I tend to appreciate albums that have a historical take, especially when they derive a lot of their musical inspiration from a specific point in time or dedicate their runtime to talk about a certain country’s history. While there are bands that look at various wars or use their music as a way to criticize their neighbor’s policies, I don’t think I have encountered as much tragedy and strife in any country’s history as I have read about Russia. While the late 19th to the early 20th century was certainly not a great time if you were alive then, Russia’s history at that point was filled with so much blood that it comes as no surprise that everything about it just seems to be dark and filled with suffering. However, despite this, there is something both beautiful and fascinating about Russian history, especially when the focus is on its monarchs and the people who both loved and hated them. This brings me to Voland III: Царепоклонство – Il culto degli Zar (“Carepoklónstvo (translated as basileiolatry, the act of worshipping kings) – The cult of the Tsars”), Voland’s third EP that remains fixed in explaining and discussing their ongoing fascination with Russian history.
Before discussing the actual history behind the four main tracks, I wanted to briefly discuss the music and how it is employed here. First track “Casa Ipatiev” starts off with what sounds like a funeral dirge, as if the story we are about to hear is going to be both tragic and sad. There are also traces of what sounds like Orthodox church hymns, which are a recurring theme throughout, which adds to the sense of the grandiosity of worship. This, with the added orchestration and the vocal work, makes the EP an enjoyable listen, especially when this becomes a highlight during some of the more repetitive aspects of the music. Il culto also reminds me of Der Roten Milan’s Moritat, an album that is rooted in the practice of singing murder ballads – songs about tragic and/or gruesome deaths. Because of the EP’s nature, each track can be seen as a morbid murder ballad that worships specific historical aspects of the Russian monarchy.
If you think about it, Sunday worship is essentially the entire congregation singing a murder ballad that elicits both worship and kinship under God’s watchful eye.
Now, we get to the fun part of the EP: the history behind each track. “Casa Ipatiev” is about the Ipatiev House, a former merchant’s home where the last members of the Romanov family were murdered/executed in 1918. The house was later demolished in 1977 on the 60th anniversary of the Russian Revolution; the site later became the location of the Church on the Blood, a church that commemorates the Romanov sainthood. Again, this adds to the sense of worship that the EP employs. “Terza Roma” discusses Ivan the Terrible’s rise to power, becoming the first (official) tsar of a united Russia and how his title of “tsar” derived from the title of “Caesar” used during the Roman Empire. History is not kind to Ivan the Terrible – after all, he eventually murdered his own son due to his increased paranoia and rage and this resulted in the Times of Troubles.
The EP then changes gears with “Promontorio”, as it discusses the failed Cossack uprising led by Stenka Razin against the monarchy in 1670. Unlike the other tracks on the EP, which tends to be more orchestral in nature, “Promontorio” removes the hymnal tone and is also harsher in nature, as it places full blame on Razin for his actions, while placing the monarchy in a more positive light. Thanks to the monarchy’s glory, the uprising was quashed and the rebel was executed for treason. Lastly, “Suite Russe” is a track that discusses and satirizes our fascination with the monarchy, as we are frequently intrigued by the court drama and gossip that comes from various sources; yet, we also ignore all the suffering everyone else went through that allows the monarchy and the nobility to live in both extravagance and decadence. In a sense, the final track holds everything together – it ties all of the various themes and historical aspects in a pretty knot, reflecting what we see today.
History is written by the winners and their excellent PR people, and tragedy serves to glorify the deeds of those winners. Perhaps, that’s why Voland is more interested in presenting a story through music rather than outright glorifying the history they present. After all, aren’t we all interested in the tragedies of man?
Hasta la proxima!