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I admit it, I’m an idiot. Temnozor is a name I’ve known for many, many years but have avoided for, as per usual, unknown reasons. Laziness, perhaps? I am pretty lazy, I must admit. There’s something about Slavonic metal that has always had me running in the other direction. Given how large Eastern Europe is, I’ve always felt somewhat out of my depth when it comes to exploring that particular part of the world. I know there’s an abundance of excellent black/folk metal bands from that region, including the likes of Nokturnal Mortum, a band whose National Socialist affiliation has never bothered me considering how exquisite their music is at times, but the vastness of Russia and its surrounding nations has always terrified me. I do admit to having previously heard Temnozor’s third full-length, ‘Folkstorm of the Azure Nights’, but I cannot for the life of me remember a single chord, drum beat or vocal passage on the album. As I understand, it’s a very highly rated album in its field, so I will return to it one day. Sooner rather than later if the material present on this 2010 release, entitled ‘Haunted Dreamscapes’, is anything to go by. I have noticed a lot of mixed feelings about the album though. I imagine some people are disappointed after the success of the previous album which received much critical acclaim and adoration from the fans. I can’t say whether this is a good follow-up as I have no previous experience with the band but, as a starting point, this is well worth it.
As an introduction to Temnozor’s work, this recent album is perfect. Russia and the Ukraine, in particular, have had a pretty successful year as far as bands returning to their former glory goes. Nokturnal Mortum, a band I previously mentioned, have also released a hit album this year, too. In terms of similarities between the two, they’re limited, but there certainly are some present. However, I’d rather judge this alone. The album begins with a introductory song in the form of ‘Caves of Death’. This song, unlike any other on the album, consists of spoken vocals and drifting, swelling ambiance created by what appears to be synthesizers, or keyboards. The ambiance does an affective job of creating a cavernous sound, one with a mesmerising eeriness, something which is explored throughout the course of the album. Given the albums title, I had expected something along these lines though I don’t normally expect the introduction to an album to be as affective as this one at creating such a precise atmosphere for the rest of the album to feed on. The album alters a lot in terms of its mood, however. The album doesn’t consistently stay dark and unusual. The darkness is often lifted by the infectious riffs, or the harmony of the clean vocals.
Of course, this introduction, albeit affective, is nowhere near the standards of the actual content. ‘Evilgod’s Raven’, for example, is a truly astonishing song, one of the best on the album. This song features an exquisite use of wind instruments, performed ever so well by Ratibor, a member of the band since 2002 and whom also performs on vocals, alongside Petr and Radoslav, two clean vocalists. Presumably this means Ratibor, as well as being in charge of the wondrous folksy side to the album, also provides a juxtaposed harsher edge to the band in the form of his rasps, which are excitingly dark. The vocal performance, as with most bands of this nature, is very important, particularly when the cleaner vocals come into play. These cleaner vocals, as featured well on other songs, are responsible for dishing out the folksy influence. They slot into the album ever so well and, with the inclusion of those paramount wind instruments, these small, but very notable sections of the music, come to life in full, vivid ways enticing the listener with blasts of Slavonic pride as shown delightfully on songs like 'Chalice of Morrow'.
The excellence in song writing and craftsmanship continues throughout the course of the album as it begins to produce memorable riff after memorable riff, each more catchy than the last. The strengths of this album tend to cover over the few cracks that exist on the album. For example, I would have liked more collaborations between the wind instruments and the clean vocals as they tend to feature predominantly at different intervals. However, when they do come into contact, as shown beautifully on ‘Sunwheels of Solstice’, they’re fantastically suited, although they do tend to allow the other time to shine alone, instead of standing strong side-by-side. The clean vocals on songs like this aforementioned one, in particular, are very solid. In fact, I tend to prefer them to the rasps, even when they’re included alongside the distorted riffs and far less cleaner passages. The juxtaposition between the clean and harsh elements, alongside that healthy, catchy vibe is brilliant. The bass, although somewhat obscured by the bouncy atmosphere of the music, is audible throughout but it tends to be overshadowed. The album does tend to succeed more so however in these softer showings, as on the self-titled song, one which features some truly breathtaking acoustics, clean vocals and shimmering ambiance. I really do love the folk input here, especially. So, as a follow-up, I can’t really judge this albums success but, as a stand alone album, it’s supremely beautiful, emotive and evocative, though it isn’t afraid to embrace its darker side.
I received this album in the post a few weeks after the release date, and first of all I would like to say that the packaging is top notch. I got the limited stellar winter release which comes in a really nice "book" format as opposed to the usual jewel case. The album art is something to appreciate as well, which is in my opinion their best so far and it puts an otherworldly pagan atmosphere in your mind when you are about to listen to the album.
So onto the music itself. The first track starts off as a sort of ominous sounding piece of ambient music which leads into "Бусовы враны", a great black metal song with a strong vocal performance and an interesting folky tune running throughout the song. The whole album infact is dominated by various folk instuments, which in the case of Temnozor is something I have come to adore, and let's face it, wouldn't be Temnozor without. The next two tracks on the album are particular favourites of mine, "Солнцеврат-Коляда" a fairly mid to fast paced black metal song with the traditional clean vocal style combined with the raw black metal vocals. The next track "Урочища снов", the title track of the album, is possibly my favourite. A completely acoustic song, which creates such a peaceful and sorrowful atmosphere, with the clean vocals really portraying the bands passion for their music and their pagan beliefs. This then fades into another great black metal track which again makes great use of the folk instruments. The sixth song on the album is another acoustic track, but this time it transitions into black metal. Again this is another very atmospheric song, combining the unique clean vocals with the harsh black metal style. The album finishes with "Замрите, замрите, ветра полевые", meaning "Swoon, The Field Winds!". With track names such as this, among other's which all translate into very poetic and evoking words, it makes me wish I could understand Russian, because the lyrics obviously reflect the music, with passion and atmosphere, and this is what makes Haunted Dreamscapes a near perfect album for me.
This is one of those albums that is most definately appreciated best with a full listen the whole way through, as there is really no weakness here. Fans of the band will be thoroughly pleased with this as I am, and I would also say that this could entice new fans to Temnozor, and maybe the somewhat overlooked Russian black metal scene in general. Buy this album and support the band!