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Early Baltic Pagan metal - 80%

UCTYKAH, September 9th, 2009

This demo was one of the first things that came into my hands when I was discovering the Baltic metal scene. I used to hold it in high regard, so I'd figured to eventually revisit it at some point. An overview I read way back when described them as the Baltic BURZUM standing next to SKYFORGER positioned as the Baltic IMMORTAL (based on the "Semigalls' Warchant" demo, no doubt). These parallels didn't get very far (and that goes especially for THARAPHITA), even if the reviewer was not necessarily speaking of direct musical lineage but about some kind of general aura. Regardless, THARAPHITA became a decent band and continued to lead a relatively active existence. Looking back at their first demo, I may not be as excited about it now yet can assure you that this tape still firmly holds its salt.

I downloaded it recently from a metal blog because my tape player is broken, and it sounded worse than I remember the tape to be. A bad transfer maybe or worn out original source? No matter, I am probably wrong anyway. It has been too long, but I think I can recall impressively crisp (for a demo) yet raw production, thick and sharp guitar sound and vocalist Ank's grating, blackened screaming. Oh yea, it's not really black metal either, it's Pagan metal. Pagan metal is Pagan metal. As loose and vague as this term of convenience can be, I suppose black metal is still its closest relative. Or, Pagan metal is a hazy no mans land of a territory between black metal and things that closely surround it such as questionable categories of Dark and Viking metal, which can be nominally connected to black metal but may employ traditional techniques like more straightforward rock drumming or more conventional riff sequences, not to mention overall atmosphere, which would be less grim and "evil" and more "neutral" or heroic. THARAPHITA in one way or another falls under this definition but in a good way. Sturdy, chiseled and repetitious guitar lines unhurriedly carve their way forward, propelled by basic but precise drumming and above noted vocal work along with occasional clean Viking-like chants. Melodies are rather scarce and mostly used to emphasize certain parts rather then serve as the songs' main engine. Keyboards are employed as well but used in exactly the same manner, just to sparingly add some extra color here and there. As such the material on first and third tracks "Allpool Lund Ja Jaad" and "Tagasi Pimedasse Metsa" forms the backbone of the recording, while "Merekurat" serves as the demo's centerpiece and main attraction. Its two distinctive and memorable (but not melodic) riff combinations continuously take their turns, with the second set being embellished by a simplistically catchy and airy sounding keyboard part. Both of them eventually give way to a surprisingly catchy chorus led by a Viking chant. Pretty damn cool song, even if it uses a rather conventional structure. But that's not all. As a final kick in the head, the band totally unexpectedly throw out a raging thrasher in the form of "Demons' Night". Very cool again, despite the track's more friable sound and less controlled musicianship.

An interesting thing to mention is the translated Estonian pronouncement somewhere on the tape's inlay: ["We, as one in heart and spirit against the name of Christ!" - The warcry of primeval Estonians], which could also be found on a few other Estonian demos of the mid to late 90's, MANATARK's "Roosteitk" for instance. Does it demonstrate the erstwhile unity and dedication of the musicians back then? Probably, but they were younger too.

I acquired THARAPHITA's second release and first official full-length "Raev" some time after this demo and remember being somewhat disheartened at what my then-uncompromising self thought was watering down of the band's sound. Listening to "Raev" today, I have no choice but admit that the band were just looking to refine their sound, of course! The demo obviously sounds rough around the edges in comparison, so maybe it wasn't as crisp as I thought it was. "Kui Varjud Polevad" songs were re-recorded (minus "Demons' Night") and incorporated into the album along with newer material. New songs were more melodic (albeit, again, in a conventional way, I have to say), lushness and usage of keyboards increased slightly (keyboard melody on "Merekurat started to sound almost poppy), and the band's sound became lighter (i.e. cleaned up) and less stern, even if vocals remained equally harsh. All in all, a typical path to take, but I do encourage you to listen to both recordings. Depending where you stand, you will probably appreciate one over the other so much more.