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Has a lot of potential - 70%

Sinister Intents, January 18th, 2015

Communist black metal! It's really wonderful to find a band with a progressive edge to it. It's a gleaming light in a scene where NS bands tend towards being relatively common when you hit the "Random Band" button on this site. Despite the fact that this band is seemingly a political rarity doesn't make it that great though. There are several issues with the music and its content.

The first issue I can point out is the sound quality, it's very raw and not in a good way. It's almost as if they recorded this in a small, cramped room. The next noticeable issue is the vocals on every track, he sounds like what a lizard would sound like if one could speak in English. He also maintains exactly the same tone with his weird, almost other worldly screams. Even when he is screaming in Russian on the track Sacred War, it doesn't sound all that great. He sounds like he is using the vocal fry technique, but rather poorly.

The lyrical content adds a lot of interest to the music, but his politics seem rather mixed between anarchism and Marxism. In the track Under the Red Banner it should be noted that he expresses a lean towards Leninism, but his politics aren't consistent of a normal Marxist. He states at the end of the track "We are the ruling class" and in communism all classes are eliminated, so there would be no ruling class. The lyrics are well made, but show political inconsistencies.

The best part of this album is absolutely the instrumentation! The guitars are very much in the vain of melodic black metal with a dose of death metal thrown in every now and again. The guitars are noticeably the best part of this album because they're quite varied in their content. This is black metal, so you get a lot of tremolo picking through out the album, with the same rapidly picked riffs being slowed down at times. There is a noticeable amount of technicality to the riffs as well on each track. There are also parts where the guitarist plays some very well performed death metal oriented riffs. Along with the guitar is the bass, which is totally inaudible if it's present at all, but surely the bassist is plucking along something... If only it could be heard which would be a plus as it would add a lot to this album. The drumming is rather decent as well with a lot of variety which at times sounds like the drumming of a death metal band rather than a black metal band. He blasts away in a very tasteful manner, with plenty of variety in the patterns he churns out on his kit.

If you're able to get a hold of this EP you'll surely find it enjoyable despite its negative aspects.

Lacking in coherence - 63%

greenandblack, August 5th, 2009

In what is perhaps an inevitable response to NSBM, there is a small but growing subgenre that has been called RABM- either "red anarchist black metal" or "red and black metal". Rather obviously, it is black metal with a left/communist/anarchist political bent.

There are good reasons why this is, as yet, a very small genre- politics in black metal have traditionally tended towards the right. Primarily, it's because the left has historically been humanistic, rationalistic, and forward-looking, and black metal, in any form it takes, is none of these. I am hardly a purist about black metal ideology myself, but still, in my opinion there is a certain way of seeing the world that the overwhelming majority of black metal shares, whether it's Satanic, pagan, depressive, NS, or Nietzschean individualist. "Romanticist" is probably the word that comes closest to describing it, and traditional Marxist-style communism is something that has usually stood in violent opposition to that kind of Romanticism. Communist black metal thus has the same sort of problem Christian "unblack" metal does- namely, that the ideology generally clashes with the spirit of the genre.

One possible counterpoint to this is, of course, the example of Euronymous himself, who was well known for his support for Stalinism. But (at least once he got serious about being a Satanist) he couldn't really be called a Stalinist himself, however fervently he was in favor of it- he was pro-Stalinist because he knew Stalinism leads to lots of human suffering, and his theistic Satanism supported this. Actual Stalinists, though, think they're doing good for everyone- a band that reveled in all the suffering Stalinism causes might fit well within one form of black metal, but it wouldn't reflect the beliefs of actual Communists. Real Stalinists tend to be convinced that everyone except a few reactionary bourgeois types would be happy under the wise proletarian dictatorship of some Great Helmsman, and would be horrified at Euronymous's view of their ideology. In general, they would also probably think of black metal as a fundamentally "bourgeois" and "reactionary" artform.

Still, just as there's unblack metal, it stands to reason that eventually someone would do "red" metal, and thus we have the three-song EP that is the subject of this review. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, Jarost Marksa (Russian for "Fury of Marx") aren't actually communists in the Marxist-Leninist sense. Apparently, they're anarcho-socialists- most of the band members were part of a Russian anarchist commune, and in the one interview with them I've read, they make it quite clear that they are not admirers of Soviet-style Communism, attacking Lenin for corrupting the original ideals of socialism. Nevertheless, they seem to show a fondness for Soviet imagery- the cover of "We the People" depicts the Soviet Union's coat of arms, and the third track here is a black metal cover of a WWII-era Red Army song called "The Sacred War." (Though admittedly, that song is much much more about killing fascists than it is the glories of Soviet Communism.) As far as I can tell, they did this primarily for the purpose of being transgressive and pissing off far-rightists within the black metal scene. The thing is, though, anarchists using Soviet imagery are kind of like the left-wing version of those Slavic NSBM bands who adopt the symbols and ideology of a regime that saw their people as subhumans fit only to be worked to death. Not to go into a full history lesson, but Lenin (to say nothing of Stalin) was really, really not a friend to anarchists, and Jarost Marksa putting the coat of arms of his regime on their album cover comes off as both ridiculous in the same way that Slavic Nazis do, and rather insincere given that they aren't really Leninists.

That bit of ideological confusion aside, despite the tension between their chosen form of music and their politics, they probably found the most appropriate variety of black metal for their message that they could. This is very far from the folkish (which would likely be taken by your typical communist as reactionary and nationalist) or symphonic (which would probably be seen as bourgeois) sorts of black metal- it's more or less aggressive raw black metal, though it's rather different from the stereotypical example of the genre. The music seems to have two distinct modes, which it goes back and forth between regularly- fairly slow-paced sections dominated by oppressive-sounding guitar riffs and fast, aggressive sections laden with blast beats. The production is far from slick, but it's also not deliberately terrible and/or "kvlt" sounding. The guitar tone is somewhat thicker and deeper than it often is in raw black metal, and combined with the vocals (black metal rasps, but with an odd gurgly quality that sounds more like something you would expect to hear in death metal), there seems to be a bit of death metal influence, all the more suggested by the chaotic, aggressive nature of the music. The drumming (which is quite impressive) is, as mentioned, heavy on the blast beats, though it's not a continuous blast- this isn't the Marduk style of black metal. Overall, this is far more "urban" sounding music than black metal tends to be. It completely lacks the mystical/occult sound of much black metal, and instead evokes images of industrial grayness and oppression, as one might expect communist black metal to do, though it's clear that in the band's eyes, the oppression comes from the capitalists who will be overthrown in the glorious revolution.

The lyrics are about what you'd expect- paeans to the glory of the communist revolution to come. They actually aren't as preachy as certain other attempts at this kind of thing have been (Iskra, I'm looking at you), sounding more like the lyrics to the kinds of songs communist soldiers or guerrillas might sing as they marched off to battle, with "The Sacred War", of course, being an actual historical example of such a song. Overall, for what they're trying to do, they are fairly well done.

All of this has potential, but it isn't really realized. None of the tracks are very coherent- riffs are thrown together without much concern for song structure. They aren't bad riffs in general, but songwriting is definitely not the band's strong suit. Neither is melody- between the lack of structure in the songs and the band's fondness for dissonance, this EP is the opposite of "catchy." I have a feeling that isn't really the point here anyway, but as the music doesn't manage to be memorable enough in other ways to make up for it, the overall effect is something that sounds decent enough while one is listening to it but which it's hard to remember much about afterwards. (Which made writing this review rather difficult.) As well, the two original songs here don't have a great deal of separate identity- both sound quite similar to each other. If both had been bolted together and made into one track, I don't think I would have really noticed anything amiss. The Red Army cover stands out a bit due to (at first) having a clear and distinct melodic structure, but the original melody gets drowned in the band's usual approach to music as the song progresses, eventually disintegrating into a mass of dissonant riffing and blast beats before ending abruptly. It's probably the highlight of the album, really, which again doesn't say much for the band's songwriting abilities.

To sum up, this doesn't suck, but it's far from spectacular. If you have a particular fondness for aggressive, dissonant black metal, it might be worth seeking this EP out, but to anyone else it would be hard to give it more than a mild recommendation at best. The primary weakness of the album is its lack of coherence and structure, along with a sort of musical (and political, as illustrated by the difference between what the album cover suggests the band believes and what they actually do) identity crisis- in a way it almost seems like the music wants to be something other than black metal. I think at least part of the reason why this is black metal in the first place is because Jarost Marksa was trying to create a leftist counter to NSBM. That's fine in itself, and personally I'd like to see more like it, but I don't feel that traditional Marx-influenced socialism, with its rationalistic, (very much distinct from "rational", I would note), humanist worldview is the right direction for it. In my opinion it is indeed possible for black metal to assume a more or less leftist shape while remaining solidly within the spirit and tradition of black metal as a whole, and so I feel it has in the case of radical environmentalist black metal bands like Panopticon and Wolves in the Throne Room. (Of course, I may be biased here, as those bands have views very close to mine.) Their deep green ideology, "leftist" or not (for many on the far left don't consider it such, as is perhaps demonstrated by the troubles WITTR had with dogmatic antifa types in Germany), fits quite comfortably into the black metal tradition and aesthetic, in my opinion. On the other hand, Jarost Marksa, coming from the traditional Marxist left, somehow seems less comfortable with the form of music they've chosen than a band like Panopticon does, and so this EP ultimately backs up both the view that certain ideologies and beliefs are far better suited for black metal than others and, following from that, my feeling that the whole concept of RABM would work much better if it were GABM.

The end of black metal - 60%

UCTYKAH, May 23rd, 2009

...plus a few random missives and crocodile tears concerning its demise:

It was bound to happen, right! What would the gods say? What will Satan think? Perhaps they care not!? Either way, an appearance of what is possibly the first bona-fide communist black metal group, or so they claim (or maybe they don't), is a good excuse as any to look back and blabber a bit about the sonority that purportedly stands for all the evil in men.

Black metal has come a long way since its inception. Yes, no, maybe? Perhaps on a grand scheme of things it never really went anywhere. If anything, the state of black metal today more than ever makes it appear like a mere extension of the greater rock music culture. (Vikernes did have a point when he publically disowned black metal. Whether or not he will use the form again once he gets out is no longer relevant.) Similar trajectory of development, similar style mythological approach, it's all there. Rock music was the soundtrack for the 1960's and 1970's radicalism only to comfortably settle down as time went by. Sure, there always were and still are plenty of implacable, irreconcilable (i.e. "true") elements in the underground, but we all know by now that there is no way in hell a rock band will ever spearhead a revolution, which makes you wonder whether it was the dreaded "establishment" and the "mainstream" that vertically fed the messianic myth of rock culture, realizing that it could be a potent way to keep the unruly youth under a lid while cashing in on it. After all, despite all the drugs, sex, protests and more sex and drugs and even more protests (no, definitely more sex and drugs than protests), things worked out fairly well. There was no major coup d'état in Europe or US, a lot of money was made, a generation grew up more liberal, tolerant and enlightened then the ones before. Change should happen fairly slowly and gradually in order to avoid overly painful social shock therapy. All nice and civilized. Some kids getting beat up by the police hardly counts for anything heavyweight. Then there was the purgatorial punk revolution, which was quickly drowned in money and ultimately made things even worse. And then came black metal, and in many ways repeated punk's life-line, perhaps on a smaller scale, as there is no black metal band that went platinum just yet. Was black metal the new punk rock for a little while during its heyday? As far as JAROST MARKSA are concerned, why the hell not?

Early black metal was musically and ideologically extreme, confrontational, antisocial - the whole enchilada, more so than punk yet so much like it. Many a metal genre is not above making a buck from their music. Not black metal. Being a commercially successful misanthrope just does not sound right. So what if black metal self-importantly distanced itself from politics and direct social issues and chose to deal with more abstract and grand concepts of chaos, the occult, mysteries of nature, esoteric philosophy etc., etc.. So what if it has an elitist, decidedly undemocratic attitude as opposed to punk's populist sentiments. What is the difference ultimately if you are still strumming your guitar and putting CD's out? If DEATHSPELL OMEGA were really as truly and deeply immersed in Theosophy, Gnosticism, Orthodox/Theistic Satanism or whatever else they are on this week, would they really care enough about playing their guitars, sitting in a studio and recording albums in the first place? Besides, black metal's anti-Christian stance in itself calls for major social change, and that goes without mentioning the entire NSBM layer.

We all know about the myths surrounding black metal: VENOM, HELLHAMMER and CELTIC FROST, Quorthon and his father Boss, kids playing in the "inner circle", Euronymous, above mentioned Vikernes etc. While it is true that what these people helped unleash is greater than any of their intentions, black metal still ended up stuck on the same beaten spiral its distant or not so distant peers trudged through before. Why? Because it was not, and could not be, an isolated phenomenon. Despite all the high-minded chatter about mysterious forces, unfeigned self-expression and chosen few who can ever understand the art, black metal musicians do not merely play for themselves and their immediate circle of friends. Not anymore. No, they put stuff out and expect to gain a following. If they were not interested in such communicating, they would not be doing it, simple as that. Unlike various "non-musical" cults, it is a bit different with music. People do not flock to your side religiously and gasp for guidance. They may share your views or some major pointers, if you are lucky. They might be inspired by the music. It might even help them deal with everyday life (does that sound familiar?) But they are not dying or killing for or because of it. There are exceptions, sure, but the overwhelming majority "just like the music", so whatever difference that is made, or whatever change that does occur, is slow and gradual, nice and civilized. Being hermetically sealed defeats the purpose of making records. One can play, even record so as not to forget, but not release and/or purposefully distribute them. And of course it takes skill and underground media manipulation to generate a cult aura around your project. Thus, we end up with rare, limited, impossible-to-find demos and albums, which end up on e-bay fetching up inflated prices, posted by those few "worthy" individuals who can truly grasp the depth of the black art. We end up with larger than life myths and creation of cult-of-personality figures. Life is a game. That's common knowledge, and for many (or most) of those who end up on that path, the field and/or theater of black metal is a source of never-ending inertia for their gamesmanship. VELVET CACOON's very conscious and successful media play, or Kanwulf's solipsistic view of and self-vehicular drive towards his own alleged grandeur are just two very good examples.

Artificially limiting the number of available copies has as much to do with financial considerations. Are you going to manufacture 10,000 CD's knowing fully well that you won't shift more that 500 measly copies? Like it or not, the acts of making recordings and distributing them simply mean that an author is already engaging the same dreaded establishment and mainstream. If you want to go further, you are engaging your surroundings simply by the virtue of being human (humanoid?), despite opposing assertions by many a virulently anti-human black metal musician.

Once your engagement is established, the ball can roll, and a scene can be created. It all goes downhill from there. You can be as antisocial and extreme as you like, but the fray has already been entered and you are playing the bullshit game. Youngsters are more impulsive and confrontational, thus the killings and church burnings. Ask the members of EMPEROR about the old days, see what they say. Nowadays Ihsahn prefers getting honorary awards from his home-town instead of being investigated as an accessory to arson. Times, they are changing. It turns out that it's not that easy to burn a church. It's great if a church is wooden. And if it is made of concrete? You have to blow the damn thing up, and that today constitutes an act of terrorism that is not to be taken lightly. Did you want to start a war against the Christian scum? And what if they start a war against you? Who has the numbers? How many artists are willing to take their art a step further into the real life? Who wants to really suffer or even lose their lives in the name of their art? A few do, but just end up committing suicides or simple acts of crime as opposed to great inspirational deeds. It is childish anyway, right, so all you can do is talk. But the same goes for many extreme ideological stances and pronouncements made by musicians. It sure is easy to run your mouth while enjoying the liberal freedoms of democratic societies, where the religious institutions do not hold sway over every aspect of life (and then badmouthing those societies for being so darn liberal). Try that in the Middle East, and see how that goes. Prisons there may not be as cozy as those in Scandinavia.

As we well know, mainstream is extremely adaptable, and can absorb many things that it deemed unacceptable in the past. Musicians do not have to change and sell out. The establishment comes to them, seeking to make a buck or two, appropriating and repackaging the "art". As a result you get a legitimate music genre, with its publications, labels, festivals, hit-parades and even awards. Not a lot of truly taboo subjects are left. Nazism and pedophilia, for instance. NSBM scarecrow still lingers on, yes. You may find GRAVELAND or NOKTURNAL MORTUM CD's in a metal section of your favorite independent record shop, but so what? Majority of people just like the music, right? As a result you are left with a mere form. And to think, there was a time when someone somewhere used to think that it was so much greater. In Norway you get Grammies for this stuff. I picked up a used copy of KEEP OF KALESSIN's "Colossus" recently. There is no point of even mentioning the music, no matter how good or bad it is. The CD came with a bonus DVD documentary, with the band members being interviewed about the recording process. They sit, all nicely groomed, next to huge posters of themselves and the album's cover art, calmly reminiscing and elaborating on that same creative process, like a bunch of actors promoting a new blockbuster. You want another random nail in the coffin? An excerpt from Wikipedia on the subject of a teen actress Demi Lovato: "In an MTV interview, Lovato states that she likes metal music, especially black metal and metalcore. She called symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir "one of her favorite live acts"". Can someone confirm or deny this? Feel free to say you do not care. DIMMU BORGIR may only be the tip of the iceberg, they are no MOONBLOOD or VLAD TEPES, but even the tip of the iceberg was not supposed to protrude that far and in such direction, did it? Oh well, how often it happens when an original idea completely changes as it acquires more and more adherents who tailor it to their own suitability? Very often. Look at any of the major religions.

Remember the "no fun/no trends/no core/no mosh" motto and Euronymous' pleas for more hatred? What did he mean by that? We know what he meant by that, but how well did it resonate? As for any musical genre, musicians seek to progress, experiment, search for new forms and so on. Not exactly the way to generate more hatred upon thyself. To paraphrase an old metal adage: progress is gay. All permutations that black metal was subjected to (all the avantgarde wankery, good or bad, shoe-gaze or post-rock fusions and whatever else) only help make it into another legitimate musical genre, not to mention repeat what rock music was going through for so much of its existence. Motions, motions and more motions. It's all too human and life affirming. Where is the "no fun" part? The "true" adherents do have a point. It just that they have nowhere else to go. As someone wisely pointed out, death and, by extension, black metal can be described as legacy genres, which implies a lot of worship and consequent attempts at replication. (Not that any other form of metal or any other popular music genre, for that matter, is any different.) Unfortunately, you can only worship DARKTHRONE in so many ways before you become bored yourself. The circle is closed.

...and another wistful quote from a musician friend of mine to seal things off: "It is [black metal] really dead. It was nice for a time though to really have an idealism to espouse loudly to anyone who could hear it. Even if it was borrowed ideology. I think the older black metallers died out, got old, had kids and couldn't be that radical monster anymore. And the kids like us that grew up angry with black metal to fuel us, ran out of things to be angry about." You won't stop kids from playing this stuff, just like you won't stop kids from playing rock-n-roll, but a more sensible thing to do would just be remembering how it once was ("det som engang var").

I've whined long enough now, and I am tired out, but I should say something about JAROST MARKSA per se before bowing out of this mess. They are a bunch of leftist commies, who claim to be playing black metal. There is a first, and here is your straight line from punk to BM. If punk's form could be taken up by groups with right-wing ideologies, someone could eventually do it to black metal. Furthermore, if you think that is going too far, it can (and arguably did) go farther. Hippy posturing of a well known act such as WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM readily attests to that.

Whether communism of our red baiters is a gimmick or not makes little difference. Someone had to be the first. Don't call it black metal, you say? NSBM (that's nationalist AND socialist) acronym is still in use, not to mention, ahem, Christian black metal. Another amusing thing about WRATH OF MARX is that this Russian band is fronted by a Frenchman with quite a pedigree for a black metal singer. He is some kind of leftist activist - a seasoned squatter and/or anarcho-communist (I am not quite sure, check the interview on the label's web-site), who ended up moving to Russia. For this!?

Actually, the demo's first two tracks are up to the usual textbook Scandinavian standards of the last decade. You get your croaking vocals (kind of off-the-wall), cold ascetic Nordic melodies (surprisingly good ones), torrents of speed and cascading drum onslaught and grim stern breakdowns. Sound is quite thick and not bereft of heaviness, albeit occasionally uneven. Or rather, the mix tends to "float" sometimes, which adds a sizable degree of chaos to the recording, particularly during the fast segments. Either way, the recording is very good for a demo and certainly not commercial. Needless to say, the music and its atmosphere do not fit at all with the populist message of the lyrics. Obviously, there is absolutely nothing here that is catchy or inspiring in a way that could help rile up the masses and make them sing along while fighting for their class rights. Not even the band's rendition of "Sacred War". Perhaps communist Viking metal would have a better chance at it, ha. If the band are indeed serious about their ideology, they should realize this incompatibility and find a different musical outlet for their political leanings. If you still want to play black metal, at least try to fill the form with relatively proper content, even if it won't be as, er, "original" as the present one.

Opener "Empires Shall Fall" is the best example of the band's ability. The following track is called "United Under the Red Banner". How is that for a title? But then it is not very difficult to substitute Northern Wind for a Red Banner, is it? Either way, this one suffers from being overstretched. The band fail to keep the momentum going for the entire duration and should have cut the song by at least a few minutes. The final piece is a cover version of the Soviet WWII anthem. It is covered note for note for the first three and a half minutes (and as such suffers from a certain degree of redundancy and some sloppy drumming), after which the band veer back into the black (or is it red-black?) whirlwind, with the middle-of-the-road results. The end.

If anything, JAROST MARKSA demonstrate that black metal as a musical form of expression IS NOT universal in terms of ideological adherences. The FEEL of the music that everyone always yaps about does not go along with just about anything, although that has been stretched quite a bit this decade, try as some people may have. Who knows what else will be done with it in its diluted forms. Still, this component remains strictly individualistic. That is why Christian black metal will remain an oxymoron, at least the primitive lord-praising kind. Something oriented towards Christian mysticism (Da Vinci Code type shit, to make a mainstream reference) and tapped into at some points in time by the likes of above-mentioned DEATHSPELL OMEGA or, for instance, Italy's FUNERAL ORATION is definitely much more palatable. That is also why JAROST MARKSA in its present form cannot be taken seriously, even if they are a pretty decent black metal band simply in musical terms. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the vast majority of today's black metal, who might have both the "right" music and ideology and still fail to capture that special something. The momentum has passed, I am afraid, and black metal fell under an old post-modernist adage, which unapologetically states that everything has indeed been done. There is the right time and place for everything. The "purity of essence" only lasts a short time, while the form (as expressive as it was in the beginning) merely lingers on. If there is serious evidence of the contrary, I will gladly admit that I am wrong. Until then all we can do is remember how it once was.

P.S.: The score given is for music only.

Communist black metal? - 75%

overkill666, May 17th, 2009

Communist black metal? I'm not sure if this is a wide-spread thing, or confined to Russia, but I think it's pretty interesting. Not that I support Communism, but that there's black metal bands who praise it. In the words of Jarost Marksa, 'For mother Russia!', right? Aside from ideology, Jarost Marksa is actually pretty good. There's only one thing I don't like about the music, which is usually unexpected as it's easy to nit-pick about music.

Jarost Marksa, musically, is awesome. It's fast, it's chaotic, and it's powerful. What more could you ask for? Technicallity? Get out of here. This isn't tech-death, so you won't find and seven minute wankery. What you will find is solid tremolo riffs with a light, thin tone. This whole demo is fast paced, and relentless. Aided by tremolo, constant blast beating drives 'We The People' through your ears with a vengeance. Even though they are chaotic, they have a certain level of stability and structure. In style, they remind me of Drottnar. There's a lot of spastic riffing, which includes a lot of bends and such. There's also a few 'breakdowns' which lead into slower, more melodic sounding riffs. The one thing that does get on my nerves is the vocals. It's terrible to see good music trampled by a bad frontman. He has the endurance, but he doesn't have the skill. His vocals make me think a turtle or something along those lines recorded the parts. It's just not enjoyable in my opinion.

Jarost Marksa is interesting. Interesting enough to actually check them out? Sure, if you're into their kind of thing. Fans of the fast, chaotic breed of black metal will surely dig this demo. I personally would love to hear more from them. Communist or not, Jarost Marksa is pretty good at what they do.