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Alexey "Alex Nightbird" Solovyov, best known as the former bassist, vocalist, songwriter and poet of the legendary Russian folk metal act Alkonost, left the band back in 2010 and immediately went to form his solo-project under Сердце-Камень (Heart Of Stone) which solidifies his visions about the glory days, his fantasies, nature and the culture of Mother-Russia! A Re-written version of Alkonost's Ожидание (Waiting) in a fabulous folk rock style was ealier released featuring Irina Zybina (from Грай) in order to promote this new project. On the other side of the split, we have the young band Духи Предков (Spirits Of The Ancestors) which is a pagan/folk metal act with an already released LP behind it.
Alexey's EP "Жизнь" (Life) kicks the split with Омут Звёздного Неба (Whirlpool Sky), one would immediately recognizes the heavy presence of symphonic arrangements which eventually distance the sound of this project from Alkonost's sound (which is guitar-driven) or any of its elements. (Although some Alkonost elements can still be traced such as the choirs and the songwriting style; however, Alexey was the songwriter of Alkonost so it's quite predictable)
Members from the well-talented Russian folk metal band Грай join Alexey on this EP as guest members, Irina Zybina throws her beautiful unique vocals style, Ruzveld, with the company of another guest guitarist called Timur, they handle the rhythm guitars and also play some enjoyable lead solos, we also have Andrey "Posokh" on the drum-set, providing a simple non-technical, yet an effective drumming! Alexey's harsh vocals are stronger and angrier than ever, however his vocals approach was never grim (except on the debut Alkonost's record "Songs Of The Eternal Oak"), nor evil. His vocals reflect some sadness and nostalgia (Жизнь - Рось! (Life - Ros!)) and some anger (Омут Звёздного Неба ((Whirlpool Sky))), there are also some spoken passages which add another welcomed dimension to the mix. The bass guitar, played by both Alexey and Ruzveld, shines here and there (in Мать (Mother) for example), now the astonishing beauty comes from the gorgeous vocals of Irina, this Slavic girl has some of the most dreamy folkloric vocals, she handles almost half of the vocals on this EP, it was a great decision by Alexey to give her such a share of performance.
The EP consists of 4 songs, 2 fresh songs and 2 re-written Alkonost songs. As pointed above, the record starts with Омут Звёздного Неба (Whirlpool Sky) which is a new song, it mainly features Alexey on vocals, shouting some angry-as-hell vocals with some sweet background effects by Irina! The symphonic melodies lead the song, it's a great opening track! With the 2nd song, Alexey goes back to his Alkonost roots (once again, after the digital single release Ожидание (Waiting)) and exactly to "Between The Worlds" LP this time to re-write and re-record a doom-ish, ballad-like version of Мать-Тоска (Mother's longing) under the title of Мать (Mother), the original was clearly an ethereal/dark ambient piece, this one is now a folk/doom metal song with Irina's sad vocals! The 3rd song Путь Богатыря (Way Of Heroes) is the second new song, and again, it opens with the usual symphonic leads, very sweet melodies indeed, then the lead guitar shines in some great riffing. Irina once again leads the song with one of her most dreamy performances ever, kind of suits the mood of this song which is uplifting and optimistic. The choir finally appears with various guest members, oh and it's simply well done! Now with the 4th and final track of this side, Alexey returns to the early days of Alkonost and particularly to the "Spirit Tending To Revolt" demo, re-writing and re-recording now the song Life On Glory's Blade under the name of Жизнь - Рось! (Life - Ros!), I always wanted to hear a Russian version of this excellent Alkonost song. Alexey and his guests deliver an excellent Russian version! There are some lead guitars parts, some symphonic leads and a mix of vocals, the male vocals return on this song, and with a female touch, end this EP with a sad, yet a powerful ending!
On side notes, I can't see any negative aspects of this EP, now If one would say that "Сердце-Камень doesn't sound like Alkonost at all", then this is a plus (and not a negative aspect) for Alexey, since this isn't the case in here, Alex wanted to distance himself and he quite succeeded in doing so.
Духи Предков (75%)
This is my first experience with this band, being not familiar with their members nor with their previous material, one has to judge what's between his hand. This EP, which is called "Вещие Сны" (Prophetic Dreams), starts with Преддверие Смерти (Before Death) which has a huge death metal influence, whether in the guitar riffs or in the vocals approach, the flute and the keyboard provide some interesting folk tunes, there are also some fine lead guitars. The 2nd song which is the title track Вещие Сны (Prophetic Dreams) starts with a very catchy flute, it has some polka music influences, the vocals style in this song reminds me of some Finnish folk metal bands. The main melody, whether played on the flute or on the keyboard, is never boring and is highly enjoyable. The 3rd song Солнце За Горами (The Sun Behind The Mountains) is definitely the best track on this EP side, the flute's opening is folkloric as much as you can imagine, this song also features Alexey Nightbird as a guest vocalist, it also has some interesting guitars work (especially in the opening minute) and some great choirs and spoken passages. The final and 4th song Огонь (Fire) starts with, obviously, a fire cracking sample, it marks a return to the death metal sound with some short folk passages. The rest of the instruments do their job in a decent way.
This young band suffers from a few flaws, the first being with some generic harsh vocals and the second being with some repetition of the same riffs, sometimes it works and other times it can be boring and dragging. Overall, this band is interesting and should be checked by any folk metal fan.
This split is a great addition for your folk and pagan metal collection, Сердце-Камень clearly relies on atmosphere while Духи Предков focuses more on catchiness, it's important to note that while listening for a better experience. The production on both EPs is crystal clear, all instruments can be clearly heard including the bass guitar. Highly recommended!