Album Review: DRUDKH A Furrow Cut Short
It feels right to have a new Drudkh album arrive in 2015. The legendary Ukrainian band is known for their deep affection for their homeland and its history, even using lines of poetry from Taras Shevchenko. And with the events of the past year in mind, there’s a certain relevance and timeliness to having an album like this come out now.
But this patriotism has at times led to associations with the more ideologically-charged styles of metal. But in the case of Drudkh, much of this has been due to speculation and assumptions, exacerbated by the band’s policy of “no photos, no interviews, no website, no gigs.” And as a cursory glance at their catalog will tell you, there’s almost no trace of politics in the music itself.
Still, the band has recently taken the time to distance themselves from any such association (their countrymen in Nokturnal Mortum have done the same). In a statement on the Season of Mist website, Roman Sayenko states:
The absence of any comments or information from Drudkh's side gave an opening to a few ignorant internet warrior-fans to spread rumours, that the band embraces some extreme political views. This is absolutely misleading and a total profanation, since there is nothing in Drudkh's music or lyrics that would suggest any political outlook. Drudkh praise individualism, self-improvement and estrangement from modern values.
While it’s clear that a special reverence for Ukrainian heritage, history and poetry informs their music, I doubt the members of Drudkh are card-carrying members of The Right Sector (not that it would matter if it they were, as the party didn’t even reach the 5% threshold to get into the Rada in last year’s election). And it’s not as if Roman has a myopic obsession with Ukraine itself, as his other band Blood of Kingu is focused on ancient Mesopotamian mythology.
Right. Now that we got that out of the way, onto the music.
Even in the grand scheme of black metal as a genre, Drudkh’s music has always had a special element of transcendence. Their style is one of long, well-composed passages of flowing black metal where the tremolo picking and keyboard sounds evoke what Black Ivory Tower describes as:
images of lonely steppes, vast marshes, endless rye fields and the type of desolate rural figures that one commonly encounters in the stunning work of Ivan Shishkin. These visions help transport the listener to another realm, far away from all the everyday madness that pollutes our lives.
When one looks at many contemporary folk and pagan metal bands, it’s usually a matter of taking very pedestrian-sounding heavy metal and layering some folksy window dressing on top. While this can make the music enjoyable as a novelty, it doesn’t say much for its staying power. Whereas in the case of bands like Drudkh, Fen and Winterfylleth, the themes emerge from the music itself, from its production to how the riffs flow together. This is what makes albums like Blood in Our Wells, Autumn Aurora and Microcosmos such compelling works of black metal art.
And it’s what makes A Furrow Cut Short so peculiar, as it seemingly departs from this tradition. Instead of the progressive, grand and mysterious sounds of their past output, Drudkh has taken a much more straightforward approach. Rather than keep their music inwardly focused on their trademark eastern European sound, the band takes a self-conscious turn to the northwest, to the traditional black metal of Norway and Sweden. The songs still contain lengthy, emotive passages, but the production is much heavier, clearer and in-your-face than in the past.
When playing the first song, “Cursed Sons I,” the fast drumming and harsh throaty-vocals immediately recall the early work of bands like Gorgoroth and Burzum, as it’s not until around the one minute mark that the song smoothes over into familiar Drudkh territory. Still, this is not the same ground covered by the sorrowful Blood in Our Wells or the entrancing Autumn Aurora. With their use of orthodox black metal as a conduit, songs like “Embers” and “Till Foreign Ground Shall Cover Eyes” evoke a more earnest feeling, one of struggle and survival just on the edge of oblivion. It’s not unlike Blut Aus Nord’s fantastic Memoria Vetusta albums, but with an added sense of drama and urgency, similar to that of Panzerfaust-era Darkthrone. Of course, it still is a Drudkh album, albeit one that hits the listener in a tougher, driving sort of way. While the guitars are much louder, meaner and heavier, some ghosts of the past wander the record. One notable passage lies around the 5:05 mark of “Cursed Sons II,” with that warm and unusual sounding riff. Through the raging firestorm, a bit of calming nature still manages to peer through.
The frequent use of double bass is notable as well – as it gives the music a pace more commonly associated with Swedish melodic death metal bands. Perhaps some listeners will take exception to the band’s shift in style. But any reasonable person knows that remaking Blood in Our Wells over and over again would be pointless. And besides, there’s nothing wrong with a bold, straightforward extreme metal album with melodic textures, especially one as excellent as this. Rather than simply create sweeping narratives of past legends, A Furrow Cut Short sounds eerily relevant the grave moment we now face.
But while the riffs evoke a whole range of emotions, from anger to desperation, I certainly wouldn’t call this a work of resigned defeatism. Through the power of songs like “To The Epoch of Unbowed Poets,” there is that always fragile notion that – despite everything – somewhere between the peaks of the Carpathians and the banks of the Don, one can still find a sense of redemption, perhaps even hope.
Favorite Songs: “Cursed Sons I,” “Cursed Sons II,” “To the Epoch of Unbowed Poets,” “Till the Foreign Ground Shall Cover Eyes”