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Viking ‘black’ / metalcore? Um, sure... - 80%

naverhtrad, February 7th, 2012

Holy Blood is an interesting band to say the least. I did not warm to them at all on their debut Странник (to say that album is schizophrenic would be a high compliment), and it took me a couple of spins on Волны танцуют to really ‘get’ what they were doing, and come to the realisation that it is not a bad album at all. Now, apparently, they’ve got a mostly new lineup and have shifted away from doing black metal completely and are performing metalcore-based ‘modern folk metal’ in the vein of Ensiferum and Eluveitie (though comparisons with both bands are necessarily slight stretches). Which is a good thing for the most part, since Christian ‘black’ metal was a fucking joke of a gimmick from the start. Now, with Ясно Солнце, they’re really going for broke on the folksy instrumentation, flute melodies and female vocal baton-passes with Fedor Buzilevich’s black-metal shrieks (with some more Viking-ish ‘hey hey’s thrown about for good measure).

Now, just a brief note on the lyrics. On first glance they look downright insipid and needlessly jingoistic in the way all too many Christian metal lyrics do – until one remembers that these guys are singing about a society which is under a very real threat from every direction, where politics is a bloody, dirty mess run by gangsters and where globalist economics threaten to tear down the institutions (most of) the people of Eastern Europe want to keep. One can criticise all one likes the tendency for people to circle the wagons when they feel their value systems are under attack, but let’s be clear up front that this is what all folk metal already does, no matter whether it’s Skyclad or Falconer or Týr or Turisas or Moonsorrow: romanticism, conservation of traditional lifeworlds and the reminder or recreation of times and battles long past are the most prominent fountainheads of inspiration for folk metal. Holy Blood hail from the city which long served as a bastion for Viking warriors who first pillaged and then took it upon themselves to preserve the ancient knowledge and Patristic religious tradition of the East, defending it, often to the death from Turkic marauders from further East and Crusaders from the West. More recently they have had to defend it from encroachments by Stalinism; by shock therapy; by NATO; by radical rightists, nationalists and neo-Nazis; by the instruments of global capitalism and finance. Small wonder they proclaim the elderly tradition loudly, and pick up the shield and axe in defence of their Church and their Holy Slavonic Motherland!

The music is still a mixed bag. It’s far more accessible than either Странник or Волны танцуют; take that as you will – if you were a big fan of their more black-metallic sound, this will sound like a sellout album to you. You have been warned. The folk instruments and female vocals (of a very competent sort) are here far more prominent than on their previous releases. Holy Blood are at their absolute best here when they go full-bore for the tankard-waving tavern-stomper (‘По Просторам’, ‘В Ожидании’ or parts of ‘Поет Душа’), or for a subdued, haunting, epic feel (the intro passage of ‘Моя Судьба’ is truly inspired). But there are songs on here which strike me as rather derivative (the title track ‘Ясно Солнце’, sadly, is pretty much Slania-era Eluveitie redux with black-metal vocals… not actively bad, but it doesn’t really do much else; and ‘Киевская Русь’ and ‘Поет Душа’ are unintentionally hilarious at parts – just ‘cause the pipes are authentic, guys, doesn’t mean they automatically sound good) or downright lazy (such as the suspiciously mallcoreish ‘Жизнь Моя’ or the instrumental outro ‘За Порогом’, which could just as well be new-age lounge music). I will hand it to this band, though – tugging together so many different threads (hardcore punk and black metal with the tried-and-not-quite-true blend of traditional folk with Swedish melodeath) and making them work is a definite chore, and this effort at doing so is a marked improvement over their earliest material, even if it does swing them completely into the modern metal realm and away from anything that might be mistaken for extreme.

The guitar-work is competent if not always overpowering; and, rather refreshingly, unlike some other bands which rather uncreatively slap folk instrumentation or progressions on top of metal riffs, one can tell that Holy Blood made some effort at actually using the lead guitar as a folk instrument at some points. No faults on the production except a slight overemphasis of the folk instruments at the occasional expense of Ira’s bass guitar. Fedor’s vocals are very good per usual, and Vera’s pipes are in excellent condition and are used incredibly well.

Bottom line: despite this sounding quite different from all of the rest of their output as a result of their almost-total lineup change, it is competently executed, and suffers from only a few weak points. Further refinement in terms of the use of the folk instruments would be appreciated, and further experimentation such that the band doesn’t stick themselves completely into a metalcore rut, rather than just running the rails slightly.

16 / 20