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The idea behind N.K.V.D. is interesting if perhaps hair-raising for some people: the French industrial BM project's name is taken from the acronym for Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, the name of the law enforcement agency in the Soviet Union that carried out orders given from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and which was closely associated with (and at times incorporated) the secret police under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The agency existed from 1934 to 1946, overseeing all regular police force work, firefighting, running the system of forced labour camps in far-flung parts of the country, conducting executions without due process (that is, obtaining warrants for making lawful arrests and allowing victims to go through the court system to prove their innocence), deporting entire ethnic groups from one part of the USSR to another, carrying out espionage (and political assassinations) abroad and enforcing Stalinist policies. (Thanks again, Wikipedia!) Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately this one-man industrial BM project is not so wide-ranging in its activities but is content for the time being to highlight aspects and episodes of our history in which absolute power and total control by one person or a few over people's lives and society existed. What that power and control might have felt like from the point of view of both the oppressor and the oppressed, the terror that such control evoked, and how that shaped society to the extent that fear became etched deeply into all its levels and might remain there permanently, ready to revive under the right conditions, even after the society thrown off its shackles and its people coming to enjoy democratic rights and freedoms, seem to be the dominant concerns of N.K.V.D. and its solo member, known only as LF.
N.K.V.D.'s debut album "Vlast' " (Russian for "power") does what the title says: it's an expression of power gone absolute and as expected this expression is right throughout the album. The music is based around rapid-fire machine-gun programmed tinny beats embellished with bass riffs of shock and horror, over which death-rattle vocals supplied by an unnamed Swedish guest vocalist detail the terrors of having your thoughts and behaviour monitored by unseen malevolent forces 24/7 and the punishments waiting for those who displease their governments. Recordings of chants, marches, crowd roars and speeches from known dictators and totalitarian governments of the past appear at critical points in most songs. The atmosphere throughout the album is cold, menacing and chilling indeed.
For all the care and attention that LF lavishes on the album's sound and atmosphere, the actual songs tend to sound much the same. Dominated as they are by flippy stuttering beats and repetitive looping riffs that tend to go up and down the scale, tracks segue from one to another like the variations on the theme they are and after about two or three songs, listeners' attention may drift and never catch up with the rest of the album. If each song had some distinguishing musical characteristic associated with the country it's meant to represent - unfortunately speeches or chants in the language associated with the country the song refers to don't help much if listeners aren't familiar with the countries referenced in question - the songs would be more identifiable and a bit more interesting. Different tunes, background atmosphere, moods, even a change of singers from one track to the next, could start off each track and eventually either fall away or merge with the punishing riffs and beats. The point would then be made that regardless of the country's history or culture, totalitarian power eventually has a way of levelling everyone to the same common denominator. The field recordings are not always clear and people unfamiliar with the various languages in the recordings can lose their way through the album.
I must admit I was relieved when the album ended - in spite of a good sound and a chilling ambience, the music does become tedious and uninteresting as it continues to the end.
First off, some venting of frustration is in order here: The first thing that comes to some people's minds upon viewing this album cover is probably something like, "Oh! Finally! Communist Black Metal! Now we have COMMIEBM to go along with our USBM, NSBM, N00BBM and KVLTBM." As if industrial black metal isn't a good enough description as it is, we can now conveniently find useless Wikipedia pages and YouTube tags dedicated specifically to REDRUMBM. Regardless of all that nonsense, the fact that Vlast is anything but an album dedicated to communism is worth mentioning. In Russian, the word "vlast" means "power, authority, dominion, control or dominance." In other words, alongside the group's recent EP Dictatura (which features the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Milosevic and Kadyrov on its cover), Vlast is an album both musically and thematically dedicated to ruthless domination and complete control.
N.K.V.D. operates behind a shroud of secrecy, as the only thing that is known about the duo is its French origin. All of Vlast's instruments and samples were orchestrated by a person known only as L.F. The vocalist on the album also goes by an alias (H.S.), but hints from Those Opposed Records tell us two things: 1. H.S. performs in a number of well-known Swedish black metal outfits, and 2. The man behind the mic isn't Mortuus from Marduk and Funeral Mist, as L.F. has mentioned directly that H.S. isn't a vocalist in his other projects. Needless to say, the vox on this daddy are beyond grimacing, and that's not the only thing...
The horrors of Vlast go well past the album's intimidating themes of world domination, as the onslaught of haunting industrial madness will ring throughout the listener's ears to the point of insanity. It's not only the head-on collision of ear drums and a massive army of riffs that blacken the album's atmosphere, but also the subtle usage of a lesser known tactic: disorientation. One key trait of any successful dictator is their ability to prevent the masses from organizing and forming an uprising. In this specific instance, Vlast demonstrates this tactic flawlessly, but therein lies its downfall. The album has so many chilling sound effects and so much atmosphere that it's no wonder that N.K.V.D. put more time into the sound of the album than it did the actual songs. Much like that on Negative Plane's release this year (yes, it's an odd musical comparison), the main emphasis seems geared toward the album's atmosphere rather than the album itself.
Vlast nears the forty minute mark, so it isn't too much of a chore to listen to, but the blatantly terrifying exterior that will initially enthuse most listeners will eventually wear off, as they will be left with what feels like an ongoing collective of scary noises. That's not to say N.K.V.D. doesn't deserve a near-perfect score for its ability to create something monumental for industrial black metal as a whole; but the overall product still leaves much to be desired. Even so, the French should stand proud knowing that they've received a very worthy new addition to the roster, spearheaded by this year's III (Aosoth) and parts I and II of the 777 Trilogy (Blut Aus Nord). À la vôtre!
Originally written for MetalReview.com
Just when you think that you’ve heard everything that black metal has to offer, a new band appears out of nowhere and kicks you in the balls. With a single EP behind them, and a four-year-old one at that, it’s unlikely that NKVD have turned many heads towards their debut full-length offering. The band plays what could be vaguely interpreted as “industrial” black metal, although that term has been much too bastardised to correctly describe this band. To make things more bizarre, the band (which is more of a one-man project, really) hails from Montpellier – a neat city at the south of France, the sun and sea of which radiate good mood and invite you to stop thinking about problems that the world may be facing. Well, this album is the exact opposite of that.
The band makes extensive use of extremist symbols and personae, in a gimmicky, albeit serious way, in the vein of Laibach. The imagery is strong – Nazi, Stalinist and other symbols, paired with samples of the world’s most famous dictators that intertwine with actual music throughout most of the album, create a very dark and oppressive feeling. Atmosphere is the key to and the core of this album – the music sounds literally as if it had been recorded in Lubyanka, and not some random studio somewhere in Western Europe. Theoretically, the music isn’t all that interesting – one or two riffs per song, rather monotonous vocals and a wad of samples collected from various documentary sources, together with programmed, very artificial drumming. Luckily, black metal has never been very theoretical; the songs and the production captivate the listener with conviction, to the point where you actually see the events that each song is talking about. Whether it’s Gestapo, the USSR, Arab or Slavonic dictators, the music is incredibly vivid and descriptive, however simplistic in nature. The guitar tone is chilling in itself, and by that I don’t mean Mayhem-chilling; no, the sound evokes actual fear and uncertainty, as if the secret police is knocking on your very door. An unknown Swedish vocalist contributes the vocal part of the album, and while his identity remains unknown, it’s obvious that he was the perfect choice for this occasion, although the album manages well with no actual vocals whatsoever – for instance, the song “SFRJ” only contains samples of a speech by Slobodan Milosevic, who’s turned out to be just as good a black metal vocalist as he was a demagogue. Listeners without a true penchant for this sort of twisted, morbid atmosphere will find the music to be quite displeasing; that’s how far this album manages to take you.
Ultimately, it’s hard to distinguish whether this album is epic or unnerving, but one thing’s for sure – it’s incredibly successful at materialising what it’s trying to depict. I, for one, lived under Milosevic’s rule here in Serbia, and as a child/teenager at that; at the time, we experienced extreme recession, an economic and moral freefall, hunger and war. Trust me when I tell you that this band is the audial essence of that feeling. I don’t know how a French band could have managed to portray it so well, but they did, and the final product is an irresistibly attractive grotesque beast that invites you to a journey through time and space, to the uttermost extremes of the human kind.
(originally written for http://www.metal-sound.net)