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It's business as usual in the ancient land of Oriana, as we run into another aspiring Pagan band. It has become all too obvious by now that every Ukrainian folk-metal group is a poor man's NOKTURNAL MORTUM. You can drool freely over DUB BUK, KRODA or even mid period LUCIFUGUM (who, by the way, are way past their prime by now and don't know when to quit), but all of them at one point looked up to Varggoth's hanging gut, to say nothing of any up and coming bands like the subject of this write up. There is a number of exceptions of course (the most obvious being DRUDKH/HATE FOREST lineage), but the NM syndrome (as good as "Voice of Steel" was - and damn good it was) still seems to overshadow a lot of what goes on in the country metal-wise, but if you are down with that, then GOVERLA welcomes you with open arms. Capitalizing on the ground ploughed every which way in the last 15 years or so, "Hurtovina" presents itself as a competent and enjoyable Slavic folk-metal entity, professional production and playing intact. But truth be told, the album is so smooth and by the book, it feels almost calculated.
First track (folksy, neo-classical intro "Ceremony" notwithstanding) "Hymn to Strybog" is seemingly assembled from pre-manufactured parts like a model construction. The usual, heroic and clean-sung, East Slavic folk harmonies are backed by easily approachable riff set (of the typical melodeath/heavy metal origin), sympho-keyboard lining and generously fumigated with gleeful pipe melodies. Fans of ARKONA (Rus) will be all over this. "Winter Storm" employs a distinctly Ukrainian and, by extension, Transcarpathian folk fusion via vocal harmonies and pipe melodies, with straightforward (including small traces of black/thrash) riffing that can easily be found in many a Pagan band, no matter the country of origin, yet the ornamental folkisms make it worth while. "In Memory of Quorthon" obviously had to live up to its title, so this track, the longest on the whole record, is the band's allusion to Nordic black metal with a bit of epic pretension. It's cute in some way but a bit too listless and, frankly speaking, lackluster. The band appears to be too far removed from their subject and suffer perhaps from too much brain and not enough guts complex. They are clearly more comfortable with their exuberant folk fusions, which is exactly what they go back to immediately on "In the Premonition of Inevitable Events" and "Justice", where choruses soar, riffs gallop, keyboards throw open their embellishing quills and the pipes hover above like a fresh flock of swallows. Yes folks, it's pretty delectable, great for observing the spring equinox and all that enchilada. I mean, the chicks would love it. Don't believe me? Well then, cue in to the adorable ballad "Way to Another World" and make sure to put your sensitive side on display, for this could very well be the only window of opportunity, because afterwards, another smarmy, neo-classical outro "Funeral Feast" will courteously escort you out, back to your urban landscape.
So yea, this is pop music essentially, but it serves its purpose all too well, so market requirements will be satisfied. And if it isn't pop, then it's folk music, gypsy music, this or that, but metal? Yea, it's there, somewhere, in supportive role, hanging like a pair of suspenders. For a band like GOVERLA, it is more about nationalism and participating in forging the language of Ukrainian popular music than about actual metal, no matter how big of metal fans they are. They rub shoulders with groups who have no metal pedigree what so ever (see the popular Ukrainian folk-rock-ska-reggae band HAYDAMAKY) in their drive to put a Ukrainian stamp on a given musical style. (The same can be said of DRUDKH, of course, but, let's face it, they manage to be all too transcendent for their own good and arguably rise beyond their own nationalistic ideals.) Hell, GOGOL BORDELLO drank from the same well too (or at least took several big sips) but went into an opposite, multicultural direction. What am I getting at? Nothing really. Metal is metal, folk is folk, multiculturalism is multiculturalism. It's good to have a corner of your own. I am all for it, but it still appears to be one big soap opera (remember the blues infusions on "Voice of Steel"?) at the end of the day, where, as my acquaintance from years ago once put it, everybody is fucking everybody.
(Originally published in Diabolical Conquest web-zine)