Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ак Бүре - "Изге Моңнар" [2015]

Artist: Ак Бүре
Title: Изге Моңнар
Genre: Folk Metal
Country: Russia (Tatarstan)
Release date: 2015

Track List:
  1. Ничеккәйләр Килдегез Сезләр Безгә... 
  2. Нигә Яна Йөрәгем?
  3. Илче Бага
  4. Әнә Шул Cүзең
  5. Идел Буйлары
  6. Ак Калфак
  7. Таң Алды
  8. Фирдәүескәй
  9. Бөрлегән
After the first full-length album of Baradj was released in 2012 and got some publicity, another Tatar folk metal was born: Aq Bure. If my very rudimentary knowledge of Turkic languages doesn't deceive me, it means "White Wolf". After listening to the album I can say that they sound very similar to both Baradj and the better known bands of this genre, like Orphaned Land. Although most of the songs on the album aren't that catchy, I really liked the last track.

Violet Cold - "Magic Night" [2016]

Artist: Violet Cold
Title: Magic Night
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal, Post-Rock
Country: Azerbaijan
Release date: 2016

Track List:
  1. Everything You Can Imagine Is Real...
  2. Magic Night
  3. Warm Winter
  4. For Amelie (Polish Lullaby)
  5. Sea
  6. Drowned In The Lights
  7. Silver Moon (Pt. I)
  8. Silver Moon (Pt. II)
  9. Last Day On Earth
New album of Emin Guliyev (Violet Cold), released literally just a few hours ago, features exactly what this project is famous for: a mix of atmospheric black metal with instrumental post rock and ambient piano parts. While this album generally belongs to the post-rock scene (both musically and aesthetically), the black metal influence is strong enough too. You can call it "hipster black metal", yet this is awesome and I'd trade this album for 1000 generic "tr00" black metal albums. It's certainly no worse than Deafknife or Toluca, and just a couple of years ago I couldn't even imagine that something like this exists in Azerbaijan. Now let's hope that Violet Cold would get even more recognition worldwide than it currently has (very deservedly), as it's definitely one of the finest projects of this kind from ex-USSR... not to mention that the atmosphere in most of Emin's works matches my usual mood quite well.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Violet Cold - "Lilu" [2014]

Artist: Violet Cold
Title: Lilu
Genre: Ambient, Electronic, Post-Rock
Country: Azerbaijan
Release date: 2014

Track List:
  1. Morning
  2. Lilu
  3. Sea
  4. Sky
  5. Sun
  6. Dream
  7. Hope
  8. Serenity
For some reason, this project is currently absent from the list of Azeri rock bands I've posted here a couple of days ago, even if it recently became a sensation far beyond the borders of Azerbaijan. That said, the early works of Violet Cold are indeed far from rock or metal. For instance, this EP (which is probably the first more or less lengthy release of Violet Cold, before which were only singles) is fairly soft-sounding instrumental space ambient / new age music. While Emin Guliyev aka Violet Cold gained international recognition by his later later works which are much heavier, this album is worth listening as well. Even if Emin (according to his own words) don't have any musical literacy, he surely has a talent of composing very beautiful atmospheric music.

Sirr - "Yoruldum" [2014]

Artist: Sirr
Title: Yoruldum
Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: Azerbaijan
Release date: 2014

Track List:
  1. Yaşamaq Gözəldir
  2. Yaşa Ruhumda
  3. Bir Payız Səhəri
  4. Şamdan
  5. Adın Nədir
  6. Ömür
  7. O Deyir
  8. Yoruldum
Sirr were formed in early 2004 by a former bassist of Yuxu, one of the best known bands in the Sumgait rock scene. Sumgait is known for being a home town for a relatively high amount of rock bands in a not very "rocking" country (here's a more or less comprehensive list of all known rock bands in Azerbaijan, it's up for you to decide if it's a lot or not). Initially they were playing blues, but later shifted to a heavier kind of sound (but still very melodic). The material presented on their first (and only so far) full-length album "Yoruldum" is fairly traditional melodic heavy metal, albeit with a noticeable amount of folk motives which make the band's sound easily distinguishable from numerous European bands of the same style.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ultima Thule (EST) - s/t [1988]

Artist: Ultima Thule
Title: Ultima Thule
Genre: Hard Rock, Blues Rock, Folk-Rock
Country: Estonian SSR
Release date: 1988

Track List: 

  1. Turbatuli
  2. Vägev Vähk
  3. Hingan
  4. Aed
  5. Muusea
  6. Hallaöö
  7. Tuulemeelne
  8. Laulev Jögi
...No, it's not that infamous "viking rock" band from Sweden you probably have immediately thought after seeing "Ultima Thule" in the title. This Ultima Thule was formed in Tallin in 1986 by professional musicians that have played in many locally known bands before, and their style is quite accurately  described as "
a blend of blues rock with witty lyrics and influences of Estonian folk music", comparable to another well-known Estonian blues rock band, Gunnar Grapps' Magnetic Band. The vocalist on this album is Tõnis Mägi, who's much better known for his solo career. Nice album cover with petroglyphs, BTW :)

(if the link above doesn't work, try downloading it track-by-track from this site)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hurd - "Zuirleh Argagui" [2005]

Artist: Hurd
Title: Зүйрлэх аргагүй
Genre: Heavy Metal, Alt.Rock
Country: Mongolia
Release date: 2005

Track List:
  1. Алаг нүдэн
  2. Энд нэг л бишээ
  3. Яг л чам шиг
  4. Зэвүүн харц
  5. Алт
  6. Зөрөөд өнгөрсөн бүсгүй
  7. Намуухан орчлон
  8. Ер бусын сүм
  9. Би дуртай
  10. Цоглог оюутан
  11. Би амьдарч чадна
  12. Тоотой санагдах юм
  13. Зүйрлэх аргагүй
  14. Нүүдлийн кино театр
  15. Хонгор сэтгэл
  16. Хөгшин атаман
Now I've listened to all 5 Mongolian metal bands that have released at least something: Hurd, Ayasiin Salhi, Aravt, Tortured Voice, and Ornaments Of Agony. (There was also a short-lived black metal project called Baigaliin Haranhui which released a demo in early 2000s, but judging from a review in Vae Solis XV, I haven't missed much by not listening to it.) These bands mostly aren't bad, but pretty unoriginal, as opposed to less heavy Mongolian rock bands such as Haranga and Altan Urag that are well known for their unique sound. For instance, the only Ayasiin Salhi album I could find is fairly standard old school death metal without any particularly "Mongolian" features. The band started to play as early as in April 1984 (earlier than most Soviet metal bands), so their early demos might sound different, but they're nowhere to be found.

Hurd is an old band as well, formed in 1992 and having the same cult status in Mongolia as Aria have over here or Iron Maiden have in Britain. This particular album was surpisingly posted by the Industrial Technology Music a couple of weeks ago. Let's get it straight: it isn't an industrial metal album by any means, but it does include some electronic moments in addition to the usual heavy metal/rock sound that can be found on all Hurd albums. If I'm not mistaken, the album name means "Uncomparable", and the band name "Hurd" means "Speed".

Monday, January 25, 2016

Nawather - "Wasted Years" [2016]

Artist: Nawather
Title: Wasted Years
Genre: Symphonic Metal, Oriental Folk Metal
Country: Tunisia
Release date: 2016

Track List:
  1. Portals To Edinya
  2. Falling Down The Slope
  3. Daret Layyem
  4. Raped Dreams
  5. Broken Winged Bird
  6. Time To Rise The Curtains
  7. Defnouna
  8. Succubus Romance
  9. Kont Trab
Nawather are a metal band from Tunisia who were around since at least 2003 in some form, but took their current name only in 2013 and released their debut album just a couple of weeks ago. Their drummer is a former member of Myrath, probably the best band on the Tunisian metal scene right now (it isn't like there are too many bands, though...)

Generally speaking, Nawather are playing the same kind of symphonic gothic/doom metal with dual male/female vocals which is quite popular around the world nowadays (not saying like there's anything wrong with that). However, it contains a lot of oriental folk elements which may be hard to digest for an average fan of symphonic metal, but pleasant to those who are into bands like Orphaned Land. A very good work overall, exactly what I was expecting.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pokerface - "Divide & Rule" [2015]

Artist: Pokerface
Title: Divide & Rule
Genre: Thrash Metal
Country: Russia
Release date: 2015

Track List:
  1. All Is Lie
  2. Kingdom of Hate
  3. The Chessboard Killer
  4. Existence
  5. Into the Inferno
  6. Human Control
  7. Killed by Me
  8. Shut Up!
  9. Divide and Rule
  10. Age of Terrorism
Pokerface might be not the best choice of a name for a metal band, but there's plethora of much worse names in metal scene (for just one example, I stumbled upon a band named Eccentric Toilet just an hour ago). What's matter is the music they're playing, and it's fairly up to the standards of thrash metal, especially of the German old school (Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, etc.) The band has a female vocalist, but it isn't easy to guess by just listening to the album. They're also a pretty active live band, and they've visited my city as well, but I wasn't familiar with their music back then.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Aella - "Мания величия. 30 лет спустя" [2015]

Artist: Aella
Title: Мания Величия. 30 Лет Спустя
Genre: Heavy Metal
Country: Russia
Release date: 2015

Track List:
  1. Это Рок
  2. Тореро
  3. Волонтёр
  4. Бивни Чёрных Скал
  5. Мания Величия
  6. Жизнь Задаром
  7. Мечты
  8. Весь Мир За 20 Минут
Remember me writing about Alik Granovsky, who was the founding member of Смещение? Yeah, right. Two years after his band has split up, he took part in recording Aria's debut album, which became one of the earliest and most well-known Soviet heavy metal albums. Several years later, the band reached a cult status and a significant commercial success, but Granovsky was no longer their member by then. While their later albums are frequently criticized for sounding too much similar to Iron Maiden and some other classic metal and hard rock bands, their debut album is fairly interesting and deserves its classic status:

30 years later, the members of Aella have decided to make a cover version of the whole album. They started playing together in 2007 initially as a cover band, and even if they've released a lot of their own material since then, they still play a lot of covers. This project was probably the most difficult and ambitious, given the cult status of the original album, but the result turned out to be very decent.

Of course you shoudn't expect anything innovative or original on this album, but it's good for what it is: an attempt of giving the old songs a new live with modern quality of production and female vocals. The idea of an all-female band making covers of classic heavy metal songs is also not new (The Iron Maidens, and probably some other bands that I don't know of, did it before), but then again, Aella do it pretty well. Here's a full video of them playing these covers in Moscow:

These second part of their show features their own songs. While not of them are equally good, some of these songs are real hits (such as the opening song), and generally it'd prefer them to play their own material rather than covers:
As for their visual style, looks like they're successfully managed to maintain a fairly traditional heavy metal style while being a pronouncedly "female" band and not trying too hard to look like men (who have been dominating the heavy metal scene since its inception). Their vocalist, known under her stage name "Tillen Avers", knows well how to make stage movements... and to be honest, she looks very hot in these mini shorts:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Смещение - live [1982?]

Artist: Смещение
Title: live tracks
Genre: Classic Rock, Hard'n'Heavy
Country: USSR
Release date: circa 1982

Track List:
  1. Дорога
  2. Джинсы
  3. Ритм
  4. Смерч
  5. Любовь
  6. Собака
1980 was an important year in the history of Soviet rock music. First of all, I should mention the Tbilisi Rock Festival which took place in early spring of 1980. While I seriously doubt it was the very first official rock festival in the USSR (at least semi-official rock festivals were held since late 60s), it certainly was the first such event of really big scale, featuring both professional (VIAs) and underground musicians. While a lot of these bands were playing hippie rock of late 60s and early 70s which sounded quite outdated in 1980, at least the acts like Aquarium (who shocked the organizers by their punk-inspired performance, even if it was quite tame by Western standards), Gunnar Graps's Magnetic Band, Autograph and Gunesh were interesting enough, and the whole event greatly helped the "serious" rock music to break into mainstream:

An year after, the first official rock club was opened in Leningrad, after 4 unsuccessful attempts since 1973. Around the same time, several Western hard (and not so hard) rock albums were officially released on vinyl, including "Innocent Victim" by Uriah Heep - probably the heaviest record officially available in USSR by that time. Before that, the official licensed releases of Western rock were rare and mostly limited to stuff like The Beatles (and related projects), CCR, Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Smokie, Bee Gees, Eagles, Dean Reed and some others - usually no more than 5 titles per year. There were also several unauthorized vinyl compilations of Western pop and rock music with some Deep Purple and Queen songs here and there, but no full albums. You can use this list for a reference, but keep in mind that a lot of releases there have little to do with rock.

By 1980, the sound recording equipment of more or less satisfactory quality became available to most Soviet underground rock bands, so home-recorded tape releases started to pop out more and more often. The band I'm going to review right now haven't made any proper recordings (except for these 6 songs which were recorded in poor quality at a live show circa 1982), yet they went down in history as one of the most innovative Soviet bands of that time.

Смещение/Shift was formed in 1980 by Alik Granovsky (who would later become one of the founding members of Aria, the best known Soviet metal band) with an intention of playing something in the vein of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Rush. The original line-up consisted of Alik Granovsky, Andrey "Cruster" Lebedev, Sergey Sheludchenko (all former members of a hard rock band called "Milky Way") and Olesya Troyanskaya, who was admitted into a band because of her unique voice and thus became the first female vocalist in Soviet hard rock. Their first live show took place in November 1980 at a tram depot in Moscow which was used as an improvised venue. They shared the stage with another innovative band of that time - Center, and the audience was completely stunned. During late 80 - early 81 they gave a total of 10 concerts before some of them decided to became professional musicians and put the band on hiatus. In 1982, the band was reformed with a male vocalist (Olesya Troyanskaya was fired from the band by then, mostly due to her lifestyle - remember everything bad you've ever heard about hippies, and you'll get the idea), but that attempt was largely unsuccessful, so they finally split up in 1983.

They're frequently cited as being the first metal band in the USSR, although that's very dubious. Their only surviving recording, which was made with a male vocalist around 1982, features mostly classic/progressive rock with lyrics on mundane subjects such as love, roads, jeans and dogs. There are some heavier moments, but they aren't very prominent. It's quite possible, however, that their early program was significantly heavier (judging from the names of their early songs - "Storm", "Hunger Plague", "Into the Fire" - it's very probable, although the latter song might be a Deep Purple cover) and they decided to "soften" their sound in 1982 to make their music more acceptable to broader audience, but no recordings have survived from their early period. The other contenders for the name of the first Soviet metal band - Legion - started playing live only in 1984, but they're rumoured to have recorded some metal songs in 1980-81. All in all, there certainly were several borderline metal bands in early 80s USSR, but their "metalness" is very dubious, and the first proper Soviet metal release that broke into mainstream was the debut album of Aria, released in late 1985.

Сонанс - "Шагреневая кожа" [1980]

Artist: Сонанс
Title: Шагреневая кожа
Genre: Art Rock
Country: USSR
Release date: 1980

Track List:
  1. Встреча
  2. Дискомания
  3. Честный парень
  4. Маленький сюрприз
  5. Песня о Любви (Шагреневая кожа)
For the sake of historical completeness, here's the band where Nastya Poleva made her debut as a singer, when she was a student of Sverdlovsk Institute of Architecture (her voice can be heard in the last track of this album). It was formed circa 1975 and split up shortly after this album was recorded. The name "Sonance" is probably was intented to be antonymous to "dissonance", although I'm not sure.

Normally I don't listen to this sort of old school rock, but this is an interesting release with a significant historical value. The track names suggest it to be just another standard pop-rock release of these times, but in fact it's art rock influenced by ELP, Yes, Sergey Prokofiev and the Europan classical music of early XX century. The quality of recording isn't that bad considering the circumstances (say thanks to Alexander "Colonel" Gnoevykh, the best sound producer in Urals' underground rock scene of that time, who managed to get an acceptable quality of sound using quite primitive equipment). This album was largely unnoticed at home (and their live performance at a local rock festival in 1978 was met with little enthusiasm too), but it received some attention abroad (I've heard it was aired on BBC, but I'm not sure if it's true).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Настя - "Тацу" [1987]

Artist: Настя
Title: Тацу
Genre: Rock, Post-Punk
Country: USSR
Release date: 1987

Track List:
  1. Ариадна
  2. Одиссей
  3. С тобой, но без тебя
  4. Ночные братья
  5. Цунами
  6. Вниз по течению неба
  7. Клипсо-калипсо
  8. Тацу
  9. Улитка
  10. Снежные волки
The name of Anastasia Poleva, better known as just Nastya, is familiar to nearly everyone who's interested in Russian rock, but actually very few people nowadays remember what exactly she was singing, even if she was really popular in late 80s. That's a shame, because she stands out of the USSR rock crowd of that time, and not only because she was one of the few female vocalists in that scene back then. This is her debut album, recorded in summer 1987 at a studio in Urals State University, and it's worth attention because its sound is heavily influenced by post-punk and new wave, borders on 80s' gothic rock. (In fact, a lot of the late 80s' bands that are lumped into the "Russian rock" category were actually post-punk and not classic rock. Same thing with J-rock, which can be nearly anything musically, although I'm certainly not an expert on J-rock).

Nastya began to sing in various local hard rock bands in 1980, and started to write her own music around 1986. Initially her songs didn't have any meaningful lyrics, just some meaningless placeholder words to sing along with the music. Ilya Kormiltsev, one of the most prominent Russian rock lyricists of that time, has noticed that some of these words, like "matsu" and "tatsu", sound like actual words in Japanese language. This led Nastya to the idea of adding a Japanese theme to the album, particularly to the title track, "Tatsu" (#8). That's how the first weeaboo release in the history of Russian rock was born :)

Here's an official video for Nastya's most famous song, "Snow Wolves". When I shown it to one of my friends, his first reaction was: "But that's synthpop"! While calling it "synthpop" would be a stretch, it indeed has the overtones of 80's synthpop and gothic rock, and the lyrics are pretty "gothic" as well. The quality of video is poor (only 144p), but I couldn't find any better:

If the quality is too low for you, here's an unofficial video which is a Wolf's Rain AMV (one of my favourite animes, and the song suits it very well too):

Friday, January 15, 2016

Merzbow - Live In Khabarovsk, CCCP "I'm Proud By Rank Of The Workers" [1988]

Artist: Merzbow
Title: Live In Khabarovsk, CCCP "I'm Proud By Rank Of The Workers"
Genre: Noise, Experimental, Free Jazz
Country: Japan
Release date:1988

Track List:
  1. Live At Trade Unions Palace Of Culture Hall, 23/03/88 
  2. Live At Soviet Army Officers House Hall, 24/03/88
At first it's hard to believe, but Merzbow did visit USSR with a live program in March 1988. He was invited to a festival of experimental music (mostly free jazz) that took place in Khabarovsk, not so far away from Japan. The other Japanese guest on that festival was Kazuo Uehara, an ambient/new age composer from Tokyo. In order to get Merzbow allowed to perform, the organizers kept the nature of their (yes, back then Merzbow was a duo of Masami Akita and Kiyoshi Mizutani) music in secret, as well as the visual/erotic aspects of their art.

Even if the festival was supposed to be attended by open-minded people who were used to experimental music, and the program itself wasn't too "noisy" compared to other works by Merzbow, the first performance was stopped due to the negative reaction of the audience (some even thought that the musicians were drunk). The second performance that took place the next day was received better. Nothing is known about the third (and the final) performance, and it wasn't recorded either.

While this CD is mostly a collector's item, and it's not nearly as harsh as most other Merzbow works, it's a valuable historical document. This is also a recording of some of the most massive noise performances of that era (in front of ~750 and ~1000 listeners, respectively), and certainly the first noise/industrial music performance of such scale in Soviet Union. There's some additional info taken from the release notes:

"Track 1 - Live at Trade Unions Place of Culture Hall 23 March 1988
Masami Akita plays electric bowed instruments, tape, radio
Kiyoshi Mizutani plays piano, low feedback US MP guitar
Track 2 - Live at Soviet Army Officers House Hall 24 March 1988
MA plays drums, tape
KM plays piano, guitar
Recorded live at AMUR Jazz & Experiment Music Festival, Khabarovsk, far east of Russia
Live PA recordings by Russian staff
Remastered from original live recording
Same materials released on Live in Khabarovsk, CCCP LP on ZSF Produkt, 1988

Artwork By - Ad Suprex , Mamoru Murayama , Merzbow
Percussion - Vitaly Lookyanov
Piano, Guitar [Us Mp], Balalaika, Noises [Metal], Tape - Kiyoshi Mizutani
Recorded By - Igor Karpenko
Remix - Merzbow
Tape, Noises [Metals, Cccp Radio], Drums - Masami Akita

MERZNOTE - In March 1988, little after period of Perestroica, suddenly we invited from Khabarovsk and played live three times. This CD contain our first and second performance. Our first performance was stopped by organiser reason 'Too wild'. So, we played by use normal instruments on next performance. Russian people is nice but they didn't understand us. Reason they invited us, they expect every Japanese band having very hi-tech equipments. But we bring only some pedals. We were too low tech. But they want to get our pedals. We exchanged pedals with Russian souvenirs. They paid Russian currency but it's useless in outside Russia. This CD tracks are original long version. I used tape which include some Batztoutai materials on live background. We used Russian radio and junk box which we found at there.
(from 'Merzbook: The Pleasuredome of Noise' by Brett Woodward, page 107)"

Промышленная Архитектура - "Любовь и технология" [1988]

Artist: Промышленная Архитектура
Title: Любовь и технология
Genre: Post-Punk, EBM
Country: USSR
Release date:1988

Track List:
  1. Точки (Инструктор)
  2. Индустриальный оргазм
  3. Детерминизм
  4. Нет бога
  5. Политический труп
  6. Погранвойска
  7. Church of Reason
  8. Речь сторонника
  9. Дети госпиталей
Промышленная Архитектура / Industrial Architecture was a short-lived project of Dmitry Selivanov, the guitarist of Siberian punk legends Gr.Ob. "Short-lived" in the most literal sense of these words - he commited suicide in April 1989 at the age of 25. There were strong suicidal themes in the music of most Siberian punk bands of that time, so it was expected that someone from that scene would do it sooner or later. Alexander Bashlachev, although not a part of Siberian punk scene but pretty close to it, commited suicide earlier in 1988, and Yanka Dyagileva died under mysterious circumstances in 1991. While not as well-known as these two, Dmitry Selivanov also was a talented musician, and it's sad that the only recordings of his solo project are this album ("Love & Technology") and the live album "Live Architecture".

The sound of "Love & Technology" is certainly rooted in post-punk and new wave which was very popular by the end of 80s when this album was released, but it also sounds surprisingly close to some early EBM acts. I think it's safe to say that it's one of the first (if not the very first) proper industrial music releases in the USSR, whose author knew for sure what exactly he's doing. Surely there also were Linija Mass, Center, StereoZoldat and ZGA, but they either didn't release anything until the 90s (the debut album of ZGA was released only in 1989, for example), or their belonging to the industrial music scene is questionable (StereoZoldat, early Center). While the album is very poorly produced (just like other Siberian punk albums of that time, though), and I don't like the vocal work at all, it's still an interesting document of that era. Check out this song if you're unsure whether to download it or not:

Neutrale Erde - "Эволюция" [2015]

Artist: Neutrale Erde
Title: Эволюция
Genre: Darkwave
Country: Russia
Release date: 2015

Track List:
  1. Ориентация север
  2. Не умею улыбаться (digital delirium)
  3. (r)Evolution
  4. Черно-белое
  5. Biohazard (decypher ver.)
  6. Мы будем свободны
  7. Молоком
  8. Ненавижу белый цвет
  9. Мне не хватает
  10. Идем со мной
  11. Весна
  12. Никому не говори
  13. Она (Lirria's song silent ver.)
  14. Когда
Neutrale Erde (of course not to be confused with Neutral!) weren't active since 2011, so I thought Yarina (the only member of NE by now) has decided to leave the music scene. Turned out I was wrong - NE is back with a new album which is officially available for free (source).

After listening to it, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, it has several really powerful tracks in the beginning, one of which was previously released on NE's 2011 EP "Не умею улыбаться". On another hand, the album is a bit too lengthy and becomes boring close to the end. Another problem is the overuse of movie samples (which, unfortunately, is typical for a lot of Russian punk and metal as well). Overall, if you liked NE's previous LP "Infiziert" (or if you're interested in darkwave with female vocals in general), you might like this one too.

I personally can name another reason why I found this album interesting - despite its name ("Evolution"), it sounds much like the early (2006-2008) works of NE and similar bands. Very few people listen to such music nowadays, mostly due to the hipster epidemic which had a serious impact on the whole non-mainstream music scene here. The more I think about it, the more it reminds me of how the whole 80s metal and hard rock scene was cast down by grunge in early 90s. It's amazing how much damage was caused by that relatively short-lived fad - so many lesser known metal bands had to split up back then simply because they suddenly lost most of their audience. Something like this recently happened here with the so-called "Schwarze Szene" (as much as I dislike this term, "gothic scene" is even worse alternative) - especially in the nowadays' hipster capital, St.Petersburg, where NE are originally from...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Neutral - "Serpents In The Dawn" [2008]

Artist: Neutral
Title: Serpents In The Dawn
Genre: Neofolk
Country: Russia
Release date: 2008

Track List:
  1. Tales Of Men And Trees
  2. Starfall Of The Nevermore
  3. Serpents In The Dawn
  4. Gift Of The Sea
  5. Next To The Stars
  6. Woods Of Autumn Blaze
  7. No One To Follow
  8. Luna 
Ash, Neutral's frontman, has cited "Serpents In The Dawn" as one of his favourite releases in Neutral's discography, along with the first two demos ("The Dream That Destroys The Dreamer" and "When Angels Are Neutral") which aren't neofolk. I have to agree with him: it's indeed the best full-length release of Neutral, and "Luna" in particular is one of the best neofolk tracks with lyrics in Russian I've heard so far (special thanks to Ash for writing really good lyrics, which are far more mature and nowhere near as edgy as the lyrics of early Majdanek Waltz, Ritual Front, or Wolfsblood). After "Serpents In The Dawn" was released in early 2008, the project was put on hold for about 7 years, not releasing anything new and not playing live. However, last year Ash presented a new full-length album, titled "Дни Самозабвения". Some people have complained that Neutral has shifted from neofolk to more regular singer-songwriter stuff like Rome did recently, but I think the new album isn't bad either (although still doesn't reach the level of "Serpents In The Dawn).

Someone in the comment section under this video has offered a poetic translation of this song (yes, it's one of the rare cases when Youtube comments aren't completely worthless). It isn't 100% faithful to the original, but that's completely understandable, and the translator tried his best to leave the rhyme and the original meaning mostly intact:

".....Sons of thine left their homes and their hearths in silence 
And in empty trenches grew cold with a smile 
Through no fault of our own all but covered by war 
Our sons paid the price our crimes redressing

Only Luna of old is perpetually cold 
Never shining for us foreign shores alone caressing ........ 

Called them by their names and their memories honoured 
And your death in its blackened lips I did kiss 
Hides forever the grass voice and words in the past 
None will ever return for my sorrow to lessen

Only Luna of old is perpetually cold 
Never shining for us foreign cities alone caressing

I do not blame thee I do not trust omens 
Silent gait of the slaves followed by their masters 
Our idols do lie, our horses run wild 
Even gods are oft times ensnared in the netting

Only Luna of old is perpetually cold 
Never shining for us foreign cities alone caressing

You and I like all others shall fade into stillness
With our secrets forever by vines entangled
Wind, forgetful and strong to those living and young
Will again be its carefree song addressing

Only Luna of old is perpetually cold
Never shining for us, alien shores alone caressing..."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Neutral - "Cold Plays" [1999]

Artist: Neutral
Title: Cold Plays
Genre: Neofolk
Country: Russia
Release date: 1999

Track List:
  1. Playroom
  2. When Silence Comes To Close My Eyes
  3. Chambers Of The Past
  4. Playroom (live)
  5. Diamonds In Your Hands (live)
  6. Red-Yellow Autumn Funeral
In 1998, Neutral released a 3-song EP titled "Playroom", which was their first neofolk release. Their live performance that happened the same year is considered the first neofolk show to take place in Russia. After that, they became a very active live band, and they were among the founders of the annual "Walpurgis Night" folk festival that's held since 2000 in Kaliningrad.

The "Cold Plays" EP can be seen as an extended version of "Playroom". It contains all 3 tracks from "Playroom", along with two live tracks, and one track that subsequently would be released on Neutral's first LP "Of Shadow And It's Dream". Overall, this EP would be a good start to familiarize yourself with the early ex-USSR neofolk scene, and its cover artwork is very nice too.

Neutral - "The Dream That Destroys The Dreamer" [1996]

Artist: Neutral
Title: The Dream That Destroys The Dreamer
Genre: Darkwave
Country: Russia
Release date: 1996

Track List:
  1. When I Melt Down
  2. Malice In Wounderland
  3. Sweet Dream... Dead Dreamer...
  4. Small Piece Of Reality
The second demo from Neutral, recorded by a duo of Ash and Ilya Lytkin, who became a "core" of a new Neutral line-up. Along with "When Angels Are Neutral", this demo belong to Ash's personal favourites from his early works, but it's nowhere near as heavy as the aforementioned one. It consists of 4 long tracks which can be described as darkwave with lots of samples (mostly taken from the TV reports about crime ant terrorism during the 90s). Like the first demo, it has little to do with what Neutral is playing now, but I personally enjoyed it a lot.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Neutral - "When Angels Are Neutral" [1994]

Artist: Neutral
Title: When Angels Are Neutral
Genre: Aggro-Industrial
Country: Russia
Release date: 1994

Track List:
  1. Intro (For The Sacred Idea)
  2. Smile
  3. Neutral
  4. Extreme & Unreal (Meet You Now)
  5. When Angels Lie
Neutral is mostly known as a neofolk project led by a man nicknamed "Ash" and several guest members - one of the first in Russia, along with Romowe Rikoito and Moon Far Away. However, in its early days Neutral was a full band playing industrial metal/hardcore. After its breakup in 1995, Ash started a new  project under the same name, initially playing darkwave and completely turning to neofolk by the end of 1990s.

Ash decided to become a musician circa 1986 when he first heard some heavy metal - namely, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne. Later, after listening to "Killing Technology" by Voivod (which motivated him to learn playing bass guitar), he decided to play technical thrash metal. Some tapes from that period still exist in his personal archive, but he refuses to release it to the public. After taking part in several short-lived projects, he joined Neutral in May 1994.

Frankly speaking, this demo doesn't offer anything interesting or original to anyone who has listened to a lot of 90s' aggro-industrial. However, it's one of two Ash's personal favourites from his early works (the second is the subsequent demo "The Dream That Destroys The Dreamer", and it's also one of the first industrial metal releases from Russia (if not the very first) - although I personally think it's based rather on hardcore than metal.

All the release notes are available on Discogs. This 2014 interview with Ash was a major source of information as well.

Nekraїna - "Апокалiцтвa" [2002]

Artist: Nekraїna
Title: Апокалiцтвa
Genre: Dark Folk
Country: Ukraine
Release date: 2002

Track List:
  1. Калiка (He's Disabled)
  2. Коти
  3. Назавжди
  4. Люди
  5. Букети
  6. TerraMephista
  7. Калiюга
  8. Апоколискова
  9. Сьогодення
Last time I was reviewing George Charsky & Nekraїna's tribute to DI6, and now it's time for their second full-length album which contains mostly original material. It turned out to be much more electronic than their debut, which is unusual for most well-known neofolk bands who started from more or less electronic sound and gradually became more acoustic. According to Charsky, it happened because he couldn't achieve the needed quality of recording acoustic instruments at his home studio. After visiting London to contact the World Serpent Distribution, he admits that Britain had so many innovative and genre-founding artists because they had much better opportunities than his band: almost every of them could afford good instruments and a professional studio recording, as well as getting played on the radio. This album was recorded using the following equipment: Korean made acoustic guitar "Aria", Shure mic, Primax MIDI keyboard, and a Celeron 633 computer with a SBlive sound card and such software as Cubase and FruityLoops3. Not a super professional equipment indeed, but the result turned out to be surprisingly good.

"Апокалiцтвa" was supposed to be a surrealistic musical story of a homeless man who presents himself as a living god. After a night he spent in a subway begging for money, he's getting killed by two "chimeras" (whatever Charsky meant by that). Then the sky is getting covered with clouds in form of cats, the angel of death is coming from the sky and destroys the city where the homeless "god" was killed. Finally, the whole world collapses into the black hole where are no future or past, only the present. Despite the apocalyptic theme of the album, it wasn't inspired by similar themes in Western neofolk - Charsky thinks the Eastern European folklore is fairly apocalyptic by itself. As a staunch atheist, he also wanted to portray the protagonist of the story as completely useless in both of his aspects. Sorry if my attempt of translating his words was too vague, but I hope that the music would speak for itself anyway. A brief translation of several other questions and answers from his interview which I think are worth mentioning:

"Q.: There aren't many atheists among musicians you took inspiration from. Do you prefer to distance yourself from the religious aspects of their works?
A.: How do you know where I take my inspiration from? The influence of humanist and existentialist ideas on most things that I really like is much stronger than the influence of mysticism. I like people who understand that choosing their way of life is up to themselves, not to some esoteric (or, even worse, social) forces.

Q.: What are your political views, and what do you think of your nationalists?
A.: I feel pity for those people who waste their soul energy on completely anachronistic nonsense.

Q.: What do you think about gothic culture and its rules?
A.: I can't speak for the gothic culture as a whole, and the existence of any "rules" there is news for me. I don't like when someone puts an "infernal" image on, and becomes an idol for others, but I do think the gothic aesthetic well suits the people of European culture in general. Too bad that best examples of European gothic art and architecture became nothing more than popular tourist attractions, but I can respect the people who take the "dark" aesthetic more seriously than just an image or some kind of a touristic journey.

Q.: Why do you think there are so few women to create the really "dark" art? Because the creative insanity is against the female nature, or there's some other reason?
A.: This question couldn't be ultimately answered, because there are no one who truly thinks and feels neutral in terms of gender, in order to make an unbiased judgement. All I can say regarding the topic of our interview (music) is that some "dark" masterpieces could be created only by women, and while the "dark" aesthetic usually means aggression for men, it often means defense for women."

The original texts of his interviews can be found here and here, but I'm afraid the automatic translators would translate them even worse than me. In general, I like Charsky's answer, he seems to be a true believer in what he's doing while being completely not pretentious or arrogant. Sadly, nothing is heard from him since 2008, when he released the 3rd and the last album of Nekraїna - which, however, sounds rather like a collection of samples thrown together than this earlier neofolk works. Maybe there's some deep concept behind it, but I don't know. I really liked his first two albums, but I'm not sure what happened later...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Nekraїna - "Смерть у серпні" [2000]

Artist: Nekraїna
Title: Смерть у серпні
Genre: Dark Folk
Country: Ukraine
Release date: 2000

Track List:
  1. Святосмерть
  2. Руни Та Чоловіки
  3. Янгол vs Бог
  4. Випадковий Протеже
  5. Терамефіста
  6. Рожеві Хмари Знищення
  7. Руни Та Німецькі Дівчата
  8. Кара Кара Карусель
  9. Де Мовчать Вітри
  10. Тиша Мов Христя
  11. Заповіт
Nekraїna was one of the first neofolk acts to come from the 1990s' Ukraine, founded in April 1996 in Odessa by George Charsky, who was listening to neofolk since the beginning of 90s. As evident from his interviews, the band was standing on atheist and anti-nationalist positions, yet they "flirted" a lot with religious/occult and (to a lesser extent) WWII imagery and themes. Their two full-length albums, both released in early 2000s, are now considered to be classic releases of the post-USSR neofolk scene.

"Смерть у серпні" ("Death in August") is a tribute album to Death In June and Nekraїna's full-length release. There were two EPs released earlier in the late 90s, but they consist mostly of the same material that's presented on this album (anyway, you can get them here, if you're interested). The album contains 11 tracks, of which 2 are original (interlude and outro), one is a Current 93 cover, and the rest are Death In June covers - some of which are quite faithful to the original, some are pretty far from the original. Overall, it's a great work of "re-thinking" the neofolk classics which definitely shouldn't be missed, and some of these covers sound better than the original songs (IMO). In case if you're unsure which songs were covered:
  1. Heilige Tod
  2. Runes and Men
  3. Angel vs God (interlude)
  4. Accidental Protégé
  5. Terra Mephista (She Said Destroy)
  6. Rose Clouds of Holocaust
  7. Runes and Men ("Runes and German Girls" - female voice & German lyrics)
  8. Giddy Giddy Carousel
  9. Fall Apart
  10. Silence as Christine
  11. Last Will (outro)

Арніка - live bootleg [1975]

Artist: Арніка
Title: (N/A)
Genre: Pop-Rock, Folk-Rock
Country: Ukrainian SSR
Release date: 1975

Track List:
  1. Вступ
  2. Весна
  3. Весняні варіації
  4. Лиш тільки раз цвіте любов
  5. Колиска вітру
  6. Sugar Baby Love (The Rubettes)
  7. Як заридала моя гітара
  8. Чия то верба
  9. Мила моя, мила
  10. Прощай
  11. О, панно Інно
  12. Осінь
  13. Ballroom Blitz
  14. Sticks and Stones
Арніка/Arnica wasn't an underground band (they released an official vinyl LP in 1974, as well as several singles/EPs, while the underground Soviet rock bands released only demo tapes at that time), but this live bootleg is interesting and rare, so I decided to post it here. It was originally posted on this blog, and I just re-uploaded it to a better file host without changing anything.

This is their only known live recording, made with a portable tape recorder on their live show somewhere in Lviv region (possibly Truskavets) in 1975. Unfortunately the tape was in a very bad state when it was discovered, so the quality of sound remained very poor even after the restoration. It's still listenable, though, and I hope you'll enjoy the awesome voice of Victoria Vradij. It's hard to believe that she was only 14 years old when these songs were recorded! Later (circa 1985) she lived on my city for some time, and later moved to USA in July 1993. She won the title of Miss Rock Europe in January 1992.

The tracks with male vocals are quite enjoyable too, including The Rubettes cover. In general, it's a good example of mid-70s Soviet pop rock which was very popular back then. Amateur bands of this kind, mostly inspired by The Beatles, started to appear in numbers since the second half of 1960s, but very few of them did any recordings (here's some of the earliest known ones, made in 1969 - see the MP3 links in the right column). A lot of people who played in such bands became professional musicians later. During the first half of 1970s, more serious rock bands start to appear (the earliest known recordings of Soviet psychedelic rock pioneers - Yuri Morozov and Aquarium - were made in 1972-73), but the lack of adequate recording equipment was still a problem. Only very few of them were lucky to have access to good equipment until late 70s (roughly 1977 in Moscow), when good semi-professional tape recorders became more or less available, and the independent Soviet rock scene finally became a thing.

Давид Тухманов - "По Волне Моей Памяти" [1976]

Artist: Давид Тухманов
Title: По волне моей памяти
Genre: Art Rock, Symphonic Rock
Country: USSR
Release date: 1976

Track List:
  1. Я Мысленно Вхожу В Ваш Кабинет
  2. Из Сафо
  3. Из Вагантов
  4. Приглашение К Путешествию
  5. Доброй Ночи
  6. По Волне Моей Памяти
  7. Сентиментальная Прогулка
  8. Сердце Мое, Сердце
  9. Смятение
  10. Посвящение В Альбом 
Unlike the tapes I was posting here before, this vinyl isn't an underground release - it was a work of a well-known and reputable composer (David Tukhmanov), and became a best seller in the USSR right after it was released. One of the copies of it, bought by my mother in 1976, still lies on my shelf, although I don't have an equipment to play it.

This is a concept album, recorded by Tukhmanov and a number of collaborators (many of which later became well-known musicians) secretly during 1975, and was presented as a work inspired by classical music and poetry. In fact, it was probably the first Soviet art rock album that was released officially (and immediately became so popular that all its copies were sold out within few days). Can't think of any other release of that era that was sounding like this (although several Soviet rock operas from 1975-85 come to mind, yet they still can't be compared to this album).

"Some amateurs of rock said that On a Wave of My Memory is a Russian Sergeant (they meant Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band). I would prefer to recollect «great albums» of Pink Floyd, but I want to tell about another. Imagine the circle and place the tracks clockwise. You will see from right to left and from top to down:

Top — Prologue (Voloshin) & Epilogue (Mickiewicz)
Top chord — Female songs (Sappho & Akhmatova)
Diameter — German poetry (Vagantes & Goethe)
Down chord — French poetry (Baudelaire & Verlaine)
Down — Shelley, Invisible Counterpoint, Guillén"

(Vadim Nikolayev, "Notes About Russian Rock", 2011)

The export edition of this LP, released in 1978, was titled "On The Crest Of My Memory" and had the following track list:
  1. I Step Into Your Study In My Thoughts (lyr. Maximilian Voloshin, perf. Mehrdad Badie)
  2. From Sapho (lyr. Sappho, tr. V.Veresaeva, perf. Natalia Kapustina)
  3. From Vagrant Poetry (lyr. Vagantes XI-XIII c., tr. L.Ginzburg, perf. Igor Ivanov)
  4. Invitation To A Journey (lyr. Charles Baudelaire, tr. I.Ozerov, perf. Alexander Barykin)
  5. Good Night (lyr. Percey Bysshe Shelley, perf. Mehrdad Badie)
  6. On The Crest Of My Memory (lyr. Nicolás Guillén, tr. I.Tynyanov, perf. Vladislav Andrianov)
  7. Sentimental Journey (lyr. Paul Verlaine, tr. A.Efron, perf. Sergey Belikov)
  8. Heart, My Heart (lyr. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, tr. V.Levika, perf. Alexander Lerman)
  9. Perturbation (lyr. Anna Akhmatova, perf. Lyudmila Barykina)
  10. Dedication In The Album (lyr. Adam Mickiewicz, tr. S.Kirsanov, perf. vocal band "The Contemporary")

Стук Бамбука в XI Часов - "Легкое дело холод" [1991]

Artist: Стук Бамбука в XI Часов
Title: Легкое дело холод
Genre: Ambient, Trip-Hop
Country: USSR
Release date: 1991

Track List:
  1. Хрупко двух
  2. La cheval de ma vie
  3. Слабый тигр
  4. Снег мёд
  5. Белый чёрт ландыш
  6. Лоскуток
  7. Береговая осень
  8. Какавелла
  9. Стены и туман
  10. Тяга
This band is mentioned in DMT's Industrial Culture FAQ as the first trip-hop act in the USSR (and probably one of the first trip-hop bands in the world). They were formed as a trio in Izhevsk, Udmurtia, in late 1980s, around the same time the Bristol trip-hop scene started to develop. They've mentioned Brian Ino and Throbbing Gristle as their main sources of inspiration, and it's quite possible that they came to trip-hop independently from Portishead, Massive Attack and other British trip-top bands of that era. Initially, no one of them could play any instruments, and they had to use rather primitive equipment (acoustic and electric guitars, one Polyvox synthesizer, some makeshift percussion and 3 tape recorders used instead of a sampler), but it didn't prevent them from recording one of the most interesting albums of their time.

Not much is known about them, except for the names of the band members, and one or two photos, but their first and only album is still highly valued. It's mostly depressive ambient/trip-hop with occasional female vocals (not much) and surrealistic lyrics inspired by Julio Cortazar, Franz Kafka and Kobo Abe. The album was recorded at home of one of the band's members during 1991, and released on tape in November of the same year. By that time, the band already split up.

As a bottom note, Izhevsk was renowned for its independent electronic scene in the early 90s, according to the same FAQ. Sadly I'm not very familiar with that scene (except for this band), but I've met Azat Sadykov (the veteran of Izhevsk demoscene who was quite knowledgeable about industrial and other underground electronic music of the 90s, R.I.P. 2014) at the DiHalt festival several years ago, and he confirmed that his native city was producing probably the most interesting underground electronic music in 90s' Russia. If I find something from that scene which is comparable to this album, I'll surely post it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

StereoZoldat - "Zoldat Of Revolution" [1984]

Artist: Стереозольдат
Title: Zoldat Of Revolution
Genre: Electronic, Proto-Industrial
Country: USSR
Release date: 1984

Like in case with the Soviet metal scene, it's hard to determine who was the first industrial/noise artist in USSR. There certainly were some underground projects that played something resembling early industrial music during late 70s and early 80s without even knowing anything about Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire or any other seminal industrial acts. The most prominent example is Alexander Lebedev-Frontov who started experimenting with noises and sound collages in late 70s after finding out about futurism and musique concrète. If he indeed played something resembling his later works back then, then our case is solved; however, no recordings of his works of that time are available.

Dmitry "DMT" Tolmatsky (R.I.P. 2009), the author of famous "Industrial Culture Extented FAQ" and one of the most prominent industrial musicians in 1990s' Russia, has mentioned Center's early works (1983-84) as earliest known example of Soviet industrial music, comparable to early Psychic TV. If he was talking about these tracks, then I agree that there's something "industrial" about some of them, but... Not to sound disrespectful to the musicians who apparently tried to do their best in pretty harsh conditions, but generally it just sounds like a bunch of teenagers playing with guitars and synths and reading nonsense poetry. I'm sure Center weren't the only such band in the USSR underground scene whose members just played what they could and accidentally got something resembling TG or Psychic TV as a result - they're just the best known and still active today. It's also worth mentioning that there's one more example of musique concrète that was widely known in 70s USSR - "Revolution #9" by The Beatles, and while the 70s' hippies might find it too weird, the generation of early 80s was more open-minded...

...Well, I'm feeling that this introduction is getting too lengthy. Meet a very obscure project founded in 1983, whose 1984 demo is the earliest USSR "industrial"-esque music recording to my personal knowledge. It's a brainchild of Alexander "Zoldat" Nemkov, who was born in 1964 in Leningrad, and became interested in sound/noise collages and field recordings in early 80s. Yeah, I know his nickname is correctly spelled "Soldat" in both Russian and German, but I think the "Z" spelling he always used is just the same kind of sensational spelling that's widely used by industrial musicians (writing "K" instead of "C" in English words, etc.) to make the words looking more "German".

In August 1984, he and his two friends recorded their first demo, consisting of 7 untitled tracks. According to some sources, it contained several traditional rock compositions, but this info seems to be just plain incorrect. All I can hear on "Zoldat Of Revolution" is repetitive noisy electronic sound with some similarly repetitive voice samples here and there. Despite its simplicity, it's an interesting listen even today, and I think it does count as "industrial". Surprisingly, it isn't as raw and noisy as I thought it to be before listening (and certainly much less noisy than most 80s' Siberian punk recordings).

In March 1985, they presented their stuff to the public at the III Leningrad Rock Club Festival, drawing the attention of several very prominent rock musicians. With their help, they recorded an album called "Asphalt" in 1986, which became their best known release so far, but I think it's nowhere near as interesting as this demo. According to rumours, Zoldat recorded two more albums during the 90s, but they couldn't be found anywhere.

As far as I know, the demo was originally released without a cover (the image above is a still from some amateur movie featuring Zoldat). What I find very strange is that neither Soldat nor Lebedev-Frontov were mentioned in Tolmatsky's FAQ. Yes, I understand he coudn't know everyone in the Soviet experimental music scene, but at least Lebedev-Frontov is a prominent musician, and I can only wonder why Tolmatsky coudn't find a place for him in that very extensive FAQ...