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As a part of being signed to Season Of Mist and because of their rapidly growing reputation, Ukrainian black metallers Drudkh are getting their back-catalogue reissued. While being a decidedly strong album, The Swan Road holds the odd position of being squeezed between what is often considered Drudkh’s two masterpieces, Autumn Aurora (2004) and Blood In Our Wells (2006). In spite of this, there is no doubt that the album stands out perfectly well on its own, taking us back to those now familiar Slavonic steppes and golden forests.
All the characteristics that made the first two Drudkh albums unforgettable can be found here; from the distorted organic-sounding production and the vaguely repetitive Burzum-worship, to the longing for pre-modern times and nationalistic pride. Acoustic strumming especially helps lifting the atmosphere from your standard melancholic black metal to a unique folk-tinged sound, while vocalist Thurios harshly recites lyrics adapted from the Ukrainian national poet Taras Schevchenko.
After the eminent Blood In Our Wells Drudkh has gained a solid following, not only amongst the self-professed underground-elite, but by black metal fans as a whole. One doesn't need to listen through The Swan Road many times to understand that this is one band that has deserved their peculiar rise. From being a rather obscure eastern-European project consisting of members from various NSBM-bands, to one of the premier bands of genre, Drudkh’s journey is a strange one indeed.
The memorable riffs are plentiful, the solos are subtle and powerful, and there is genuine emotion to be felt behind every song – the closing number “Song Of Sich Destruction” is a fully acoustic folk song. Due to the consistency in its depressing yet wonderfully patriotic anthems, name dropping particular tracks would be a waste of time since this album is best taken in as an individual piece of art.
Most black metal fans should already be familiar with Drudkh, and their at times immensely powerful display of genuine and heartfelt work. Even though The Swan Road is sometimes overlooked when compared to its preceding and subsequent releases, it remains an obligatory album and comes damn close to being a landmark of the genre.
Written for The Metal Observer
After "Autumn Aurora" comes their third - "The Swan Road". One of the most contradictory releases in Drudkh's history. How does that one differ from others, you may ask? I gonna explain right now.
Okay, for a start, it differs from their previous albums by the raw and distorted sound, which is inherent sooner in True BM than in here. Also, there are some more distinctive features of "The Swan Road". Firstly, "Лебединий Шлях" would never set you bored. Even if we take into account the fact that other albums are super-duper cool, we can really get bored on some songs, can't we? So, this one will never set you bored. Probably, this trait is due to the special stylistics of the album (I'll describe it a little bit later).
The second thing I want to mention is the big variety of different melodies, divergent clever and successful tricks and moves, which make "The Swan Road" much more full and interesting in its musical content. Probably, it is connected with some alteration to more raw and atmospheric sound. They have disposed of almost all of ambient insets in tracks, but in my opinion that cannot be reckoned as a disadvantage.
What about the special stylistics? It seems I told much in the previous paragraph. The raw sound, catchy melodies (I can't physically mark out any of the songs - every is cool in its own way) and they are not dragged out as on the preceding albums. They excel because they're the some kind of fast and various.
One more feature is that "The Swan Road" will surely arouse emotions in you. They can be either positive or negative. That mean it won't set the listener indifferent to the music in here. Exactly this point makes music music. Sorry for the tautology.
What do I personally think about "Лебединий Шлях". The slavonic folksy tunes and themes are very close to me in principle. So, maybe, I like Drudkh's music most likely because I can feel the slavonic soul and exactly because of that fact their music touches me so. I do not really know what the real matter of the fact is, but Drudkh's works still continue to rage wild in me. And I wish you would feel the same.
To highlight: every song.
To fully understand this album, listeners need to know something of Ukraine's history but if they don't and aren't able to find out, at least they can sit back and take in the Slavic folk music elements with the black metal minimalism. Several tracks feature very liquid and flowing lead guitar solos and acoustic instruments are used to enhance the music. Track titles refer to significant periods in Ukrainian history - for example, "1648" the intro refers perhaps to the year that the famous Cossack leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky led a revolt against the Polish overlords and helped to establish an independent Ukraine for the first time in several centuries - and dwell on the country's constant struggle for freedom and identity. Much of the music here seems very hopeful, wishing for freedom and independence, and has a jaunty air yet as with so much Russian and Ukrainian music there's always a strong whiff of foreboding and the feeling that good times never last long and tragedy will strike at any time.
The combination of strong melodies, a high and consistent standard of musicianship, the harsh and sparing black metal aesthetic and the heartfelt emphasis on nationalist themes and their influence on the musical direction makes this recording a recommended one even if listeners care very little about eastern European affairs. Everything seems perfectly balanced with no one element dominating in each song. The music is lean and efficient and the lead guitar solos present a folk-oriented flavour that contrasts with the harsh BM rhythms. The final track "Song of Sich Destruction", a reference to a Ukrainian military organisationthat existed from the 1500s to 1700s, is an all-acoustic piece sung with clean and surprisingly emotional vocals by Roman Saenko; the lyrics derive from a poem by the 19th century Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko.
An original version of this review appeared in The Sound Projector (Issue 14, 2005 - 2006) which is now out of print.
Here begins Drudkh’s descent into mediocrity and, eventually, pure shit. This isn’t as bad as Blood In Our Wells, but it’s a true step down into a puddle of shit, rather than the sewer system that would be BIOW. Gone are the beautiful sounds of nature blissfully coexisting with hypnotic black metal, discarded pompously in favor of a more rural / folky sounding Drudkh. The guitar tone is much weaker and replaced with slightly-heard lead folk melodies and a wall of distortion. These not only make the album a whole hell of a lot weaker and less easy on the ears, but also incredibly boring, lagging, and dry. BIOW would really take these negatives and stretch them out, but here there’s at least a little bit more room to cope with benefits like melodic breaks and solos that are actually worth a damn.
With the first two albums, the sound was encompassing and lured the listener into an uncharted world where the problems of society could not yet taint the innocence that was discovered. With this, that connection is lost and the feeling is nowhere near as invigorating or valuable. I could literally see the colors jovial and magical before my eyes with the entrancing atmosphere of Autumn Aurora or the dark, melancholic voyages into the great beyond with Forgotten Legends, but I don’t really get anything from The Swan Road. The atmosphere is lacking, the tone is putrid, and the bass is substantially less impressive or useful than it was when filling the gaps on the first two albums.
The drums still manage to capitulate all envious bastards with wretch cymbal crashing patterns and ballistic tom attacks. Double bass is incredibly quiet and isn’t really something heard when casually listening to the album. The wall of sound just buries the entire thing like a canvas over a cake – you never get to taste it! Vocally its still pretty decent – tormented growls that yearn for a new hope. They’re clear while sounding a bit distorted, but still grasping with emotion and turmoil.
The whole thing reminds me of a Burzum album – like a cross between Filosofem and the shittiest parts of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, which seems nearly impossible since that album was a near-masterpiece. It’s got that droning, constant lack of appeal instead of the hypnotic, elegant pleasure that made the first two albums so full of vigor. Some moments it manages to pull itself up for a while (the song “Fate,” for instance) and a solo or two make up for the lack of thought, but they’re easily forgettable when it comes down to the entire picture. The last song also I can’t stand, even if it is meant to be culturally significant – I think it sucks shit. It does nothing but leave a bitter taste in my mouth while at the same time has no lasting value, nothing to hold it together, and nothing keeping it from sitting at 200m on the firing range while I let loose a 5.56mm round from my AR-15.
One shot, one kill…
After a while, the sound of Drudkh does tend to merge into one. You could easily take one or two songs from one full-length and switch them on to another. You wouldn't really notice the difference, but this is where 'The Swan Road' came in and changed things drastically. The public perception of this band is beginning to change, slowly. Where they were once seen as masters of a Ukrainian style of black metal, they're now dwindling in their abilities to persuade a tough crowd. People expect so much of Drudkh because of their first four full-lengths. They inspired the world. They created a whole new fanbase. They gave Nokturnal Mortum fans a place to turn if they ever made a bad record.
Drudkh are known for their successful blend of folk music with black metal. Generally, I don't like folk music. But if it's incorporated into a genre I do like, well, we'll have to wait and see what the results are. Usually, when the results are good, they're very good and when they're bad, they're very bad. Fortunately, Drudkh always seem to fall into the positive category, which is a great thing for me. I'd simply hate having to sit through failed attempt after failed attempt before finally finding some sort of gem, at the bottom of the pile. 'The Swan Road' isn't an obvious picked for best Drudkh full-length, but it's a decent offering. It's never going to compete with 'Blood In Our Wells', which seems to be regarded as the fans favourite, but it will cause enjoyment whenever anyone gets the urge to listen to Drudkh's take of folk inspired black metal.
Much like any Drudkh record, this, as i've said, incorporates folk music successfully into it. This folk feel is induced by using keyboards, which lay down a smoother and more sleek sound. The way in which Drudkh use keyboards to enhance the atmospheric folk feel is stylish. It's an ability which gives them a fresh feel every time they create a new record. Despite the fact that Drudkh do have a similar sound on every record, the use of keyboards to help audiences sample the atmosphere really does help make Drudkh appealing, time and time again. The acoustic sections are also a blessed relief. They, as well as the keyboards, structure the songs into a more folk inspired way. They add a subtlety to Drudkh's game, giving them a new dimension. The sounds of the buzzing guitars doesn't constantly stay top dog, Drudkh shift around elements of their music to suit the atmosphere they create.
The acoustics and keyboards allow for greater musical expression also. This can only be seen as a positive as Drudkh pull it off so well. The most pleasing element is probably the focused riffs the guitars produce. They mellifluously mould themselves around the other elements of the music and control the proceedings. They dictate to everything else where it is going and how it gets there. The mellow feel to the riffs, despite that buzzing sound the production gives off, is pleasing to the ear. However, as i've touched upon briefly, the production isn't crystal clear.
Sometimes that buzzing lo-fi feel can become annoying. It doesn't allow the audience much of a chance to fully engage with the musicians attempts at producing euphonious and well executed soundscapes. The production isn't always the same either. It has a tendency to change. From buzzing to a more subtle presence is what we're given. I do happen to prefer the latter. The vocals don't really need to be addressed as they're standard Drudkh vocals. Rasping qualities and coarse textures. Highlights for me are; 'Glare Of 1768' and 'The Price Of Freedom'.
It's really time consuming and rare to sift through black metal bands until you find one which is essential in the truest sense of the word. Drudkh are a black metal band which fuse keyboards and acoustic folk passages into their sound, but they do so subtly, never detracting from the compositional genius which is "The Swan Road".
One thing I find interesting on this album, as one previous reviewer noted, is that this is the angrier Drudkh album. I do think that there is a bit more aggression to be found here than in their other masterpieces, but I think that it's due to the more black metal nature of this album. The drumming on this album incorporates much more black metal traits than their previous album. You can actually hear some blast beats on here, but of course they're never over used and done with great effect to accentuate a point. The vocals are also a bit more intense than on any other previous recording as well, giving it a more black metal feel.
There also seems to be less keyboards on this album as well, more like two dual guitars strumming away into oblivion while the bass lines, as usual, are brilliant. Honestly, with all Drudkh albums, I derive the lyrical nature of the songs from the song name itself (as the lyrics are never available). Drudkh are one of the few bands that I listen to where I do not understand a word they're saying, but it doesn't matter because the music is glorious and heart felt. There seems to be a bit more "black metal" tremolo picking on this album than any of their previous works.
This can be found on the song "The Price of Freedom", which may quite honestly, be one of the best Drudkh songs ever. I have read some poetry from Taras Shevchenko (whom this album's lyrics are based upon), and it is quite honestly excellent. Basically what Drudkh is saying is that they would readily die for their country and their music expresses the extreme dedication they have to their homeland. The guitar solo on "The Price of Freedom" is one of the greatest guitar solos that has ever graced my ears; this isn't great in terms of being super technical, but as far as communicating your thoughts through an instrument, nobody does it better than Drudkh.
I keep hearing about how black metal has died and has no musical worth. Well, I must disagree wholeheartedly with that statement. As long as Drudkh are making music, black metal is alive and well. Other essential Drudkh tracks are : "Eternal Sun", "Blood", "Glare of 1768" & "Fate". All of these songs are instant classics, as is this album. I cannot overstate my praise for this band, as I feel like they truly deserve the recognition for their powerful contribution to the music world as a whole. I have all Drudkh albums except their folk album, and every one of them is worth possessing by any fan of metal. Drudkh are essential in that every album has a replayability to it which never ceases, this to me, is very rare in contemporary metal.
I hold Drudkh’s previous two albums in high regard. They weren’t anything too different or exciting but they had atmosphere. You pop “Autumn Aurora” (for the rest of the review abbreviated to “AA”) in your CD player, layback on your bed and suddenly you’re sitting up against a large tree looking over a lake covered with bright red and yellow leaves. You pop “The Swan Road” (to be abbreviated down to “SR” for the rest of the review) in you CD player and you get nothing.
As you can probably already guess SR is quite a departure from what Drudkh has done in the past. The main difference is there is more variation. Usually more variation is a good thing but in this case it is not. AA created a Trance-like state of mind with its riffs, similar to how Burzum does it, which is all but gone in SR. Instead of flowing tracks we are interrupted with short bursts of speed. This is when the vocals kick in. They are a bit more aggressive than AA which suits the faster sections.
The production also detracts from this album. It is slightly better than AA and does not have the tape-like quality of AA. Probably the most notable difference is the drumming, there’s more of it. Again this is a step in the wrong direction because the minimalist drumming on AA suited the music very well and gave the guitars more room to breath. They play around less with the kick drum on SR too, another red cross to add to the SR report. To end off this disappointing album Drudkh treat us with what sounds to be some kind of traditional Slavonic song. Very interesting but it is unfortunately tacked onto a rather uninteresting album.
The atmosphere from Drudkh is gone and what is left is another plastic disc to throw onto the pile of Black Metal albums you will never listen to again.
Let me just start by saying that I can't believe I ever doubted this album. I don't understand people saying that Drudkh has lost track because they are wrong, dead wrong. The difference between this piece and the two previous releases is that Drudkh took a slightly more aggressive approach this time around. Even the vocals have increased in volume, still raspy, harsh vocal pattern, but just louder and more angry like.No, Drudkh is not playing fast, standard bland black metal. They still got that unique sound that pulls them away from all the other bands, at least that I've heard. The music here as far as guitar technicality is the same as Autumn and Forgotten, but with more frequent changes in the songs, a whole new song structure takes place here. Which is what made this album a little different. Roman keeps on switching his sound back and forth, not losing you in the process. The hypnotic riffs are not as present here, but there are still touches.
Six songs which equal about the same time of the previous albums. One thing that I did notice is what may make people believe Drudkh has changed is that is that it's not so emotion based as the great Forgotten Legends or Autumn Aurora, this one sounds more about pride and they didn't hide it in melancholic passages in this opus. You can feel the pride of their land and their surroundings wrapped around in these songs. Yet, it is still present. The solo's, which can't be forgotten to be mentioned. What you thought was great a taste in Autumn has increased much more in "The Swan Road." They pop out when you least expect it, only making your experince a much more interesting one. Acoustics sound sharp, creating a very relaxed epic vibe before it all goes back to the full force that we know Drudkh brings to the table.
I would call Drudkh's latest disc, The Swan Road, a vital piece of BM, because it pulses organically despite the inclusion of elements that can really drag a work into the mud if mishandled - extremely melodic songwriting, simplistic bm repetition, heavy folk awareness in both the lyrics and the compositions. Basically Drudkh moves closer to post-Burzum folk/black territory then they ever have, and they handle it extremely well - so well, in fact, that this album is one of the most listenable works in the genre in a damn long time.
Autumn Aurora, the band's previous release, was an achingly beautiful, very well textured piece of droning/ambient black metal, its only flaw being the lack of flow in song structures - it seemed like once the members had settled on a riff or chord progression, they would play it until exhaustion and then switch, sometimes with less grace than one might expect. While the more ambient aspects of the songwriting is mostly gone here, we have much greater song integration that keeps the songs moving between EXTREMELY clever guitar lines that brilliantly enhance the admittedly familiar chord progressions that this band uses, the harsher vocals, and the layered production. Everything that was accomplished with synthesizers on the previous release is done with warm, enveloping guitar fuzz, and the overall atmosphere of the release is far more aggressive as a result - on occasion, some acoustic guitar is layered into the mix, and the sound in these sections is extraordinarily full.
I'm not of any descent even remotely resembling slavic, but Drudkh's music is capable of granting the listener a type of empathy for their unfortunately dark history. The aggression on the majority of the tracks is not bludgeoning, and there is still enough beautiful melody in the songwriting to also offer some of the more positive aspects of this history - and while on this release the band isn't directly invoking the worshipful respect for nature innate in this culture, it exists as part of the organic vitality of this album, that keeps it from being any of the cliches of black metal that it could be.
And just so they could prove that to the listener, the band closes out the album with the unique Song of Sich Destruction, presumably a slavic folk melody performed with just vocals and a very peculiar stringed instrument that sounds very metallic and imprecise - and as the only full acoustic song on the album, it makes quite an impression, like the band might be the most committed to their folk heritage of any band currently producing records. It is just a further demonstration that this band is really doing something authentic, and the fact that it sounds this pretty, this polished, this well-layered, works to Drudkh's favor.
The Swan Road. A very odd name for the third album to the legacy of Drudkh, pretty much Slavic history in the making. This album showcases possibly the best idea of their work, it shows emotion, depth, and the ability to make Black Metal sound intellegent and full of a warm emotion.
The vocals on this album are great. They are the same as the last two albums, but then change to a Folkish style, with the last song, " Song Of Sich Destruction. " His voice turns from harsh and sad to depressing, epic, clean, and almost something you would hear from an old man singing folk tales around the campfire. It makes you wonder, when listening to the last track, that what if this is the new leg of future waves of Black Metal will be doing, adding more Folk and Cultural influences, then the standard Grim, Nekro, Kvlt, Repeat.
The production on this album is flawless, but the tone set from the instruments is on the side of Fuzz and distortion, unlike the last two albums to where the guitars and other instruments were set at normal distortion and repeditive. Also, with this release, the actual use of worth-while guitar solo's comes into play. They are no where near what Black Metal has to offer for solo's, they sound more like from a medium pace Heavy Metal song, set more to make it feel epic then anything else. The riffs on this album are also something of worth, they again, are different from the standard Black Metal riffs. They change, not much, but accent the album in different ways.
This albums is Saddening, Epic, and Full of Pride. After three four listens, I feel in love with it's original feel and wonderful composure. This is something that all fans of Mellow, Depression filled Black Metal need to hear, because screams of pain, anguish, and torture aren't just the only depressing things; tales of lore, legend, cultural morals can be just as bad.
Drudkh's second album, Autumn Aurora, was an album admired by many because it was among the first Black Metal albums to contain such unique and soothing feelings, while keeping a very heavy touch to the music. I personally thought that album was genious, with very good ideas, and without being generic at all. Luckily enough, their new album, The Swan Road, still has a great relaxing feel to it, and it also has some songs that are much heavier, with more vocals.
Something I admired about Drudkh throughout their 2 first albums is that they can make quite long songs that are pretty repetitive, but they never bore the listener. It was probably because of the great atmosphere contained in each songs, or that the riffs were amazing, but whatever it was, that element is still intact in this album. Just like in the song "Blood", which has a few riffs and is about 8:50 in length. Though it never gets boring at all, and it has a few solos here and there, without forgetting the impressive vocal performance by Roman. Drudkh also pays homage to their culture (which is Slavonic, i'm guessing) in the last song, "Song of Sich Destruction". It's very nice, with some type of guitar which I've never heard before and another great vocal performance by Roman. The drums on this album have the almost exact same sound as the one featured on Autumn Aurora, with some pretty simple drum beats that never get boring. The brutal minimalistic parts (like in the second riff of "The Price Of Freedom) are also great, and they show something that has never been done by Drudkh.
So if you liked Autumn Aurora and also like a bit of brutality and agressivity, The Swan Road won't disappoint you. Recommended to all Drudkh fans...