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Vietah from Belarus is my first discovery of the year 2017. The elegiac anthems of lone wolf Antarctis find the way that leads directly to my metallic Pantheon. I cannot say that each and every of his songs leaves me completely fascinated, but some of the tracks outshine almost everything else that I have heard in terms of somewhat depressive, mid-harsh black metal. The opener of "Smalisty žah" belongs to these songs.
Its first guitar tones pay tribute to Greifi Grishnackh and I see some guys in the last row who are flying the flag with the logo "imitator". But firstly, this musical approach is no private property of Grishnackh and secondly, it does not mean that Antarctis is an unimaginative copycat. "The Lifeless Landscapes Through the Pitchy Glance of the Raven", to use the English name of the opener, develops fantastically - despite or exactly because of the fact that it lies in close proximity to the most impressive winter anthems of Burzum. Profound melodies reflect the grandeur of ice-cold territories and evoke great feelings. The keyboards and the guitars stand shoulder to shoulder and the easily accessible harmonies embrace the listener in a matter of seconds. The double bass is another main actor and ensures the necessary degree of heaviness. I enjoy wonderful twelve minutes of art that deliver, inter alia, the perfect balance between copious instrumental parts and sections where the vigorous voice of Antarctis occurs. Varg will cry out loud when he gets in touch with this frosty monument for the first time, because it would have been the perfect sibling of "Det som en gang var". Okay, he will probably say that he did not intend to write the same song twice, but we know that this would be a lie in view of the strength of the here performed opener.
The glory of the first piece fortunately does not obscure the fact that "Smalisty žah" has more exciting compositions under its belt. You ask for examples? The harsh, comparatively short and compact title track is convincing as well and the same applies for the third track. The last number of the A side relies on a configuration which is similar to that of the opener. Its guitars add this touch of sadness that draws the audience into the song while passing unnoticedly the point of no return. Even the only ambient instrumental which is performed without any guitar is by far not as boring as some other pieces that march sedately into the same direction. To my own surprise, I really like "Paslja paūnocznaja ciszynja" due to the interesting (little) variations of its melody. Moreover, the second (quasi-) instrumental is doubtlessly very interesting in view of its mantra-like sections and its gloomy, autumnal vibes.
The album's mix is fully aligned with the artwork. A frosty mood is omnipresent in view of the atmospheric keyboards and the neither polished nor very harsh guitar sound. Rather clear than burred or filthy, the production matches the intention of the artist very well. There is a certain beauty in this songs and any form of dirt would not have been helpful. This is not to say that Antarctis has put the focus on mild tones. He has just tried to find the right proportions of melancholy and rigour; and from my point of view, he has been largely successful. Without doubt, this album is better than the debut and this is how it should be. I am quite not sure whether it was a good idea to cover Darkthrone's "Quintessence", because from my point of view, it does not deliver new facets of the original version. However, this debatable closer does not determine the weal and woe of this strong output with six great tracks - I don't want to ignore the coherent, partially double-bass driven "Zdzjajsnieńnie" - which have been written by Antarctis himself.
I'm as enamored of the winter landscape photo as many of the musicians who use them as album covers, but certainly the novelty of the practice is long since diminished from the 90s when it had started to become commonplace is in the fields of black and folk metal. This, coupled with the lukewarm reaction I had to the debut record, didn't exactly set expectations high for Vietah's sophomore outing, and yet I enjoyed this considerably more than Zorny maroz. Invigorated, better produced, better capable of fleshing out its more bulky song structures with solid riff choices that build anticipation for what will follow them. Coincidentally, this is a more varied record, and it's moments of instrumental beauty were quite nice touches to the raging but straightforward storm around them.
The comparison to Burzum retains a tenuous grip, but it's been supplanted by a more epic-tinged Bathory style, specifically from the Blood, Fire, Death and Hammerheart era, which is manifest through the synths and guitars when used in tandem, and the more corpulent beats used below them. Antarctis has also improved vocally, shifting from the suicidal, loud rasps of the debut to a deeper, harsh drawl which falls in comfortably between the black and death metal genres. It might not sound as unnerving, nor is it super unique, but it's mixed in with the music much better and never stands out too much for its own good. Otherwise, a lot of structural points here are similar to his earlier material...the wayward, repetitious guitar lines that are often given space to breathe where the percussion falls out, and the riffing is exceedingly simple, though he definitely rips out some more traditional mid-90s patterns that smack of the Scandinavian scene of the time (with the title track here in particular). Some early Enslaved, Immortal. But those spacious, drift-scapes of the first album still thrive on several pieces here, and come across as more poignant.
The guitar tone is bold with an underbelly of raw, especially on the slower grooves which trace their lineage back to Darkthrone and Hellhammer, but will also remind some of Satyricon's mid 00s black & roll style. The contrast of the substantial piano/keyboard interludes to the harder hitting cuts might be too jarring for some, but I had no problem with it, even though I could listen to the former by themselves in many situations without requiring the rest. Translations for the lyrics are once again included with this I Hate Records vinyl reissue, and they maintain the sturdy introspection of the debut, only this time they've got better music to accompany. Whereas I stretched out my listens of Zorny maroz over several days, not particularly inclined to marathon it repeatedly, Smalisty žah definitely had some moments that I immediately wanted to revisit. Vietah was still some distance from establishing a truly distinct or exceptional style here, but this is more than worthy of its predecessor and a clear sign of growth and maturity.
Wow, this is really not how I expected the follow-up to Zorny maroz to sound like. The 2008 debut album surprised me by being really good, despite lacking uniqueness, and despite the fact that the Burzum influence was blatantly obvious. So I assumed the follow-up, Smalisty zah, would continue down the same path. Well, I suppose it does, but still quite differentely.
The Burzum influence is still clear for all to hear, but the music’s taken a step away from the typical howling side of depressive black metal, and opted for a slightly more aggressive style. Vocally I definitely don’t miss the howls, a type of vocals that in nine out of ten cases will just annoy me like crazy. Here, Antarctis (the one-man army of Vietah) have gone for a much harsher and raspier growling set of vocals, sounding somewhat typical eastern European in style, where I can’t help but think of North and such for comparison. Despite not understanding a word he’s screaming, I love the fact that the pronunciation is so audible, adding that ultra-aggressive touch that only similar languages can. On the previous album I was uncertain whether or not it was a drum machine, but in the end figured it probably was. Here I was even more confounded, since the bass drum sound is so warm and life-like, but the snare sounds pretty much exactly the same throughout the entire album. If it is programmed I have to say it’s one of the best works ever in that department, sounding so life-like it’s hardly noticeable that it isn’t.
For songs like Zmjarcvielyja krajavidy praz smaljany pozirk krumkacha and Pavolny paljot pa-nad ljasnym kurganom the repetitive style of riffing that earlier Burzum works relied upon is all but too damn obvious. And despite not minding it at first, in the long-run the repetition becomes a bit tedious. That’s why a track like Smalisty zah is so refreshing in its blasting approach. The riffing’s still repetitive, but it goes by in a much faster tempo, the drumming’s faster and the song, albeit still extremely reminiscent of Burzum, is much more aggressive and brutal, and has an even more prominent eastern European styled black metal touch.
The downside of the album is definitely the instrumental interludes Vosienskija spadarožniki u nocz and Paslja paunocznaja ciszynja. Despite being very atmospheric and effective, they’re too long to be placed in the middle of the album, since over six minutes of ambience kills the natural flow of the record. It would’ve been much more fitting as an intro/outro, since it’d been a mellower start and ending rather than a sudden halt. Instead, the ending track of the album is a cover of Darkthrone’s Quintessence, but translated into Belorussian. The original lyrics was written by (surprise surprise) Varg Vikernes, once again stating the obvious influence from the guy.
It’s a good album, it is, different, yet similar to its predecessor. I’m not exactly sure which I like the best, since both albums have its positive and negative attributes. So I think I’ll settle with them both being equally as good, but in different ways.
Originally written for My Last Chapter
Bands of Vietah’s mould tend to produce scores of albums in short periods of time that all sound alike due to the fact that they all share the same resounding influence -- Burzum. So, to my surprise, I was pleasantly looking forward to this sophomore effort after I read that the direction had been altered in several different ways, though the extent of which was unknown. Alas, having played the album over and over again to get to grips with it and those changes I mentioned, I can conclude that the style of the band has altered, but not drastically so. Antarctis has opted for a similar sort of stylistic approach by conceding that Burzum-esque guitar riffs and ambient touched courtesy of the keyboards are still the way to go. In terms of evolution, Vietah have progressed but, personally, I’d say backwards. More individualistic touches have been added to the album in an attempt to give it definition and depth, but Vietah’s sophomore, entitled ‘Smalisty Zah’ lacks quality in almost all areas of its approach.
The vocals, for instance, were the first thing that I had noticed which have been altered. Antarctis has seemingly changed his vocal approach to add an extra sense of individualism, something which his debut lacked in all areas. Having said that, the debut was as likeable as it was familiar given the enormous influence Varg Vikernes had over this Belarusian act. Antarctis’ vocals have become deeper and though they still conjure up the same sort of emotive feelings, they don’t quite match the music the way in which they used to. Instead of being of a rasped variety, something which perhaps allowed the beauty of the Belarusian accent and language to pass through the dissonant style, the vocals are now performed as a low, deep growl. These are far less appealing and, given the huge influence Burzum still holds over this small, relatively obscure act, the vocals don’t match the type of style that Vietah have chosen to adopt.
As I previously stated, the alterations that have been placed on this sophomore are not drastic. The vocals are somewhat different, though they still play upon the same emotional fields as the previous ones -- pain, anger, loneliness, solitude, dissonance, that sort of thing. The vocals were adept at doing that before, though they lacked the originality to really become memorable. They were also not as impacting as Varg’s vocals. His voice resonated in many millions of disgruntled, angry black metal fans throughout the years, but Antarctis is a far reach away from performing to the same sort of levels as Varg had done in the mid 1990’s. The vocals here, though they express a willingness to try new things and experiment, really don’t shine. However, Vietah are keen to expand on the experimental factor by moving to merge different eras of Burzum’s career together, such as his ambient works with his black metal ones. Songs like ‘Vosienskija Spadarozniki U Nocz’ are a good representation of this as they float suspended in the air through keyboard driven ambiance and a solitary plucked string instrument. ‘Paslja Paunocznaja Ciszynja, another instrumental song, is just as disappointing.
The occasion vocal does pop up, but these whispered words bare little importance to someone like me since I don’t speak the same language. In fact, the entire song is rather dull, just like Varg’s ambient works. The best part of Vietah’s approach was never in the fully instrumental works. These plays upon Burzum’s ambient pieces are unnecessary as they don’t flow well with the rest of the album. If it had come at the beginning, or possibly the end then maybe my view would be different, but to place a tedious, overly long ambient track in the middle of a black metal record really throws off the cohesion of the material, which was flowing well enough, despite the mediocrity of a number of the repetitive riffs -- a theme which is repeated once the regular songs pick up again in the uneventful ‘Zdzjajsniennie’, a song which really hammers home a slow paced Burzum feel until it picks up and shows a bit on invention by introducing the drums which may, or may not be produced by a drum machine, which once again sounds hollow, especially on the odd cover of Darkthrone’s ‘Quintessence’.
One positive I did find at the beginning of the record was the bass. Unlike the first album, this sophomore recognised the benefits of allowing the bass to become an audible asset. Up until the ambient song, the bass is often in the foreground and though it doesn’t tend to vary too much, mostly played to a tremolo style, it was a nice, competent addition to the more bombastic styled sound, one which perhaps highlights a finer production style, too. The bass, during the second half of the album, does fade however. It becomes a lesser aspect and gives way to the repetitious, monotonous guitars and lacklustre percussion until the unusual cover of Darkthrone’s ‘Quintessence’, a somewhat uninspired addition to the albums uneven feel. Perhaps the vocals were changed with this song in mind? Since Varg’s vocals, which were a clear inspiration on the debut, are nothing like that of Darkthrone, perhaps Antarctis felt the need to alter the entire performance just for this song so he wouldn’t come unstuck? Ironic that his vocals are actually less appealing in this form then. Generally speaking this is an average album with not too much going for it -- a lack of memorable guitar riffs, a one dimensional sound, indifferent structures, mediocre vocals. Best steer clear.