Friday 12 July 2019

Чиста Криниця - Храм Природи (2019)

Country: Ukraine
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 8 Jun 2019
Sites: Metal Archives | Official Website | VK | YouTube

Folk metal is such a versatile genre that I really shouldn't be surprised at the next album I find any more, but when I slapped on a folk metal album by a band from the Ukraine, I really wasn't expecting to hear a harp dancing in front of the metal backing of the opening track. Храм природи does translate to Temple of Nature, so it fits, but I dug it a lot and it really grabbed my attention. For a while, it's entirely instrumental but, when vocalist Ruslan joins in and runs through three different styles in all of five seconds, he hooked me completely and I knew I had to review this.

I'll mention him now because the lead vocalist is usually the focal point of a band and he kind of isn't, really, even though he's really good at what he does. His first utterance sounds like a death growl but he raises it into an old school heavy metal style and ends up in symphonic territory. He wails in fine form on Непотопаючий корабель, or A Drowning Ship, exhibiting rather an impressive range. He could easily dominate a band if he wanted to but that's not what he does here.

If the focal point isn't the lead vocalist, then it's the lead guitarist, of course, right? Well, wrong. Again, Volodimir Galaida does precisely what he needs to do, but the guitars here appear to be part of the rhythm section, a solid wall in front of which the more unusual instruments strut their stuff and even solo as needed. Some of those seem to be stringed, whether they're harps or lutes or what have you, so I presume that at least some of them are here courtesy of Galaida but I'm only seeing him listed as guitar and there are less guitar solos here than I expected.

Whatever isn't Galaida is surely the work of Tim Hresvelg on keyboards, who stood out to me. The real question here is about which is which and I have little idea. I would expect that the extended keyboard solo in Доки падала краплина, or Until a Drop Fell, is Hresvelg, as is the melodic line that dominates Непотопаючий корабель. However, is that Hresvelg on harpsichord on Сонячне місто (Sunny City) or could it be Galaida on zither? Keyboards are so versatile nowadays and I'm no expert on ethnic eastern European instruments.

The point is that Hresvelg is never entirely satisfied with adding textures or layers like most keyboard players. When he does just that on Мертві дощі, or Dead Rains, it feels like he's holding back. He sees his keyboard as a lead instrument, like he's in a seventies prog rock band. My assumption is that a lot of the textures here come from him introducing other sounds, like the pipes on Велика подорож, or Great Trip, and the woodblocks on Доки падала краплина that sound like they were borrowed from Martin Denny.

The other thing that threw me here is the fact that this doesn't sound like a folk metal album at all, except on Доки падала краплина, where things cut loose into an ethnic dance for a while. For the most part, this is a metal album, pure and simple, that merely brings in folk instrumentation to take the lead rather a lot. In other words, this isn't a metal band playing folk music, like the Finns with their drinking songs, it's a metal band playing metal music with some folk instruments as an integral part of their sound. I like that.

I like this album too. I hadn't heard of Чиста Криниця before and I'm unable to translate it, beyond Chysta Krynycya, which doesn't mean anything to me. However, they've been around for a while, since 2005 under this name and for another six years under others, initially Bad Dreams, then Dead Dreams and, for most of that period, Morose Months of Melancholy. That seems like an odd name because there's not much doom here. Maybe there was early last decade.

I can see myself listening to this a lot, but I also have the opportunity to follow the band backwards, because this is their sixth album, coming three years after Азовець. Their trend seems to be to wait three years to release a new album, then knock out another a year later. If they hold to that, we ought to expect another one in 2020 and I'll be watching out for it.

I'll wrap up by pointing out that it's a deceptive album. I was going with a 7/10 because it's clearly good stuff, but then I realised that I'd flagged almost the entire album as highlight tracks. A couple more listens and this promptly became my first 8/10 for July. And I'm not done exploring it yet!

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