Monday, February 29, 2016

V/A - "Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the USSR" [1986]

Artist: (various)
Title: Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the Soviet Union
Genre: Psychedelic Rock (side A), Post-Punk/New Wave (side B), Rock-n-Roll/Boogie (side C), Ska (side D)
Country: USSR
Release date: 1986

Track List:

Side A (Аквариум):
  1. Пепел
  2. Сегодня ночью
  3. Танцы на грани весны
  4.  Жажда
  5. Сны о чём-то большем
  6. Рок-н-ролл мёртв
Side B (Кино):
  1. Видели ночь
  2. Фильмы
  3. Ночь
  4. Город
  5. Проснись
  6. Троллейбус
Side C (Алиса):
  1. Экспериментатор
  2. Мы вместе
  3. Доктор Буги
  4. Плохой мальчик
  5. Соковыжиматель
  6. Ко мне
Side D (Странные Игры):
  1. Метаморфозы
  2. Хоровод
  3. А телефона нет
  4. Эгоцентризм
  5. Если ты думаешь 
Yes, I know this 4-way split isn't as "underground" as its title suggests: in fact, 3 out of 4 bands on there are actually very big names on the Russian rock scene nowadays. However, its historical significance is huge.

A little backstory: in 1984, Joanna Stingray, an young pop-rock singer from California, visited Leningrad as a tourist and was surprised to find a relatively big rock scene there. After getting acquainted with several bands from the Leningrad rock club, she started to think that they'd be huge stars and earn millions of $ in any Western country with a developed music business industry. In 1986, she managed to take some tapes to the USA with an intention to find a recording company that would agree to release them on vinyl.

Initially, her idea was met with a strong opposition. While the Soviet music recording monopoly Melodiya was also highly reluctant of releasing popular music from the Western bloc, especially rock music, they did have released dozens of Western pop and rock records - usually the most family-friendly stuff like ABBA or The Beatles, but some of more serious rock releases as well (notably, the Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann's Earth Band LPs in 1980). On the other hand, releasing any Soviet rock band on a American label was a big no at that time. However, Joanna Stingray managed to reach an agreement with an Australian independent record label Big Time Records (I guess the fact that she was from an affluent family helped her a lot), and "Red Wave" was released on July 27, 1986 as a double LP (one side for each band taking part in the compilation).

The exact amount of copies is uncertain, but most sources put it between 10 and 20 thousands. The material presented on "Red Wave" was recorded at Andrey Tropillo's studio in Leningrad, which was the only professional private recording studio in the Soviet Union in early 80s. From 1981 to 1986, Tropillo produced at least 30 independent rock albums, many of which later became classics. The quality of sound was satisfactory at least, and certainly better than what these bands could do at home. In 1983, Tropillo managed to get access to the British-made mobile recording unit (similar to that used by The Rolling Stones) with some of the best equipment of that time, which was owned by Melodiya and was never used for recording rock music before. The result was 3 Soviet rock albums with nearly world-class quality of production, which was very hard to achieve before the late 80s.

"Red Wave" got mostly positive responses from the audience, and sparked a short period of interest in Soviet rock, which was exploited later by other bands like Gorky Park. Quite predictably, it didn't last long because most Soviet bands didn't have much to offer to the already highly competitive Western rock market. Imagine a split album featuring 4 Korn or Linkin Park clones, released in 2016 with a mediocre quality of production? That's pretty much the equivalent of what was "Red Wave" back in 1986. The real historical value of this split is its impact on the Soviet policies towards independent rock bands. Joanna Stingray has sent the copies of "Red Wave" to Reagan and Gorbachev, and the latter actually took the time to check it out. Shortly after that, Melodiya has released the first official LP of Aquarium (containing the songs that were recorded during 1984-1986 in Tropillo's studio). Shortly thereafter, the 3 remaining bands on the split also got their first official LPs. Through the next couple of years, almost all restrictions on the independent music in USSR were lifted, and the Soviet rock finally broke into mainstream.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Сруб - "Хтонь" [2015]

Artist: Сруб
Title: Хтонь
Genre: Post-Punk, Darkwave, Neofolk
Country: Russia
Release date: 2015

Track List:
  1. Горицвет
  2. Изгнание
  3. Дом Всех Тревог
  4. Грот
  5. До Горизонта Земли
  6. Обрыв
  7. Всем Языки Развяжет Заря
  8. Говори (Угомони Зло)
  9. Юдоль
As I've said several times before, the "dark" music scene in Russia was rapidly developing in late 2000s, until it was cast down by hipsters in early 2010s in the same manner as the 1980s metal scene was destroyed by grunge in early 1990s. Today, most of what's described as "underground music from post-USSR" is just shitty indie rock/pop, but there are some really interesting new projects as well (although not many). Here's one of these.

Сруб was formed in Novosibirsk by Igor Shapransky, and quickly became a sensation among both hipster crowd and 2000s' gothic rock fans. The music is more or less standard post-punk, but with lyrics more typical for neofolk or pagan/black metal (fortunately it's rather well written and nowhere near as ridiculous as the lyrics of Arkona or many other "Slavonic metal" bands). All in all, it can be described as a mix of neofolk, darkwae and post-punk (or "witch punk", as the band members themselves call it), with a great "forest" atmosphere comparable to that of the best atmospheric black metal acts. Would agree with this comment on bandcamp:

"Surely one of Russia's very best acts. Tremendous energy, powerful rhythm section, superb vocals and unbelievably catchy. Do yourself a favour and pick up their entire discog, these guys are seriously addictive!"

So far I've heard their whole discography, except for their latest album which was released only a few days ago. Have high hopes for it too, even though Сруб is becoming a bit self-repeating as of late... Still, all their albums and EPs I've heard so far are awesome, and this one is certainly one of the best.

Systemshock - "Virus-Electro" [2010]

Artist: Systemshock
Title: Virus-Electro
Genre: Dark Electro
Country: Russia
Release date: 2010

Track List:
  1. Right Now
  2. Shiftdelete
  3. Liquid Crystal
  4. You're Fake, I'm Real
  5. Rewire
  6. No Resist
  7. Fixed
  8. (Without) You
  9. Your Cell
  10. Nothing
  11. Fixed (UnfixedMeatGlitch Remix by Ainoma)
  12. No Resist (Broken Remix by REZiiST)
  13. Fixed (Afterparty Cover Version by Sadanakar)
Unlike KryoniK Moon, Systemshock doesn't refer to their style as "visual kei" (at least I don't remember them doing so), but they're actually quite similar in terms of both music and imagery. While their stage costumes are a bit ridiculous in my opinion, a lot of people in the dark electro scene were into this style during the late 2000s:
Systemshock initially were formed as a duo consisting of Nikk (SPCMN7 - live guitar) and Elen (AxidZenn - DJ) circa 2008 in Omsk. They initially performed rather for fun and without any serious plan, but their first live shows turned out to be a success. In late 2009, Systemshock became a full band with 6 members. That was the time when dark electro and so-called "Schwarze Szene" in general was relatively popular here, and quality instruments/equipment started to become more or less easily available to purchase. When Nikk was playing alternative rock prior to Systemshock (that was during 2004-2007), he had only a guitar and not much else - even a MIDI controller wasn't easy to buy in Omsk back then. Nowadays the equipment is quite expensive again, but the period of 2009-2014 was more or less good for musicians in this regard.

Their debut album, named "Virus-Electro", was released on Synthematik in 2010 and turned out to be a big success. They also make two music videos which were aired on A-One and significantly contributed to their success too. I think it's safe to say Systemsock were the leading DE project in Siberia back then. They also have toured the whole China, taking advantage of their geographical proximity. According to a recent interview with the band, a second album is in the works, but it won't de dark electro - rather more mainstream club music. They explain it by not wanting to be stuck in one particular genre, but I think they just have realized that the general public here don't care about dark electro and other "Schwarze Szene" genres anymore...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

KryoniK Moon - "SuperLuna" [2014]

Artist: KryoniK Moon
Title: SuperLuna
Genre: Dark Electro
Country: Russia
Release date: 2014

Track List:
  1. Kryonik Sage
  2. Illusion
  3. Red Queen
  4. Letzte Wache
  5. Phobia
  6. Vollmond
  7. Alfa
  8. Tron
  9. Specter
  10. Vollmond (Bespa Kumamero remix)
  11. Vollmond (halo remix by re:\legion)
  12. Red Queen (Purple Fog Side remix)
  13. Tron (Nitemare Machine remix)
Kryonik Moon was formed in 2011 by Alina aka "Tera Mizuki" as a continuation of her earlier dark electro project Hypno[Revil]. The debut album of Kryonik Moon, titled "SuperLuna", is dark electro too, although it's a bit more on the pop side of things. The band also describes their music as "visual kei", which is typically used as a description for a wide range of commercial Japanese rock, metal, and electronic bands which all have one thing in common: the makeup & stage costumes of the musicians are more important than the music itself. I personally never was into glam rock or visual kei, and I prefer more minimalistic clothing styles, so my pick would be their photos in a more traditional dark electro style:

As for the music, it's fairly good (Alina's English pronunciation is not ideal, but it isn't a big problem), but I have a feeling they're a bit late to the party with such an album. If it was released in 2009, when the public interest in dark electro (and "Schwarze Szene" in general) was at its peak here, it surely would be a breakthrough on the post-Soviet scene. By 2014, this sort of music and fashion already fell out of style, although I'm sure KM still can gather a decent audience in Moscow (not sure about elsewhere). I know of a couple of similar projects that started circa 2009-2010, but I'll post them later (if I will at all, because I need to put this blog on hold for some time, and I'm not sure when I'll be back on here).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Arcane Symphony - "A New Day Begins" [2015]

Artist: Arcane Symphony
Title: A New Day Begins
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Country: Russia
Release date: 2015

Track List:
  1. Ocean
  2. A New Day Begins
  3. Loneliness
  4. It's a War!
  5. Nostalgia
  6. Trust Yourself
  7. What Is Life for You
  8. To Live Is to Love
  9. Something to Die For
  10. You Are Free
The first time I noticed this band was when I stumbled on several their demo tracks roughly an year ago. Now they have a properly produced full-length album, which didn't disappoint me. Surely they doesn't play anything that wasn't already played by better known sympho-metal bands (like early Within Temptation or Lacuna Coil), yet it's a quality product which is done the way it should be. Anna Volodina (the vocalist) may have some flaws in her English pronunciation, and her voice isn't as strong as, say, the voice of Svetlana from Emerald Mind, but it's quite pleasant to my ears and suits this kind of music fairly well (and she seems to be very proud of having recorded a quality full-length release when she was only 19 years old):

As it was correctly said, female-fronted symphonic/melodic metal & rock is on the rise nowadays because it provides a niche for a very significant amount of girls who dislike the mainstream pop music but aren't into more "tr00" and "br00tal" genres either. Symphonic/melodic metal fashion is also a major factor of attaction to them, because it allows them to look hot according to both mainstream and metal/rock scene standarts. That said, this particular photo of Arcane Symphony makes them look more like a synthpop band (I must admit that Anna looks awesome in this short white dress, though):

 Amazon | Google Play | iTunes

P.S. A couple of years later, I found Anna on Instagram, and she turned out not only beautiful and talented, but also very sweet girl who was happy to answer all of my questions:

Actually, I wanted to post much more photos of her, but I had to keep the size of this post within reasonable limits. My personal favourites are the ones where Anna wears a short white dress and high heels, even if it's not very metal :)