– Kharnha (2011) review

When looking at the Russian folk metal scene, Welicoruss is definitely one of the most authentic-sounding bands. Their first two albums appealed to pagan metal purists with a sound that was rich in traditional overtones of an austere Siberian culture, and less of derivative folk metal like other bands. This EP, “Kharna,” is another offering that puts a twist on native Siberian folk with leanings towards metal.

Welicoruss is a very seminal band that usually only strike the right note with a certain faction of folk listeners. In “Kharna,” they appear to be trying different facets of their musical personality by creating songs that each have a pretty unique style. Aside from two different versions of the title track, every song is its own entity. One of those versions of “Kharna” is a strictly orchestral one that manages to sound quite different in delivery than the regular version with its peaceful instrumental style. The non-orchestral “Kharna” has a nice earthen sound combining keyboards akin to a folk dance, complex riffage and symphonic sounding guitar and violin strains that accent, rather than detract, from the natural feel. The singing is also best on this song in the way that it flows with the melody better than on some of the other tracks. Welicoruss has that distinct attribute of having two vocalists, which is good when they strike the right balance, as they do here.

“Dolmen” is another song that I like, but for a different reason. On this one, they integrate a female vocalist with their singers and opt for a more symphonic composition that makes the song catchy with its big wall of sound, in that same way that Therion do. It’s a little more metal, incorporating cool leads and piano with a memorable sound. This approach works best for them, rather than the more traditional route they take on “Bridge of Hope.”

“Bridge of Hope” is much more chaste folk with an ethnic base melody. They sing in Russian like they’ve always done, which gives it a great feeling of legitimacy; however, it may be a bit over the top for the more metal of pagan/folk listeners, especially when the vocalists do their traditional singing. The fast pace of the drums on the song is out-of-place and disrupts the general mood of it. Apart from that, this is a very brief EP and contains a short, eastern-sounding intro as the only remaining track. Too bad instead of putting out a couple different versions of one song, they didn’t make two distinct songs, since an EP has so few songs to achieve getting its message out.

“Kharna” is only a small sampling of their music, so it’s difficult to assess the material of Welicoruss until they put out another full-length. When they write songs that become good compositions that flow and feature all sorts of musical elements into the mix, they shine. When they go the more localized folk route and minimize the metal input to a few afterthoughts here and there, they usually only resound with folk purists.

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