It seems that more and more bands (though still a small number) have been springing their albums by surprise, with little advance notice and no preview tracks, and the Ukrainian powerhouse Kroda did that at midnight last night, launching a new album named Selbstwelt on Bandcamp (though I confess that I was given an opportunity to hear the album in advance of that release).
Selbstwelt (The Land of Selbst) is Kroda’s seventh full-length studio album and joins a discography that also includes EPs, live recordings, and compilations. It follows a live album, Kälte Aurora – Live In Lemberg II, and is the band’s first studio release since 2015’s Навій схрон (Navij Skhron) (reviewed here), which was a significant departure from most previous Kroda releases, consisting of six ghostly and chilling ambient-music tracks and three black metal songs (including an electrifying cover of a song by Kroda’s countrymen Nokturnal Mortum), each different from the others and all still different in some ways from the pulse of Kroda’s past music.
Selbstwelt can be understood as both a return to earlier times and as a culmnation up of the band’s career so far. In Kroda’s own words:
“Perhaps Selbstwelt is a quintessence of the entire creative period of the band, it has absorbed the magical tincture of everything boiled in the infernal cauldron of Kroda during all the 15 years of its existence. Furthermore, there is another symbolic detail, the album’s title song, the Land of Selbst, has been created in the distant 1999… and now the moment of its rebirth has come.
“The essence of Selbstwelt flows out from the arcane source emanated by the symbiosis of mysticism, psychoanalysis and alchemy in the point where Nordic Seidr traditions, shivaism and tantra, shamanic practices and experience of altered states of consciousness meet together in a philosophy which we used to call Integral Satanism.
“Let the rainy stream of this music wash yourselves down to the Chthonic Abyss of your souls, admit your drowning back to the depth of subconsciousness, face the Black Infinity of your true nature… It is calling you, this call meanders through the lyrics thread which as well as in the previous albums is a Grimoire saturated with experience of numerous numinous mystical trials.
“Kroda wishes you all an exciting journey by the River of Sacred Silence! Heil Ragnarok!”
The Bandcamp stream, which you’ll find below, includes the lyrics referred to above. They speak of veins pulsing with the black flame of rebellion, and the pain of broken wings; of the spirit of the forest and the Wild Hunt, greedy and savage and as cold and piercing as the moonlight or the aurora borealis; of grieving firmaments and air trembling with legions of winds, and of veils cut by blades of lightning; of bitter melancholy and visions glimpsed in seasons of shadow; of the voice of the abyss calling from the land of Selbst; of forgotten temples and rain seeding the echoes of dreams.
The words frequently evoke the imagery of nature and resonate in mystical tones, with shades of despair and yearning in the mix, as well as feelings of conviction and discovery.
From the new album’s opening “Credo” forward, there is also a mystical and ritualistic air about the music… but that’s only one aspect of what the album presents. There is also tremendous, fiery energy in these songs. The music is often bursting with near-blinding vibrancy, sometimes torrentially savage, but also soaring to great heights of magnificent grandeur. Hammering and swirling riffs and galloping drum rhythms get the blood rushing, while sweeping keyboard melodies, trilling guitar leads, and the haunting tones of a flute send the mind off into realms of unearthly glory and mystic wonder.
There are also quiet movements of poignant melancholy, accented by acoustic guitar and the soulful, aching melody of cello strings, as well as moods of stately and solemn reverence, or of dreadful gloom. The album is also a headbanger’s delight; if you’re looking for music with brawny physicality and a primal punch, you’ll find that here along with so much else.
In all of its changing moods, the music is emotionally quite powerful — you feel conviction in everything — and in keeping with that, the vocals are themselves shattering in the intensity of their raw passion (which will come as no surprise to those familiar with Kroda’s music). Wrenching agony flows from them, and so do sounds of bestial fury, implacable defiance, and incandescent ecstasy.
All of the full songs are impressively multifaceted, and richly textured, and all of them are home to memorable, soul-stirring melodies. They’re also produced in a way that delivers all this penetrating emotional power with tremendous sonic force and clarity as well.
The album ends with a “bonus” — a cover of Summoning’s “Like Some Snow-White Marble Eyes” from 1999’s Stronghold (preceded by one of two “interlude” tracks on the album). As performed by Kroda, the track fits the rest of the album beautifully, presenting a sharp contrast between the brute force of the deep, jolting riff and the gossamer lightness of the intensely memorable flute melody and the shimmering synth. If you don’t feel your heart trying to leap from your chest by the end of this wondrous album, then the woes of the world may have taken too great a toll on your well-being.
I haven’t spent as much time with Selbstwelt as I would like, and so I can’t yet know how this will sit with me over the long haul, but at this moment I think it might be Kroda’s crowning achievement to date, and a record that seems destined for a lot of AOTY lists, even with nine months left to go. I have little doubt that it will have tremendous staying power.