Album Review: DRUDKH Їм часто сниться капіж (They Often See Dreams About the Spring)
A few things generally come to my mind upon the arrival a new Drudkh record. First is the sort of elation that follows new music from a favourite band. That’s backed by an admiration of this Ukrainian quartet’s identifiable and recognisable sound; one that stands out like Shaq driving to the hoop against Pygmy tribe defenders. Over the course of 16 years, Drudkh has provided a singular spin on black metal that’s allowed them, however subjectively, residence in the upper echelons of the genre’s deep underground. Yes, that may sound counterintuitive. However, there’s little more an artist could ask for than being recognised and respected as innovators. It’s far better than shoulder-shrugging indifference.
This has always led me to ponder what might have been had the band loosened the reins on the whole “no pictures, no shows, no interviews, no website” stance. Might they be reveling in the sort of popularity afforded to Deafheaven, Wolves in the Throne Room, and others edging along black metal’s more melodically refined side? Granted, Drudkh’s sound isn’t at all North American populist; its focus is their Eastern European heritage, but good music is good music. If gaggles of non-Germans can wet themselves over Rammstein's particularly Teutonic brand of Neue Deutsch Härte, Tengger Cavalry’s Mongolian references and instrumentation, and even Sepultura’s Brazilian flavouring, then 'Murica isn’t as culturally xenophobic as Trump would have the world believe. There’s hope yet, people.
A plethora of excellent albums aside, when it comes to “careerist Drudkh,” questions will always arise as to how hard they’ve shot themselves in foot with the isolationist stance. The closest they’ve come to public engagement has been opening Facebook and Bandcamp pages. They also made a statement upon signing to Season of Mist a decade ago that denounced accusations of so-called “extreme political views.” It should be noted this is arguably more of a direct connection than fans had with bands in the pre-internet age.
Їм часто сниться капіж (They Often See Dreams About the Spring) – heretofore denoted as Dreams – is album number eleven and another work set to generate a breadth of response. The martial rhythmic thrust and scathing minor key melody of album opener “Nakryta Neba Burym Dakhom…” is a simultaneous paean to second wave black metal’s monotonous inclinations and the genre’s progressive/post side. The song’s wind-swept, middle section is a half-time sequence with some dubious percussion selection, but it’ll still elicit tendon scrunching, invisible orange salutes. After second track, “U Dakhiv Irzhavim Kolossyu…” crawls its way out of a mopey indie-rock-ish intro; the touches and flourishes added by guitarists Roman Sayenko and Roman “Thurios” Blagih provide a cinematic sensibility in contrast to the tremolo-picked, forearm-busting main riff.
There’s something grander and more expansive happening on Dreams; a distillation of history and mythology with passion poured into songs on par with Tejano artists singing about “el corazón.” You can feel it with the battle-ready, anthemic quality spun around the linearity of “Vechirniy Smerk Okutuye Kimnaty…” Despite the song’s depressive tone—the title translates to something like “Nighttime Condemnation Occupying Rooms”—its sensibility vibrates with hope and heritage. Those familiar with Drudkh know their material is often created in tribute to, and/or remembrance of, 19th and 20th century Ukraine authors and poets. The despondency exuded in the song titles (translated by Google, so we’re getting little more than an accurate gist here) and the album cover's mood juxtaposition makes you wonder how many of the artistic warriors being paid homage to have off-ed themselves.
“Za Zoreyu Scho Striloyu Syaye…” makes use of ascending, pedaling guitars giving it a bit of a hard rock/thrash metal feel that eventually gets trampled by battering ram drums; the one-dimensionality of which are the record’s weakest link. Vladislav “Vlad” Petrov provides an uncompromising spine, but his rhythmic tunnel vision wears thin. Cold and icy may be the order of the day—and to a greater extent, the genre—but expanding his repertoire of fills and providing some measure of swing would go a long way.
Drudkh has presented more quality goods with Dreams; which will undoubtedly stir up more discussion about the elephant in the room. What if Drudkh was more approachable? What would happen if Drudkh actually promoted itself to an appreciable extent? How big could this band be? How much opportunity and potential has been quashed by their social detachment? Chances are we’ll never know. What I know is I’d love to see Drudkh open for Deafheaven and watch the black metal scene burst a Carotid artery. However, I’d also like to see how the average Joe/Jane in the pit reacts to the band’s sonic sui generis.