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Good merely from a historical point of view - 70%

oneyoudontknow, October 14th, 2012

1991 marks an important date when it comes to the quite outre genre of funeral doom. From out of nowhere and in three countries more or less “simultaneously”, music hit the surface that would take the doom concept to a new extreme. The projects and releases in question are:

  • Thergothon (Finland) Dancing in the Realm of Shades & Fhtagn-nagh Yog-Sothoth demos
  • Mordor (Switzerland) Odes
  • Вой (Russia) Кругами вечности

    While the former two are “well-known” in the Western metal realm, the third one is rather obscure and only since 2012 it appears with an entry at the Metal Archives. Two aspects need to be considered in this respect: the absence of something comparable to the modern Internet in the days when the demo had originally been released and the issue of two major political spheres, which brought all kinds of trouble with it. In other words, it had been difficult to make people in countries of the other “block” aware of the existence of a project, as it had been to get music started in the USSR/Russia; similar stories surface in oppressive Middle Eastern “democracies” and regimes these days.

    Yet there are revivals and re-releases. Obscure music is spread in a revamped, polished and well presented kind of way from all kind of scenes and genres. Вой is no exception in this respect. This tendency helps to fill the gaps, brings music back into the realm of contemporaneity that helps to explain the evolution of the metal scene with each cobblestone a bit more. For instance, the music from Strid is available again, bands like Fester see their demos professionally spread and also Timeghoul is able to receive some attention in the new millennium; just to name a few. Sadly, reprints of old magazines or scans of their editions might be a bit trickier to obtain and it is more likely that they will become one with the dust of the ages than see a return at some point somehow.

    Вой translates to “howl”, which reminds us on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg as well as wolves, an animal that all too often finds in way in depiction of Slavonic Paganism imagery. Maybe this term is a yearning for a new era, a new age, a new world. 1991, the Iron Curtain was beginning to vanish and in 1988, when the band was originally founded, the political climate had seen a shift in the atmosphere and freedom of the people. Perestroika and Glasnost surfaced one after another and opened the path into a new future, a new kind of politics. Howl seems to indicate a yearning, the screaming of a beast, a warning of the things to come. Or is it the result of a contemplating about something that has been lost? Whatever the idea behind the name, how does the actual music fit into this?

    Funeral doom is a term that had not existed when this demo originally saw the light of day. Moreover, Wikipedia lists the following bands as the pioneers of the genre: Mournful Congregation (Australia), Evoken (United States), Funeral (Norway), Thergothon (Finland), Skepticism (Finland) and Corrupted (Japan) (Source 1). Not one word about Вой and maybe it would have been proper to mention the Polish band Ysigim as well. Yet there is a problem with these two: while the former has also hints of the death doom genre, the latter one is actually more Gothic doom with ambient elements – at least the stuff that I had been able to trace. Nevertheless, these are traces which might be important to point towards; at least from the point of view of completionsts.

    To put Вой's Кругами вечности into perspective:
    Thergothon's Fhtagn-nagh Yog-Sothoth comes with a distinct dynamic, but is rather free in the actual expression of the melodies. It feels like the Finns wanted to create an atmosphere and attempted to use simple elements for this goal. In some sense it is a deliberation from the doom genre or the metal one in general. In terms of the track length they did not venture too far away from what is common in the doom metal scene. What leaves an impression are the vocals: they are intense and outside what could be expected a doom band. Gurgling sound, hardly comprehensible expression of the texts, whisperings and only in some rare instances, like in the last track on the tape, the band allows some clean vocals to create a focal counterpoint to the omnipresent and all engulfing darkness. Dark, disturbing, tormenting and thick as glue at times.

    Mordor takes the listener in a different direction. Rather ritualistic in style, with elements from the ambient, noise and drone genre their concept is not only much more minimalist but also rather experimental. Guitars appear not in the ordinary sense. Rhythms and melodies are stretched, distorted and fragmented; Dark Throne of Blasphemous Evil. The Great Kat Is God on the other hand has a melody and is considerably fast; not only compared with the opener but from the perspective of the funeral doom genre in general; it rather reminds on some obscure instalment of Gothic. With the last composition on this first demo Lamentations for Corinne the listener returns to the style which Mordor celebrated in the former of the two preceding compositions. Those unfamiliar with the Swiss band might be surprised that the musicians were involved in a variety of other projects at that time, something that has found expression in a 6-way split release called “The Way Of Nihilism”.

    Other funeral or death doom bands, who had been active at the same time as the three in question – in terms of the release – or might give the impression of similarity, can be described from the perspective the Russian band as follows: Disembowelment (more variations in the tempo and vocals), Derkéta (tempo) and even the American band Winter is more on the death metal side; with all the “complications” that come with it. Whether Русская Зима had an impact on Вой is an open question, because it would be the only death/doom band listed in the Metal Archives, which had not only been started in the eighties, but which had actually been active when “Кругами вечности” hit the street and it may be interesting to know whether there was some sort of mutual exchange between them and Вой. The same would be true of Александр Невский, the first doom metal band from Russia and from the same town than the band this review is about. From a broader perspective the metal scene in Moscow looks rather diverse in these days (1980-1990) , with a good amount of bands and releases, yet there has been a slight emphasis on thrash as well as death metal. Doom played a minor role.

    So much for this and back to the topic:
    Thergothon plus doom gives a vague indication of Кругами вечности. The music lacks the extreme contrasts, the sickishness of the Finns, does not dare to attempt to drag the listener down in a surreal dark world. Keyboards have their share in the performance but are more of an element among others than anything else. Even more distant are the Swiss with their approach. By comparison, it really sounds like music from a different world/time. The vocals give the impression of having attempted towards the death metal genre, while starting in the doom one, and have remained stuck in between somehow. Aggressive, intense and powerful are all terms which quite amply describe the performance on this album. The riffs are minimalist, at times broken down to simple chords, while the drums can be described as a counterpoint. Their part is a bit more complex and they also create the pace; the strings, due to their reverb, have a larger share in terms of the atmosphere. When it comes to “flow” or dynamics, then it appears also in a rather distinct and uncertain kind of way.

    Вой is conceptually rather down to earth and with a flaw that appears on too large a degree in the metal scene: everything drowns in the vocals and prevents the instruments from clearly developing the melodies and atmosphere. Therefore, it all comes down to how the performance of the vocalist is able to create a distinct focal point. Frankly, it all drags a long a bit too much. It sounds too forced and without much of an understanding of what the band attempted to do. Aside from a short build-up and a fading out there is little room to add solos, counterpoints, variations in the tempo, to add samples and so on and so forth. Each of the compositions follows this pattern … each (!!!). Третий Круг Ада comes with an interesting horror-movie influenced opening and it has even some slight breaks, but the overall direction remains the same.

    Sadly, even the short interlude Формула воззвания, which leads over to Магический Круг, is not able to induce a shift in the overall direction. Maybe it can be speculated that the band had been uncertain on how to deal with this particular kind of music and crafted something that is save so to speak; something that would not be too daring but had at least enough novelty to make it stand aside from the status quo in the scene at that time. Sadly, not much is known about the band and also not how their first release Дети чумы fits into everything. Two years prior to this one it had seen the light of day, yet the uncompromising oblivion seems to have consumed readily and without mercy. Also a recent interview (Source 2) does not help to shed much light on this issue. Nevertheless, some insights into the time when the band started their endeavour are given, which is better than nothing.

    In some respect this album has a certain charm. Judging it from there point of view of the quality of song writing, arrangements and concept would do the band an injustice. These were the early days of the funeral as well as the death doom genre. In the interview the band describes the reaction of the audience to their music at a live concert and the difficulties of the fans to deal with such an “extreme” approach; consider, as outlined above, how thrash and death metal have a slight dominance in the Russian metal scene in general and the Moscow one in particular. Anyway, times have changed and this small niche has matured in some respect. More variations and elements have been woven together by bands from around the globe, which has lead to a certain amount of conceptual richness and variety.

    What might come as a surprise is the lack of influence from the Russian literature. It would be pointless to throw names around, but would it not fit such a specific kind of music? This overall tendency to melancholy and even depression? The “heaviness” which so characteristic for the Russian writers. Yet Вой do not take inspiration from these. A Google translation of the lyrics does not provide hints in such a direction and also the interview is rather an argument to counter such a suspicion. What makes an appearance in the texts follows the standard formula of various metal genres: Satanism, Hell, Darkness. Not too original … but there you go.

    Кругами вечности is a release one should definitely give a try. It comes with a surprisingly good production, a somewhat strange conceptual approach and in a disturbingly low amount of copies. For reasons impossible to fathom, nothing more than 100 copies have been pressed by the label – Sublimity Records. It may be interesting to know whether there is a chance to see a re-release at some point. Therefore, get it while it is available.

    Whether the CD comes with extensive liner notes, background information on the release and all this kind of stuff is unknown to the writer of this review.

    Funeral doom was pioneered by Mournful Congregation (Australia), Evoken (United States), Funeral (Norway), Thergothon (Finland), Skepticism (Finland) and Corrupted (Japan).
    James Minton, Kim Kelly, and Jenn Selby, "Filth Parade", Terrorizer #188, September 2009, p. 56.