Folk and Symphonic music are nothing new to the harsh and fierce world of Black Metal. Basically since the genres inception, it has been easy to hear old folk melodies and folky hooks in amongst the seemingly charred carnage and chaos of the genres heyday, and this is one of the core elements of the music that has survived, relatively intact, until the present day. But very few bands let the Folk and Symphonic sides of their sound take the reigns and drive the music forward; WELICORUSS are one of the few exceptions. Formed in Russia in 2001, this band have slowly but surely garnered a hefty following and cult status in Europe, mostly off of the back of two demos, two EP’s and a full length album. The bands latest full length, “Az Esm”, looks set to become the bands magnum opus, and there are plenty of reasons why this album might just be their best.
This album opens with a very short, ambient folk piece that sounds awesome, and builds a sense of dread and tension in the music, and the delivery of the spoken word section, and thoroughly gets the listener ready for the album. The first full track on offer here is the albums title track, “Az Esm”, which has a lot of folk music elements to it, interlaced between the sweet, melodious guitars and the great keyboard hooks. The throat singing in particular works very well, and adds a completely unique aspect to the song that many Pagan Black Metal albums lack. “Voice of the Millenium” opens with some more cinematic spoken word parts, cloaked in a powerful atmosphere that dissolves into the song itself; a grandiose and hair-raising affair, with plenty of interesting folk sections mixed in for good measure to keep the sound eclectic. By the time that “Woloshba” kicks in, it’s very clear that this album, although defined as a Symphonic Black Metal release, is placing a lot of emphasis on the Symphonic side of the music rather than the Black Metal. All the instrumentation on these songs is so in your face, with some razor sharp, modern sounding Black Metal raging away underneath. The guitar lines aren’t what carry this album; they merely act as a base on which to build the symphonies and other musical facets. This track is a prime example; the guitars, bass and drums don’t stray away from a fairly standard heavy chug, apart from a few melodic guitar trills, but the beauty lies in the folk instrumentation and the keyboard sections. “Fires of Our Native Land” begins to strip away much of the symphonic sides to their sound, allowing the Black Metal in side to breath and come to the fore. This is a decent, if essentially straightforward, track. It has a gothic, almost Danny Elfman-esque quality to the orchestration at some points, and it sounds great as a result.
The second half of the album opens on “Bridge of Hope”, a very cool song that manages to balance the symphonies and the Black Metal pretty well. It’s not a standout track, but it’s a very good one to start the second half of the album. “Dolmen” definitely picks up the pace as it opens, and it works really well. The female vocals sound awesome, and the folky side of the music starts to rise to the surface a bit more. It’s got some really cool, modern sounding Black Metal parts, melodic hooks and an overall feel of a future classic. Likewise, I can certainly see “Kharna” becoming a fan favourite and arguably one of the cornerstones of the bands live set. It has a strong, metallic chug to it, and some very good instrumentation thrown over the top for good measure. It ends of the sound of clashing swords, which is a really brilliant touch that adds to the overall atmosphere of the track. “Fragments” is another good song that is built upon a wide and eclectic mix of different vocal styles, which all complement each other rather than sounding like a cacophony of noise. Chanted vocals are something that works very well in Black Metal, but is seldom used, and this song is a perfect example of it working extremely well. The penultimate paean is perhaps the most cinematic and musical verbose out of all the songs on this record. The guitar lines soar over the top of very powerful orchestrated sections that are done subtlety, but very well. It gradually becomes harsher and more ferocious, with the drums pattering out a primal beat underneath the rest of the varied sounds on here. And then we come to the final track, “Az Esm- Epilogue”, a song that is easily the best way to close this album. The heady, ambient opening seconds of the song help create an aura of menace around this track before the song properly kicks in. And when it does, it’s a solid, mid-paced track which draws together all the numerous parts of this bands sound, from the heavy, polished and tight Black Metal, through to the sweet folk melodies, which pepper this track generously and help beef out the sound. It ebbs and flows between heavy and melodic, Metal and Symphonic, quite fluidly, and it brings this album to a close very well.
This album is pretty good. It’s easy to see why this band has garnered such a massive following over the years. If I have any criticism of this album, it’s that the Black Metal elements weren’t too high in the mix, but luckily all the other elements were so good that this point barely matters. This album is eclectic, cinematic, atmospheric and above all, amazing. This could very well be the album that gives this band worldwide attention and recognition as one of the leading forces within the Symphonic Black Metal genre in Europe.