Rainbows in the Dark: Russkaja — “Turbo Polka Party”

If I look back on it, maybe even without realizing it, two people that have had a profound impact on who I am as a person would be my grandma and Weird Al Yankovic.  The one and only thing that unites them is their love of polka, and I remember showing my grandma Weird Al, thinking she would be blown away; she aggressively didn’t get it, and it’s hard to separate the music from the parody, but when you do, you find that the punky polka is the best part of Weird Al’s discography.  On Turbo Polka Party, Russkaja embrace the fusion of bouncy polka bops and ska-punk for the final time in their eighteen year career.

Turbo Polka Party only just came out this Friday, but the day of its release to the world also came with some pretty shocking and unexpected news: Russkaja announced that they would be disbanding, effective immediately.  Anyone familiar with the band knows that the Austrian group prominently features their Russian and Ukrainian ancestry proudly, and anyone with a pulse also knows that it’s probably not the best time to be using Soviet Russian imagery to promote anything.  In Russkaja’s defense, this has been their brand since long before the current war broke out, and Turbo Polka Party prominently features songs calling for peace and understanding.  Russkaja have always been vehemently against oppression and violence (proceeds from their “No Borders” promotional shirt still go to charities benefiting Ukrainian refugees), but they have hit a wall where they feel that, even being outspokenly against the current Russian aggression, they cannot go forward with the style that has defined them since the beginning.  “What once was fun in the band’s music is nothing but bitter now, and the band members cannot go on stage anymore without feeling that bitterness in every note played and every word sung.  All the lyrics written have a totally different meaning now, and none of the band members want to represent this, since in these times it is only associated with war, death, crime and blood spilled,” the band said in a statement released on their Facebook.  So, it seems, Turbo Polka Party is more than just a new release; it’s a farewell present to all their fans, past and present.

Musically, Turbo Polka Party listens as a much more metal-forward release than I thought it would be originally.  There’s a lot more punk and metal right off the bat, especially on opening track, lead single and anti-war anthem “No Borders.”  “Russki Style” and “Shapka” both feature big, downtuned riffs that embrace the early aughts alt and nu metal in a way that is extremely goofy and totally fun at the same time.  Of course, all these riffs are still backed up by the requisite jaunty horn section and violin, leading the overall sound much closer to, like, if Gogol Bordello *really* cranked the volume up.  The middle section of the album might be some of my favorite cuts, though, because that’s where all the straight polka elements come in, guns blazing.  Vocalist Georgij Makazaria shows a softer side of his voice on the ska-tinged “New Life” and effortlessly winds his way through German, Russian, Spanish, French and English on cuts like “Senales” and “Baila,” odes to the typical polka subject matter of getting really drunk and dancing your ass off.  The album also features several guest spots from old friends, like Skindred’s Benji Webbe (a name I have not heard in, as Obi-Wan says, a *long* time) and In Extremo’s Micha Rhein.  For good measure, there’s even a cover of George Michael’s “Last Christmas” in the band’s unique style, which I was initially confused about, but now knowing that this is the end of Russkaja, I’m glad we have it for posterity.

Russkaja have officially ended with the release of Turbo Polka Party, and I can’t say that I don’t understand it.  When something so intrinsically tied with who you are becomes so completely tainted, it’s really hard to separate yourself from something so horrible.  I wish all of them the best in whatever comes next.  Turbo Polka Party is quite a fitting farewell, then.  It encompasses all the good the band has done and everything that they have stood for: peace, love, unity, cultural celebration and having a good fucking time.

– Ian

Turbo Polka Party is available now on Napalm Records.  For more information on Russkaja and what comes next for the members, check out their official website.

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