FOLK/BLACK METAL | BELARUS/UKRAINE/RUSSIA
RELEASED VIA CASUS BELLI MUSICA ON 15.06.2012
Firstly it should be noted that with the exception of Piarevaracien I will be referring to the band’s in their Cyrillic names as mark of respect to them. After all, the Ukrainians don’t go to Залізо Перший concerts, they go watching Iron Maiden. So I feel it’s only right we should use the spelling the band intended, and looking at the logo’s of Чур and Опричь that is how it is intended to be written.
I’ll start with an overview before delving into each band’s respective tracks. Триединство or Triunity is a conceptual split release, with the theme being Slavic unity. You have a coming together of bands from Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine in a celebration of their shared heritage and cultural roots. I guess it’s obvious when you look at the title with Tri meaning three and then Unity, and there being three bands on the split. As you might expect with a theme that involves celebrating their Slavic culture, pagan influenced folk metal is what you can expect to hear with this, with all three bands approaching the genre from different angles which keeps things interesting.
First up is Опричь. The band first came to the public’s attention with a split with current Ukrainian favourite’s Крода (Kroda). Whilst it showed promise it was still very much a band finding their feet and they were outshone by Крода. 5 years later and a split with Чур in the meantime, the band released their first and only album Север Вольный in 2010. Whilst this showed definite improvement, I still felt it was a band falling slightly short of its potential. So it’s with great pleasure that I listen to their latest offering, a trio of songs that finally feels like the band have hit their stride and are writing songs befitting of their obvious talent.
The production is really clean, powerful and dare I say modern sounding. All the instruments are clearly audible in the mix, the guitars pack a real punch and all the folk instruments have their place in the mix. They aren’t drowned out by the metal elements, nor do you get the feeling of them being an afterthought that just been overdubbed onto an existing song. It feels like the folk elements are a part of the composition and someone who understands mixing and knows an instrument’s place in the stereo field has mixed it, rather than the sort of armature production jobs that have plagued folk metal for so long now.
The vocals are also a noticeable improvement for me. I don’t know if the vocalist has just got better at his pitching or his timing or what it is, but they seem to fit so much better than they have in the past. The songs also feel a lot less disjointed and more coherent than they have done in the past. Instead of sounding like a collection of ideas, they finally feel like songs.
With this release Опричь have gone from a band that I didn’t really care too much about, to a band who I’m genuinely interested to see where they go next. So in that respect, I consider their third quite a success. However, let’s be under no illusions. This material isn’t game changing within the context of folk metal. Yes it’s competent, yes it’s a massive improvement, but ultimately it’s still second tier stuff, perhaps (And I hope that) they will make that jump to the next level with their next release, but at the moment it’s just good, not great. But like I say, we can take positives in the massive improvement’s they’ve made.
Next up is the Belarusian contribution by way of Piarevaracien. There’s not an awful lot of information floating about for this band, I’m yet to find a line up, however from a recent picture posted on their facebook page of 4 men, plus a comment saying the flautist is missing, leads me to believe that they are a 5 piece band. They formed in 2004 and have released 2 albums so far. The debut album was a solid, if not groundbreaking slab of blackened folk metal, and the follow up from last year followed a similar path.
One thing I noticed about their 3 songs on this release is that they are a lot more laid back and less aggressive than I was expecting. The sound almost borders on a sort of melancholic folk rock at times. With no harsh vocals, blast beats and very little distorted guitars. If it wasn’t for the electric bass guitar you could probably call this an acoustic release from the band. It’s not traditional enough of pass off as pure folk, as it still follows a pretty typical folk metal song structure just without the distortion, but aesthetically it’s not far off. This is however a nice change of pace and compliments well what went before on the albums and what is to come.
And finally we have Чур, which was started in 2005 as a one man project from the Ukraine. They since recruited two more members, but metal archives informs me they have since left, are again a one man project. The bands debut album was recorded in 2006, and a follow up in 2009. The latter’s cover should be banned for crimes against artwork in my opinion. I’m sure it’s depicting some Ukrianian legend, and yeah you have the symbolism with the Kolovorot and stuff, but it’s like they looked at the Cure’s self titled album artwork and thought, well if children’s can draw their artwork, they can do ours too. Anyway, I digress.
Musically I always find that Чур are the opposite of most average folk metal bands. Whilst most average folk metal bands knock out a half decent metal track and slap a generic melody playing traditional instrument over the top to pass it off as folk metal, Чур seemingly have the folk part down, but come a cropper when it comes to the metal elements. I often feel like the metal isn’t needed, as if it was just a vessel for the ideas rather than an actual part of the ideas. Thankfully on this release they have stepped up their game. It seems like there is more emphasis on interesting riffs this time round, almost as if the guitar has been allowed to take on some of the melodies that would have previously been found on the folk instruments. But that’s not to say that the folk elements have been completely abandoned, they are still there, and are as strong as ever. Despite the increased quality of the metal sections, the folk elements are still the highlight.
I think in some respect’s it suffers from the folly of all one man projects, the drum machine. No matter how hard you try, programmed drums always stand out for their rigidity and predictable dynamics. Whilst the drums on display here are pretty convincing, at times my attention drifts and picks up on them. It’s like the musical equivalent of the uncanny valley.
I also feel that the artwork is worth mentioning. Romanian based Kogaion Art handled this release. Possibly best known for the logo’s of bands such as WInterfylleth and Rauhnacht and artworks for the likes of Wodesnthrone and Askival amongst many others. This is a bright and vibrant artwork that I really feels capturers a flavour of Slavic culture. I might be wrong, but at the point where the three countries meet there is a big stone column like structure which research suggests is called the friendship monument. I wonder if the monument depicted on the cover is an ancient interpretation of that, with the three heads facing the different countries, and the three swords being from the three countries having been placed there as a symbol of unity, representing the coming together of the three nations mirroring the content of this split release.
In summery, this is very interesting EP which manages to retain a sense of identity throughout despite being comprised of three different bands from three different countries. I feel this is a testament to the concept of the album, and in that respect I feel that as a concept album it is a success. All three bands sound wonderfully Slavic, both in the melodies used, and in the vocal delivery. I think there’s a certain charm to clean sung eastern European languages, the phonics and the way it sounds aesthetically really do add something new to the table and give it a real sense of authenticity. Perhaps that’s just my naivety as a northern European who is more accustomed to German and Scandinavian languages when it comes to folk metal, but whatever the reason, I feel that this release is all the better for it.
Whilst it’s fair to say that all three bands have upped their game on this release, all bettering what’s gone before with the exception of Piarevaracien who I feel are going for something a bit different rather than improving, it would be naïve to suggest that just because there has been improvement that it’s first class record. Ultimately all three still falls short of releasing something classic, but I think what we can take from this is that all three are making steps in the right direction. With any luck they’ll have all been holding back their best new material for their next albums, and hopefully this is merely a tasting platter for what’s to come. [7/10 – NEIL SLATER]