Friday 23 August 2019

Изморозь - Культ (2019)

Country: Russia
Style: Pagan Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Apr 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | VK

Here's one I missed earlier in the year. I've finally got round to finding a phone so I can sign up for the Russian social media network called VK. In a community dedicated to the Russian folk metal outfit Стожар, whose album, Холодом Битв В Объятья Зимы, I enjoyed back in June, I saw a Best of 2019 poll. Ten bands had albums listed and Стожар made it to second with 13% of the vote. Way out in front, though, with a whopping 62% of the vote were a band named Изморозь with this album.

I don't read Cyrillic, so I'm relying on Google Translate to help me out. I believe the band's name is Hoarfrost, they hail from Moscow where they began life as a side project of folk metal band Ashen Light and this, their ninth album, is called Cult. I just had to track it down and see whether Изморозь have a heck of a lot of friends willing to vote in the social media polls or whether this is really that great an album.

Well, I have to say that I enjoyed Стожар more, but I enjoyed this too and it's continuing to grow on me. In many ways Изморозь could be seen as a dark side to Стожар. Instead of light and lively keyboards and clean and melodic female vocals, they play their folk metal with a black metal influence and a subversive nature.

It's often catchy stuff that's hardly serious in nature, as we discover on the two minute blitz of an opening song. I don't read Cyrillic so Медведь, балалайка, водка! means nothing to me, but the chorus makes it clear that the final two words are "balalaika" and "vodka", which need no translation; the first turns out to be "bear". Listening to this song alone, I knew that I had to share it with my son, who's a Trollfest fan.

Even when the songs aren't that wild, they're short and punchy. The longest falls short of the five minute mark and a couple are under three. What sells the dark side for me are the vocals, which are delivered if by a lascivious bearded dwarf with plenty of mead in him, even though I see from photos that precisely none of those attributes are the case. I'd like Trollfest if they had different vocals; I like Изморозь in large part because of them.

I don't know if these memorable lead vocals are provided by Belf or Kiv, as there are two vocalists here; the former also handles the bass and keyboards while the latter plays the guitars. Behind them on drums is Gumanoid. All three are highly experienced, having played in long lists of bands and on many albums and that experience shows here.

While much of this is a heady mix of fast drums and folk melodies delivered by prominent keyboards presumably masquerading as a variety of instruments, with those lascivious vocals emphasising them, there's actually quite a lot going on here. Злой князь (The Evil Princ) begins like Rammstein as a folk metal band. Берега храбрых (The Shores of the Brave) has a Celtic mediaeval feel to it. Лавка смерти (Death Bench) features a lot of variation in speed and plenty of what sound like flutes and other ethnic instruments. It kicks off like speed metal with bagpipes and I'm all for that!

And there are bizarre moments that I can't imagine are deliberate but, hey, may just be. Most come courtesy of the keyboards. I couldn't help but hear the Inspector Gadget theme on Злой князь, even if it isn't a likely source. I also my favourite game soundtrack on the opener and I'd be truly shocked if this bunch of Muscovite black/ folk metalheads grew up playing Fuzzy's World of Miniature Space Golf too.

I liked this on a first listen and I like it more with each further time through It's Изморозь's ninth album and there are EPs in their discography too. I'll be exploring those for sure.

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