Arnakia (meaning "Lambs") exemplifies perfectly the difficulty to assess the reach and influence of a band in its home country, when they remain completely obscure in your own. I only got to know about them six months ago, when I spent an entire afternoon exploring the discography of Wipeout Records. I must admit that the name "arnakia" made me smile at first because it sounds close to the French word "arnaque" which means "swindle"... Tell anyone about Arnakia over here and you are bound to hear an endless flow of terrible puns. I know, what a terrible sense of humour we have... But anyway, there was a band I had never heard of at all, that appeared to have been around in the late 80's and 90's, had enticing visuals and were supposed to play punk-rock. I was intrigued and gave it a go. And I was both upset and delighted after listening to just one song off that Lp. Upset, because the thought that I had failed to notice Arnakia for so long was frustrating, and delighted because the "Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" Lp is easily one of the very best punk-rock albums from Greece.
So, how could such a brilliant band elude me for so long? I have never seen Arnakia mentioned in record reviews, articles or on music blogs. However, judging by the decent amount of information one can find about them, they were not in the least an unknown band in Greece. On the contrary, I have the impression that they appealed to a quite wide audience at home and that this Lp is recognized as a minor classic. Perhaps that this failing of mine can be explained by punk's collective obsession with the 80's, something I am also guilty of. "Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" was recorded in 1993 and many of us, consciously or not, tend to draw a line when we think about "punk classics" and the determining factor is often the decade to which the band is supposed to belong. Had this Lp been released four years earlier, it might have been given a cult status, albeit a confidential one. A harsh, but not completely unfair statement, when one looks honestly at our judging scale.
The irony in all this is that Arnakia was actually an 80's band. They formed in 1984 in Athens and even had two songs included on the "Συνταγή Αντί Θανάτου" compilation Lp from 1986, alongside Anti... among others. But, from what I could gather, the band knew quite a few line-up troubles with members constantly leaving, sometimes to return later on, so that the band had to stop playing during rather long periods of time. The early years of the band were therefore a little chaotic and it may have postponed the full development of Arnakia's potential, which was already obvious when one considers the two tracks they contributed to the aforementioned compilation. Although thinly produced, these two songs already demonstrated the incredible quality of the band's songwriting, characterized by a distinct sense of tunes, fantastic postpunk guitar leads and beautiful vocals. With a tighter, stronger line-up and even better compositions, the band came back in the early 90's and delivered this incredible album that not only built upon the legacy of the Greek dark punk sound from the mid/late 80's, but also opened new possibilities for the genre that they would go on to explore for their second album.
"Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" is a genuinely great Lp in the sense that everyone can get something meaningful from it. The very clear production makes it a rather accessible work and none of the subtle music arrangements is lost. On some level, it could almost be seen as a "pop-punk" Lp, not because it sounds like American melodic punk music (I never understood why it was called "pop-punk" actually, when I hear the term, I think about the Buzzcocks and Ulster punk, not about California), but because it has an undeniable pop sensibility for the refinement of the tunes. Don't get me wrong, it is definitely rooted in Greek punk territory but so much care has been given to the melodies that the pop tag is not irrelevant either. Everything on this Lp is close to perfection: the bass lines are omnipresent, wittily conceived and always smartly used to lead the songs; the sound of the guitar is clear, almost eerie, but the leads are dark and tense, which significantly conveys that sense of melancholy; the drum beats are accurate and the sung vocals are emotional, able to express a lot of different, sometimes conflicting emotions. The mature songwriting helps create a soundscape that is completely whole and yet very diverse, in terms of sound and mood, and if you really think about it, this is one of the defining factors of the Greek sound. "Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" is tough to describe, some would qualify it as a postpunk record, and they wouldn't be wrong, but there is a crucial punk-rock energy too, and as I mentioned, it is not deprived of pop sensibility either. To my British-trained ears, there is something of A Touch of Hysteria or Null And Void, but with a Greek punk tension and a dark ethereal feel. The overall atmosphere is probably not as desperate as on the GTX's Lp and not as organic as on the Gulag's, since Arnakia's has more of a sense of vulnerability and beauty that is also dark and tense.
Does it sound like the two previous records I posted? Absolutely not, unless you are approaching utter deafness or are just too lazy to actually listen to them. But there is still this similar intent, although it is not aestheticized in the same way.
The second Arnakia album, released in 1999 also on Wipeout Records, saw the band in an even more indie-rock mode but still keeping the dark punk backbone. It will not be everyone's cuppa tea but it is a very interesting listen nevertheless.