About two months ago, thanks to a laudatory Facebook post by Agalloch, I found out about a Ukrainian black-metal band called Kroda. They had just begun streaming a not-completely-final version of their fourth album, Schwarzpfad (“the black path”), for a limited time. I was completely enthralled by the music and had that stream on a nearly continuous loop for as long as it lasted.
Eventually, the stream ended, I began experiencing withdrawal symptoms, was admitted to a hospital for observation, was ultimately released, and was a broken man for weeks afterward until Schwarzpfad became available for unauthorized download at the end of May.
I’ve listened to a shitload of other music since then, but I continue returning to Schwarzpfad. It’s more than 50 minutes of music, but I’ve lost count of how many times it has kept me company. It’s way past time for me to repay Kroda for all that pleasure, and for much more to come, with a few words of heart-felt praise:
Schwarzpfad is without doubt one of the best albums I’ve heard this year and one of the most memorable black-metal albums I’ve ever heard — an immaculate marriage of beautiful, folk-influenced melodies, black ‘n’ roll strut, and bestial voraciousness. It’s a brilliantly conceived, complex work that yields something new with every listen. Highly recommended.
Okay, I wasn’t being completely honest when I said “few words”; there are more words after the jump, plus music, of course.
The album’s five long tracks function almost as movements in a symphony, transitioning without pause from one to the next, and indeed they’re titled as parts of a whole (I through V), with subtitles: “First Snow”, “Universal Provenances”, “Forefather of Hangmen”, “Heil Ragnarok!”, and “Cold Aurora”.
There are definable movements within the songs as well, as the band establishes musical themes and then spins out variations on them, using a variety of instruments and tones to carry the emotional leading-edge of these creations. Foremost are the layered guitars, moving between (and often combining) jabbing dissonant riffs; slashing rock chords; echoing melodies that arc into space; and powerful tremolo-executed waves of sonic force.
The pagan/folk music influence appears throughout the first four songs on the album, sometimes through the high-pitched tremolo guitar melodies (reminiscent of a balalaika), and often through interludes in which a changing combination of flute, acoustic guitar, and ambient synthesizer carry the melodies.
The performance of the rhythm section on Schwarzpfad is just as strong as that of the lead instruments. Unlike most “traditional” black metal, the songs on Schwarzpfad feature vivid, often intricate bass lines that are quite audible. Nor do the drums take a back-seat. No muffled rumbling, more felt than heard, on this album, but instead an exercise in well-integrated variety — flashing from black ‘n’ roll rock-beats to rumbling double-bass and scorching blasts to complex fills that wouldn’t be amiss on a prog-metal album.
Not to be outdone by all the instrumental extravagance, the vocal performances on the album are equally varied — lung-bursting shrieks of agonized extremity; deep, caustic growls; ghostly whispers; the wordless notes of a massed chorus; and even clean vocal harmonies on “Heil Ragnarok!”.
Over the course of tracks I through IV, the emotional mood is in constant flux as the band transitions from rolling gallops to plaintive laments, from swirling folk-dances to headbanging romps, from passages of almost peaceful reflection to blast-waves of screaming outrage.
The final track (at just over 7 minutes, the shortest of the five) draws the album to a close with a synthesized instrumental piece, orchestral in style, evoking a mood captured by its title — “Cold Aurora”. It moves from an ambient drone into a slow, dreamlike melody, with shimmering tones, the swell of strings, long flute-like notes, and finally the sound of a tide advancing and receding on a cold beach, subsiding into silence.
In both conception and execution, Schwarzpfad is a tremendously impressive work of melodic black metal that commands attention and respect. It’s music that’s both serious-minded and bloody-minded. It kicks out the jams with a vengeance just as often as it carries you away on horseback through dark northern forests. It becomes even more impressive when you realize that it seems to be the creation of a single multi-talented individual (Eisenslav) — the first Kroda album since the band became a solo effort following the departure of Viterzgir in 2010.
In discussing music, words can only take you so far (particularly my words), and so, as always, we want you to listen, too. Here’s Part I of Schwarzpfad, “First Snow”:[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/1.Schwarzpfad-I-First-Snow.mp3|titles=Kroda – Schwarzpfad I (First Snow)]
Maybe my delay in writing this review isn’t all bad, because now I can tell you that, as of last week, Schwarzpfad has become available for order from Purity Through Fire (via this link) in a special digipack edition with a 20-page booklet, pictured below.
For more information about Kroda, visit the band’s official site or their Facebook page.
Buying it. Buying it right now. Need it.
Although I’d question your statement “Unlike most “traditional” black metal, the songs on Schwarzpfad feature vivid, often intricate bass lines that are quite audible.” as all/most (all… let’s go with all just for hyperbole) of the black metal acts I love feature a prominent bass presence. In fact, taking Marduk as a prime example, I’d say that to be a good black metal act these days you need to have a bassist who knows his shit. Otherwise you ARE just rehashing old self-consciously “necro” ideals with no real purpose.
I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert on black metal — I’m still learning, and there’s a lot to learn — but the older albums I’ve heard have a barely audible bass presence, and the drums are muffled. Everything is treble-shifted. I much prefer the more “modern” sound in which the treble and bass parts of the register are more balanced, the sound more “rounded”. In general, I like music that’s got a “heavy” low end, and Kroda certainly has that, along with much else besides.
I think it’s more that there’s a difference between “traditional” black metal, and “old” black metal. After all the “necro” bass sound comes about quite a lot due to the lack of recording technology and money available at the time.
For example, I’d consider both Gorgoroth and Dark Funeral examples of a more “traditional” black metal mindset, but both of those really have an important bass presence.
Wow, this is fantastic. Ifyou’re looking for more “well-rounded” sounding black metal bands. give “Der Weg einer Freiheit” a listen. Really awesome stuff, just wrote about it on Death Metal Baboon a few days ago. I’ll probably be picking this digipak up though, great find!
Thanks Sean, and thanks for the tip about Der Weg einer Freiheit. Looks like they’ve just released a new EP, which I’ll have to track down.
Ah, now I see your review of the EP at DMB:
NO! The page had an error… what I typed isn’t here anymore…
Anyway, great review Islander. Thanks for the review and reminding me about this band. By the time I went to listen to the stream from the previous post about this band, the stream was taken down :/. Over time I forgot about Kroda (or at least put this band to the back of my mind). I remember really liking the logo (I’m a pushover when it comes to awesome logos and artwork…) and I also liked the name. Anyway, I’m definitely going to attempt to get this by the end of the year through some legitimate means… the flute and acoustic interludes were probably my favorite parts.
Well, I do highly recommend getting the CD digipack if you like this music — it looks sweet and I’ve ordered it myself — but there’s a download link in a comment added to our original post about the band, which I allowed to appear only after checking with Eisenslav. Don’t know if it still works . . .
Definitely going for the digipak! 20 page booklet? Don’t mind if I do!
Ooh the label has a free sampler! Downloading that ASAP!
I definitely need to check out this album in full. My financial situation currently prevents me from buying albums unfortunately, but I’ll do what I can to support these guys.
Wow — nice find. I missed that. For everyone else, the download link is on this page (scroll down):
Damn, nice find. This is some of the best Black Metal I’ve heard in a long long fuckin time.
Thanks man. Glad you liked it.
nice! i love these guys, but i hadn’t heard that the new cd was available yet. it’s now on its way to me.
This is very nice!
Also, for some black metal with a heavy low end, check out Nabaath http://deathmetalbaboon.com/nabaath.
I had forgotten about this, thanks for the reminder. Now ordered. Yet another great find.
Thank you! I think I need to put up the second track from this album for streaming later today. I may just put all of them up, one day at a time.
My copy just arrived. It is awesome. Oh yes it is.
Damn, my copy hasn’t arrived yet. Well, there’s one advantage of living in England — it’s closer to the Ukraine than Seattle. I’m sure there are other advantages, though none comes to mind immediately.