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A Monument to the Slavic Scene - 87%

severzhavnost, March 29th, 2013

There are very few bands I can think of who've been more severely plagued by a revolving lineup than Belorussian folk metal legends Znich. Which is a pity, because the group assembled on this record - whoever they may be - have produced something exceptional. Some continued in the band after Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca, others did not. I can guarantee that this album's vocal duties were shared between Natalia Volynets and the only continuous member, Ales Tabolich. And that the bagpipes and flute ( "Kupala na Ivana") were handled by Kastus Trambitsky. Aside from these, near as I've been able to piece together, we have Denis Galitsky on drums, Alexander Savenok on guitar, and Pawel Zaruchevsky playing bass. For accuracy's sake, I will refrain from pointing out these three by name; though I wish I could give all musicians their deserved credit. Indeed, Znich's second full length ranks alongside Arkona's Vo Slavu Velikim, Vicious Crusade's Forbidden Tunes, and Idu Na Vy from Dub Buk, as a foundational cornerstone of Slavonic pagan metal.

Female singers from Eastern Europe are such a refreshing change from the opera-diva cheese to which women are limited in the West. You can quickly tire of Liv Kristine, Tarja Turunen et al; and once you do, turn east! On this album, we are treated to an epic, enchanting performance by the strong voice of Natalia Volynets. She most often uses a mid-pitch, kind of ritualistic vocal style that compares well to the great Maria Arkhipova of Arkona. On the other hand, she is also capable of a higher register more like Ksenia Markevich of Nevid and Kalevala fame. When this happens, the songs take on a more celebratory, pagan feast atmosphere. (Later on I'll break down the songs between that and the more ostentatious category, and name the standouts of each.) 

As for the male side of Znich's vocals, founding member Ales Tabolich ably takes care of it. His clear tones sound like those used by Blazebirth Hall kingpin Kaldrad in Temnozor. Absolutely epic, like the narration to a march across Siberia. Ales also exhibits some pretty solid death metal growls, albeit a little too phlegmatic for my taste. I take my death growls like my apple cider: dry. That is, more Johan Hegg, less Chrigel Glanzmann. I could pass on the whole frog-in-the-throat thing that afflicts too many death vocalists. But hey, give Tabolich credit for steering clear of any godawful Obituary-type cookie monstering. The nearest comparison I can point to is fellow Belorussian Dmitriy Basik of Vicious Crusade, whose work I also thoroughly enjoy. 

For the instruments, this record features a ragged, jangling production style which is perfectly suited to the genre. Not to say folk metal should sound amateurish, and Znich is far from it. I mean that Znich capture a pure, unpolished rural vibe to which all good folk metal should strive. The guitar sounds straight-up obnoxious, and I say that in the best way possible. No pointless in-your-face tough guy posturing, just a natural rough edge that will get the modern music industry's knickers in a knot. The guitarist here can put up respectable death metal riffs, and even throw in a healthy dose of tremolo. Or he can he step back and trade lines with the bassist, as if they're both strumming balalaikas. Both are expertly done.

The rhythm section is also a perfect fit for folk metal. Drums crash around you in an abrasive cascade, such a great counter to the mechanical urban precision of modern metal. Probably the high-point of the drum work is the well-executed, high-speed rolling of "Ne Siachy Moi Tatulka". The organic nature of this album's production treat the listener to a real, woody sound off the percussion. "Kupala na Ivana" is his best chance to show his talent in keeping both fast and slow tempos, and ge passes with flying colours. But all the drumming of Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca carries a wild and loose, blowing-off-steam feel. Truly exemplary folk-ass drumming!

Of all the traditional metal instruments, I think it's the bass that benefits most from exposure in the folk subgenre. Maybe it's because the guitar must share its lead position, and so is unable to overwhelm the bass all the time. Whatever the reason, Znich's bassist stands out in a wonderful way. Of course it serves to bring added low-end heaviness, but it's much more than that! The bass here is a flawless supportive complement to folkish tunes, as especially evidenced on " Oi Paseju Kanapel'ki" and "Kupala na Ivana". When the more overtly folkish parts threaten to float you into an excessively cheery experience, it's the bass more than anything that grounds you.

I must tip my hat to Kastus though, for those moments are few and far between. The criticism of Korpiklaani and co. is that the folk overwhelms the metal, so much that you're left with metalized folk rather than proper folkish metal. Not the case for Znich. Kastus keeps the bagpipes - and occasional flute - in a respectable position. They accentuate, not dominate, the music. And, as mentioned a while back, he can use them in a long, slow dignified hymn; or equally well as a knee-slapping party starter.

Pagan metal fans, buy this album chop-chop! In the mood to open the bottle 'round a campfire? Check out "Ne Siachy Moi Tatulka", "Shto Za Usio Tlustseishaie" and "Oi Paseju Kanapel'ki". The latter is the best of this category. "Kupala na Ivana" and "Vol Bushue" can satisfy this craving, but would also fit with the more ornate type songs - my personal favourite "Vyprauliala Maci Syna", "Sem Tysiachau Tysiach" and "Siracinka". Great stuff all around!