Tuesday 11 June 2019

Стожар - Холодом Битв В Объятья Зимы (2019)

Country: Russia
Style: Pagan Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Jun 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Twitter | VK

From Bangladesh, let's wander up to Russia to check out a pagan folk metal band. Oh yeah, it's a great time to be alive! The internet is a wonderful place.

Стожар hail from Yaroslavl, four hours north of Moscow, and they've been a band since 2005, with three albums out before this one. The name translates to Stozhar, but I don't know what that means (Stozhary is the Russian name for the Pleiades, so maybe the band is named for a star cluster); the album title translates to Chill Battles in the Embrace of Winter. Now, Yaroslavl isn't Arkhangelsk, a thousand further kilometers north, but I'll trust that it still gets a bit cold during the winters for Стожар and this album would be a great way to warm up because they play pretty damn fast for a folk metal band.

The main man in the band goes by Yarosvet and he plays guitar and provides the male vocals. The rhythm section, Pavel Ivanov on bass and Sergey Glebov on drums, have been with him since 2009, which means that the new fish is a female vocalist, Evgenia Vitlugina, who joined in 2013. While Yarosvet has a raspy voice, if not raspy enough to make it to a death growl, Vitlugina has a sweet one that's also confidently powerful. They alternate lead duties on songs, rather than sing together.

They both shine on the first song, Ярость (or Rage). The backing is mostly fast and energetic and Yarosvet's voice fits that approach well. When the band slows down a little and Vitlugina gets the mike, it becomes much more interesting, not least because she's backed by swelling keyboards and what sounds like a flute but may be more keyboards. Whichever, it gets as much time in the spotlight as the guitar and that makes for two songs in one.

That continues on the title track, but the partners swap, so that Vitlugina sings over blitzkrieg backing. It's a delightful mix and I'd love to see it played live because I want to see how the audience react to it. That flute is playful creature and it clearly wants us to dance, while the rest of the band just as clearly want us to start a pit and burn off energy that way. I love the idea of an audience doing both or switching back and forth with the sections of the song.

Стожар describe what they do as 'Slavonic pagan metal' which is as good a description as any, I guess, with songs such as Славянская Сила (or Slavic Power) on the album. I have little idea what they're singing about but the song titles revolve around dancing, battles and winter. The former two are lively activities and the sheer energy that this band radiate fits them. In the rare occasions that the energy boils away, we're left with quiet piano and the sound of the wind, so the latter is covered too.

There's plenty of emotion alongside the energy. My favourite song may well be Ночи Хоровод (or Nights Round Dance), with Vitlugina's voice soaring in the sky above blistering backing that I can only assume mimics whatever the dance is. It slows down at points with some enticing keyboard work to back her, but soon speeds back up again, with Yarosvet eventually joining in the fray. The keyboards are dominant often onthis album and they make this song less like a dance and more like a tornado of death.

It runs long, seven and a half minutes, like a few other songs here. Стожар don't like to cut things off too soon and I'm thankful for that. None of the three long songs feel drawn out at all. Bizarrely, Голос Мечей (or Voice of Swords), yet another lively dance of a song, feels just as substantial when it's almost two minutes shorter. These are immersive songs and time passes differently when we're enthralled by them.

I like this a lot and haven't heard much like it, the most prominent Slavic music in my background being Romania's Bucovina, who play a very different style of Slavic folk metal. I'd love to know who else plays music like this because I feel invigorated just listening to it, so I think I'm going to be signing up for VK, the Russian Facebook, on which there seems to be a busy group called Slavonic Folk Metal. So far in June, they've posted about Ярл, Velesar, Motanka, Калевала, Orion, Sakramant and Стожар. Discovery is joy.

By the way, beware official websites. I've found two listed thus far: one doesn't exist at all and the other has turned into a porn site.

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