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Five of the various Blazebirth Hall group of black metal bands are featured on this compilation: Branikald, Forest, Nitberg, Raven Dark and Rundagor. In the wake of the deaths of two original musicians associated with Blazebirth Hall, leaving one original surviving member plus a couple of others, this compilation is a timely reminder of what the bands were able to achieve in about ten years of working together. Why a few musicians wanted to create no fewer than five projects to express their music may be a puzzle to some but I hazard that differences may be mainly in the subject matter each project covered, who played what instruments in each project, and who wrote and sang the lyrics, as the style of minimalist black metal does not vary all that much with just a couple of exceptions, and in fact across this recording there is probably less variety and experimentation than on some individual Forest and Raven Dark albums I’ve heard. But this recording is perhaps intended as an introduction to the Blazebirth Hall bands for a broad BM audience outside Russia so I guess the American label that released this comp decided to stick to the straight and narrow, familiar side of BM to attract as many as listeners as possible.
It’s worth treating this comp band by band though the track listing is done in a random way. The four Branikald tracks aren’t that much alike, going from fast and militant (“Av Vinterkald”) to punky and raw yet still quite fast (“Horrid Storms”), then to a steely, martial and heroic approach (“Raven Fierce”): even the vocals on each track are very different. The fourth Branikald track is a dirge-like instrumental of guitars played balalaika or lute-style with background effects that give the music a symphonic / orchestral feel to heighten the overall somber mood. The intention is to rouse feelings of loyalty and respect for those who fall in battle and war.
The one Forest track combines aspects of the three sung Branikald songs: fast, raw, very military-sounding with harsh grim vocals. Nitberg is unfamiliar to me but the music isn’t a huge departure from the other bands here, the main things differentiating Nitberg from the others being the half-spoken vocals and the use of some industrial and other non-BM elements and effects to produce drama. The Nitberg contributions (two songs) can verge on the kitsch and campy but the minimalist nature of the black metal tends to restrain any tendencies towards melodrama and exaggerated emotions, and the music presents as quite balanced in its own way.
Raven Dark’s tracks (two songs) are different from each other so neither of them can be said to be typical of that band. “In the Opening of SIEG” is an unusual and quite bewitching instrumental with dramatic bluesy-sounding electric guitar riffs while the other RD track is very raw and neo-primitive in sound with extremely harsh sandpaper vocals. Like Raven Dark, Rundagor also has just two tracks and these feature abrasive grim vocals sounding off in a deep dungeon while pummelling inhuman rhythms and speeds dominate the music.
The selection of tracks skims the surface of what the Blazebirth Hall bands were capable of doing, especially in their early days when at least Forest and Raven Dark occasionally included all or near-instrumental ambient or improvised music pieces that could verge on being trancey and psychedelic, or which were almost experimental in the way they seemed to emphasise mood or sound or rhythm textures. The music here is very good, highly expressive and emotional, but apart from a couple of tracks and changes in vocal approaches, it can sound a bit same-ish and listeners can be forgiven for thinking the bands know just one speed: super-fast. First-time listeners may wonder why none of the bands appears to have its own distinct style of music and the ordering of the tracks may confuse people.
Hammerkrieg is a split album between most of the Blazebirth Hall bands: Branikald, Forest, Raven Dark, Rundagor and Nitberg. These five bands were primarily headed by three individuals: Ulv Gegner Irminsson, the mastermind behind Raven Dark as well as a musician for Forest and Nitberg, who was murdered in 2005, Dagorath, the creator and main driving force of Rundagor who ended up leaving the movement in 1999 and was apparently soon killed in retaliation for having left, and finally Kaldrad Branislav, the creator of Forest and current member of Temnozor, co-creator of Nitberg, musician for Rundagor and Raven Dark and sole remaining important member of the Blazebirth Hall who is still alive.
Hammerkrieg, while it is technically a split album, sounds somewhat like a compilation (and it even says it’s the Blazebirth Hall compilation on the cover). The album features tracks from various albums of the present bands’ careers. Some of them are from albums which are relatively easy to find, such as Branikald’s Triumf Voli or Blikk
Av Kald (Frost Vision), Forest’s Foredooming the Hope for Eternity or Raven Dark’s Autumn Roar, while other tracks such as Nitberg’s The Triumph of W.O.T.A.N. or Rundagor’s tracks, are very rare and I believe unavailable anywhere else.
Musically all the bands’ works are heavily inspired by the second wave black metal of Norway. Nitberg, Rundagor and Raven Dark are very reminiscent of Darkthrone’s low production works, especially Transilvanian Hunger, while Forest and Branikald sound more like a mix between Darkthrone and Burzum’s music, although heavily influenced by National Socialist concepts as can be easily seen from a glance at the album booklet’s interior artwork. Forest has that epic trance-like atmospheric quality of the Burzum albums while Hammerkrieg’s closing track, The Steel Strings of the Spirit (На Волнах Вдохновенья), taken from the Blikk Av Kald (Frost Vision) album, is a 14 minute keyboard track which is heavily inspired by Burzum’s Tomhet, from the Hvis Lyset Tar Oss album, although it’s more repetitive than the classic Burzum track without being a rip-off.
This split is an excellent introduction to the Blazebirth Hall bands, the elite of Russia’s black metal scene, both NS and normal, and contains very good music from start to finish. Also interesting is the booklet, which contains rare pictures of the band members and a short biography of each one of the bands, which is useful since the Blazebirth Hall bands are pretty secretive. This is a split album which I highly recommend to anyone who loves black metal.
This compilation showcases the uniformity of the Russian black metal sound excellently.
All of the bands here (these being Branikald, Nitberg, Rundagor, Forest & Ravendark) sound very similar, all of the production quality resemblant of the lo-fi values that made Darkthrone's "Transilvanian Hunger" such a great record, like a perfect aural backdrop to the barren plains of Siberia. The execution of the music by all of these bands are very similar too, in their constant use of trance-like minor chord progressions and minimalistic drum pounding that once again evokes Darkthrone. This is most definately the case with Branikald, Forest, and Rundagor, the latter whom I am not too fond of because they use the Darkthrone motifs to an extent to where it is almost plagiaristic, but with Forest & Branikald having a trance-like aura that reminds me of Burzum's "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" at its best. Nitberg also use simalar motifs, but the vocals consist of masculine, clean singing that is resemblant of Isengard and surfaces in the works of Temnozor. Ravendark's sound is also very Darkthrone-esque, but far more aggresive than any of the others bands here, being as atavistic as Ildjarn but with more variation in the songwriting.
All in all, most of the music here could be considered as highly derivative, but I am giving it such a high rating because it is highly expressive and emotional black metal, and the similarities in each band's sound makes for a highly cohesive listen.