War remains one of the most prevalent lyrical themes in metal, and for good reason. Metal is arguably the best music for illustrating the horrific realities, complex psychology and adrenaline of war, giving ample opportunity for bands like 1914 to deep-dive into a certain niche. Since 2014, this Ukrainian band's combination of blackened death metal and doom metal has centered on World War I—named after the year it started! On their third album Where Fear and Weapons Meet, 1914 paints a tragic, gritty and human portrait of WWI with musical bombast and emotional heft.
1914 doubles down on historical context, extracting compelling narratives from impressive specificity. "War In" sets a haunting mood by sampling "Tamo Daleko," the famous Serbian song from the era, followed by the torrential drama of "FN .380 ACP#19074" (as in the pistol). Blaring brass crescendos augment the song's melodies, while Rostyslav Potoplyak's drums reach a level of unrelenting intensity yet-unheard from the band. The symphonic overtones synthesize naturally with the grim tremolo picking and powerful gutturals, as the lyrics delve into the thoughts of Ditmar Kumarberg as he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and kicked the Great War off.
Where Fear and Weapons Meet fleshes out 1914’s approach without becoming gimmicky. More than its grisled portrayal of the New York National Guard regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters, “Don't Tread on Me” paves a distinct path from machine-gun blasts to mortar shell doom metal with Dissection-ish leads. In the same way, “Vimy Ridge” wouldn’t be any less of a hard-riffing mid-tempo melodeath song if it wasn’t a tribute to the decorated Ukrainian-Canadian soldier Filip Konowal. The music speaks for itself, elevating the subject matter rather than depending on it.
Combining the aesthetic backdrop with tasteful songwriting sonics makes “…And a Cross Now Marks His Place” one of the year's most moving songs. The emotional thrust behind Dmytro Kumar’s voice skyrockets as he growls and sings the unthinkable, yet all-too-real letter to the mother of the late UK private A. G. Harrison. Where many bands play up the carnage of war of shock value, 1914 hinges its morose riffs and dynamic percussion over a convincing sense of mourning for the honorably slain.
If 2019’s The Blind Leading the Blind remembers the lives extinguished by the Great War, then 1914 centers Where Fear and Weapons Meet on the scarred survivors. “Coward” takes an unexpected turn for raw acoustic folk (complete with Sasha Boole from Me And That Man) to tell the dismal memoir of a doomed deserter, while the doom death military march “Corps d'autos-canons-mitrailleuses” recounts the long bittersweet return of a battle-worn Belgium troop. In both cases, the music transcends history as an authentic depiction ripe with memorable motifs and punishing grooves.
The most impressive aspect of Where Fear and Weapons Meet becomes 1914’s ability to balance historic grandiosity with personal relevance. Guitarists Vitaliy Vygovskyy and Oleksa Fisyuk write riffs that not only bolster a song about The Battle of Messines in “Pillars of Fire,” but give perspective on the individual machinations therein. Mind you, a cut like “Mit Gott für König und Vaterland” will stay in your head long after its spiraling melodies and propulsive double bass end. The fact WWI functions as the backdrop as well as the main attraction to 1914 embodies the unique artistry these guys have honed.
1914 saves their heaviest, most dissonant riffs for the most unorthodox cover of "The Green Fields of France" (originally written by Eric Bogle in 1976), offering a rattling take the lingering tragedies of war: "There's no grass, no barbed wire/ There's no guns firing now/ But here in this graveyard it's still No Man's Land." Just for good measure, the band plummets without warning into a tumult of metallic clattering, wretched rasps and bagpipe drones before returning to its bone-crunching funeral doom.
"War Out" brings Where Fear and Weapons Meet full circle with a protest song from the Great War, "I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier… Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder, To shoot some other mother's darling boy?" This understanding of the deeper strife and calamities that come from war makes 1914 such a potent force within the underground. They honor those taken too soon by forces beyond their control, while admonishing the chaotic evils WWI brought on. This evocative, flesh-ripping period piece unveils overlooked lessons from true events in a conflict so terrible that many called it "The War to End Wars"—armed to the teeth with inventive, lethal heaviness.