggests they've gelled as a unit, the songs have gotten heavier and the editing has gotten more intense.
This undoubtedly explains the variety of moods and tempos surveyed by Arkana's tunes, as they pass from reflection to rage and on to redemption. Elegiac passages give way to brutal, deliberative throttle and gather steam before reaching an apotheosis on tracks like "Warpath."
"Being a good guitar player and being a good musician are two different things," notes Seelbach. "It's not necessary to splooge through the entire track. It's important to take a step back and write a good song, and there will be enough time somewhere in that song to do your thing."
Felten concurs: "You can be the best guitarist in the world, but if you can't sit down and write songs, it doesn't mean a thing."
They'll spend most of this year touring, hoping to do about 60 shows, and begin working on the next album in the fall, for an early 2011 release.
"With all we've learned, we're going to make sure it doesn't take two years to record this next one," says Felten.