Nine Circles ov… Russia!

russia flag

If you’ve been wondering (and I’m sure you have, attentive reader) why I tend to cover older releases instead of the latest and hottest promos, it’s because I prefer to spend a lot of time with a band or record before I form an opinion on it. Simply put, I prefer knowing one artist’s discography through and through to listening to ten CDs by different respective bands.

This list of personal favourites from Russia illustrates just that. It may not offer the most diverse, all-encompassing collection of bands from the country, but every band that’s on there is one I can recommend wholeheartedly.

Grazhdanskaya Oborona

In the “not metal but damned good nonetheless” category, we find Grazhdanskaya Oborona. With its earliest formation emerging in 1982, Gr. Ob. can be considered one of the USSR’s very first punk bands. However, their records released in the nineties and noughties are the ones that immortalise this group and, by extension, their outspoken frontman Egor Letov. Their hazy psychedelic rock and melancholic, poetic lyrics turned out to be the perfect soundtrack for the new Russia and its inextinguishable Soviet nostalgia.

Knyazhaya Pustyn

Knyazhaya Pustyn is a fairly new band that includes members from different parts of Russia. The wide geographic distribution of their line-up allows them to bring to the table various distinct folk influences. On their two full-lengths, these influences are often mixed with black metal, but on their latest (and most recommendable) release – the split album Spletenye – they exclusively dedicate themselves to folk. While some of their songs are marred by the penetrating sound of a primitive clay flute, Knyazhaya Pustyn have proven that they have enough potential to emerge from the seclusion of the Siberian hinterland and let themselves be heard across the globe.

Isa

My love for Isa is well-documented, albeit in other publications, though I promise I am not a member of their official street team. It is difficult not to be moved by their incorporation of folk and metal into an ambient structure, which makes for a mysterious, oneiric listening experience. With their splendid compositions and poetry, Isa aim to reflect the magical world of the taiga, Siberia’s immense boreal forests. Imbued with a deep sense of reverence and humility for this spectacle of nature, Isa are the folk metal antithesis to the more bombastic outbursts of Arkona.

Arkona

Folk metal giants Arkona, who are led by the nauseatingly talented Masha Akhripova, are the go-to band for anyone who has yet to taste the delightful fruit that is Russian music. Particularly albums such as “Goi, Rode, goi!” and “Slovo” offer a glossary of folk metal variations, ensuring that (excuse the abhorrent cliché) there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Songs such as “Yarilo” and “Stenka na stenku” remind of the Finnish cheese put out under the monikers of Finntroll, Korpiklaani and other such acts, while the beautiful “Zimushka” caters to those of us who (like yours truly) are more dedicated into the traditional end of the folk spectrum. Even aficionados of hard-as-nails metal will find Arkona’s oeuvre to contain more than enough to get excited about.

Sivyj Yar

Sivyj Yar is one of those bands where it is impossible to believe that there’s only one person handling the vocals and instruments. But indeed, a multi-instrumentalist Vladimir is the sole culprit of Sivyj Yar’s drawn-out, versatile and slightly tragic black metal records. The most disrespectful yet effective way of describing his music would be to label it as a rougher, more black metal-oriented version of Alcest. While there is definitely more to Sivyj Yar’s style than that, traces of Neige’s guitar-playing and vocal style can be heard in this Russian band, yet they are delivered more ferociously. As such, even those who cannot to stand Alcest’s whiney, flowery offerings have little excuse to avoid Sivyj Yar.

Jassa

Jassa’s only two members are Vladimir and a bloke who goes by the charming name of Aeargh. As can be expected, the music bears some resemblance to Vladimir’s other project, Sivyj Yar (see above). Yet where said solo project narrates tragic events through pondering, dreamlike music, Jassa take a more unequivocally evil approach to their atmosphere, landing this band deeper in the waters of traditional black metal than the more experimental Sivyj Yar. So far, 2012’s “Dark Years of Dearth” is the only entry to Jassa’s discography, but they are creating a new album as we speak.

Yanka Dyagileva

Yanka’s life story is as tragic as it is short. Part of the same Siberian punk movement as Egor Letov’s Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Yanka’s work expresses vitriolic anti-authoritarianism similar to that of the European punk scenes. But like Letov, Yanka was a veritable poet, who narrated her sorrow through bleak, imaginative lyrics. Her style incorporated both lo-fi (post-)punk and exclusively acoustic efforts. Like many of her scene mates, Yanka died prematurely. In 1991, her dead body was recovered from a river near her native city of Novosibirsk, having been aged just 24. Speculations on the cause of death range from an accident to suicide and even murder. The music she left behind is still worth exploring, as it tells of genuine sorrow in a way that mawkish DSBM could never hope to achieve.

Pyre

Pyre is a relatively recent incarnation. Originating in 2012 in St. Petersburg, Pyre is best known for their 2014 full length, Human Hecatomb. Pyre are a blend of death metal and crust. Their thick, unweilding sound is infectious. Including members of Blazing Rust, Chamber of Torture and Internal Damage, Pyre are a force to be reckoned with. Further, their sound is not what is normally expected from the Russians. Rather, their sound is more in line with the great, crusty death metal legends of Finland. (This selection from Manny-O-War).

Welicoruss

Formed in 2002 way over in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Welicoruss have brought their pagan symphonic version of black metal to the scene over the course of four studio albums. Just this year, after a number of lineup changes, they released Az Esm’While they currently do not find themselves on a label, they have found success that has recently been fueled by shows with the aforementioned Arkona and a relocation to Prague. Welicoruss showcases all the uniqueness we appreciated in Russian metal, but here it’s done with an addicting amount of pace and tribute to their country’s history. (This selection from Corey).

– Jesse

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