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Stay a while, make more! - 75%

severzhavnost, April 22nd, 2013

Here's a band who proudly describes their sound as a pure form of heavy metal. At this point you're maybe expecting them to be the Russian female Manowar. No, they manage to avoid that group's grandstanding cheese factor. I'd categorize Вольная Стая more like the Russian female Judas Priest, minus even the latter band's occasional forays into grandstanding cheese! I'll confess to only a rudimentary understanding of Russian, but I can't point to any puerile self-referential crud like "I'm a Rebel". No, these ladies come across as more intelligent than that, while presenting a healthy admiration for the genre's origins. Colour me impressed.

The classic twin guitar attack is executed convincingly in the Tipton-Downing tradition. Nataliya Terekhova and Julie Main play with a very clean professional-grade sound, credit to the band's producer Alexey Strike (also known from his days with Russia's thrash pioneers, Mастер). Стая's guitars push out a heavy metal tone suited to the post-NWOBHM later 1980s, when the genre shed much of its quasi-punkish roughness. But don't take that as an accusation of glam styling! If Russian comparisons mean anything to y'all, this band is squarely onside with Ария and Черный Кофе, not Август and Gorky Park. 

Julie and Natalia trade some awesome, fast and heavy leads, and real shredding solos here and there. Riff-wise, you'll get your most energy out of "Дай мне огня", "Русская Рулетка", and "Птицей в небо". The third especially is the fastest, heaviest song here. It's the most consistent track, as the only one with no slow down between verse and chorus riffs. The wildest solo blurs on the album are again found on "Птицей", with honourable mentions to "Смотри мне в глаза" and the quick little bursts scattered around "За тобой."
I really like Ksenia Timonina's voice. In interviews she gives homage to Warlock's Dorothea Pesch; but I'd go as far as to say Ksenia is the better singer. She's better at sustaining long notes (see "Дай мне огня" and "Птицей в небо" again); and just overall beats Doro for power. I'm more convinced of Timonina as a metal singer because it's always vocal talent that carries her performance, never any syrupy sultriness.

Drums on Стая are quite ably handled by Svetlana Deynekina, who has since been replaced though I can't understand why. Sure, the oldtime heavy metal genre isn't known for a focus on drum complexity. But Deynekina never lags at all; indeed, "Мой день" and the title track do give her opportunity to pick up the pace, and I think she runs with it. Nope, I'm never bored with the drumming here. And she whacks out a really full, deep sound from her kit to boot.

Marina Malakhova's bass has a good thump, although she's too often relegated to nothing more than a second rhythm guitar. The first three songs, especially "Русская Рулетка", feature the bass making its own creative contributions, then that doesn't happen much again until "Мой день". For future albums, the band ought to give Malakhova the chance to step up more. She won't disappoint! While they're at it, they should think about an overall beef-up of the bass' prominence in the mix. That's the only shortcoming of Вольная Стая's late-80s type clean recording: the loss of old metal's fuzzy bass edge.

A couple minor grouses to round out the review. The closing keyboard-based track feels like it's just there so producer Alexey can pass himself off as more than a guest musician. (He offers some nice keys in other songs too, most notably in "Казнь ведьмы" and "Мой день", but it's never a lead role.) Next time around, dispensing with the cornball spoken intro might be a good idea too - but it's barely half a minute, so I'm not going to piss myself over it. Song order could be reconsidered also, as "Казнь ведьмы" would've worked better as a set-up song. It has the keys and ominous church bells to position the album among its late 80s peers. Paeans to your influences belong at the start, to say "this is what we want to play"; then you get into what are purely your ideas. Reversing that order kinda puts the gimp on your musical progression.

Стая definitely makes me anticipate a follow-up album. And that's not just because I'm curious about the new drummer! This album, minor instances of filler aside, kicked a decent amount of arse. Old-fashioned heavy metal for the new decade, without ever feeling like a tribute or parody. I will eagerly listen to more of this. It's been six years by now, so get crackin' girls!