– Az Esm’ (2015) review

“Russian has never sounded this good in metal music“, my thoughts on hearing this band for the first time. Of course, I am aware of a megapopular band called Arkona, whose popularity has extremely dropped throughout the last year in this area for writing a song about a certain unpopular subject in the Balkans. That certainly left a room for a new favourite Russian band for Croats to pick. It might as well be WELICORUSS, a Czech based band whose mastermind, the singer, Alexey Boganov is from Siberia, but moved to Czech Republic because he felt that the band had reached its maximum of possibilities in the eastern Russia. Even though the both bands are Russian, and the language itself is something that appeals to a lot of people, Arkona and WELICORUSS are completely different bands which do have an occasional similarity, such as some pagan elements, but regardless of their name, the neopagan nationalistic elements are left aside by the WELICORUSS, in this album at least. It felt great listening to a pagan metal band that doesn’t fit into the stereotype of a predictable black pagan band. Elements which make this band unpredictable is the more extensive use of clean vocals than the use of growl, and the use of orchestrations, instruments such as didgeridoo, bagpipes and the amazing transitions in between the songs that i will further attend to later on.

The theme of the most of the WELICORUSS songs on this album is connected to the elements of the distant mythological past, but what makes them different from their contemporary counterparts, is the fact that they „admire Nature and search for the hidden mysteries and secret powers of Universe“*, instead of the typical anthem-like songs with thematics such as gods, wars etc, and that their highly metaphorical and, in some places, very profound lyrics could truly be interpreted in countless ways. I would like to accentuate the song „Bridge of Hope“ as a prime example of some of the characteristics I pointed out earlier.

Music-wise, it first seemed that this album was very tight, very well put and thought out, but every time I went back to it, I found another remark. There is obviously a lot of effort put into this album and the idea is amazing, but I am not to sure about the end result. The aspect that seemed to bother me the most is that I felt that the mixing could have been done better. It seems that all the songs have a lack of bottom end, and the bass guitar is well audible only in the emphasized parts, while there is some noise present in the parts where there is a lot going on orchestrally. That is not an easy problem to resolve, and it is reasonable why the big budget bands such as Nightwish manage to do it much more successfully than the lower budget ones. Still there are examples such as Wintersun’s Time I, where the cohesion between the orchestrations and the band was accomplished much more successfully.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the album is musically bad! What needs to be pointed out are the incredible transitions between the songs, in which the amazing mystic power of the Russian language in combination with amazing sounds from nature and the sounds of didgeridoo, acoustic flamenco-style guitar and different singers and narrators can be heard. This is a bit of a double edged sword since it deeply influences the flow of the album, but it would be a great loss if they weren’t included regardless of the side effect. These transitions set the mood for the album which is its key element. Another factor worth pointing out is the great usage different guest vocals in songs such as „Kharnha“ and especially the ballad, „Fires of Native Lands“, which I would particularly pinpoint as the best moment of the album. The band itself sounds great, guitars and drums are very tastefully played, while the lead vocal oscillates a bit, from extremely interesting to a bit uninspired.

My overall opinion about this album is that it is definitely an album worth listening through if you like this kind of music, but a lot of musical purists could find some remarks, along with the more conservative members of the pagan and folk metal community. It has earned its place on my mp3 player on the long run, but I will have to reconcile with the fact that i have to mess with the equalizer a bit every time I listen to it.

*Taken from the band’s press release

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