Between about 1930 and 1945, in an area of Europe that included eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic republics, approximately 14 million innocent people were shot, gassed, or intentionally starved to death. As if in the most grotesque competition imaginable, Stalin and Hitler shared responsibility for the mass slaughter, and more than half of it occurred outside the Nazi gas chambers and death camps, often in more obscure circumstances, in villages and the countryside. Both Jews and non-Jews were shot to death by the millions, simply penned like animals and deprived of food, or otherwise forced into famine. The scale is unimaginable; in Belarus alone, one quarter of its population were killed as a result of the convergence of these two brutal, totalitarian regimes.
The details of these mass exterminations were gathered together by Yale historian Timothy Snyder in a well-reviewed and award-winning 2010 book named Bloodlands – Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. To write it, he assembled an enormous mass of fresh research on Soviet and Nazi murder, much of it emerging from archives once sealed behind the Iron Curtain, and some of it his own, in order to produce, as one reviewer put it, “something like a final and definitive account” of these terrors.
It seems no coincidence that the Italian black metal band Totalitarian chose Bloodlands as the name of their new album, which will be released on April 12th by Barren Void (with distribution through Lavadome Productions). It too thematically focuses on the unprecedented and unequaled violence committed in that area in those years — not to celebrate what happened, but to use their music as a representation of the taste for humiliation and the instinct for annihilation that seems to have poisoned the consciousness of humankind in the past, and forevermore.
It’s an unmistakably bleak and nihilistic vision. As the press materials recount, “Bloodlands will drag you through the ruins of Warsaw, across the fields of Treblinka, into the marshes of Belarus, or to the death pits of Babi Yar”. It channels “the terror, the darkness without glare, when despair and anguish served just as an overture to a deadly end” — “the paralyzing touch of immaculate fear, the danger which can’t be seen, yet its menacing presence would define eternity with the taste of ashes and blood left behind”.
What kind of music confronts these abominations with the conviction that they represent something perpetual in human nature?
The first song released for listening from Bloodlands was the opening track, “1933“. In that year, it’s estimated that a famine intentionally caused by Stalinist programs killed between 3 million and 10 million Ukrainians (pinning down the precise number is now an impossibility). A steady, martial drum cadence and choral voices begin the track, but it soon becomes a terrorizing assault of heavy-caliber drum blasting and blazing, writhing, heaving riffs that seem to channel both vicious cruelty and extravagant agony, with scalding vocal tirades that are no less extravagant in their extremity. The explosive impact of the music is staggering; the rapidly morphing riffs sound like clarion calls of madness.
The song we present today, the album’s fourth track, is “Liberators“, which focuses on the slaughter that the Germans inflicted on non-combatants in Eastern Europe, including Belarus and the Baltics. In this instance, the rapidly tumbling percussion and gleaming guitars in the intro seem to portray moods of soul-plundering grief, but this song also ignites — in an effusion of tumultuous drumming and frenzied, mind-bending chords that feel like the collision of blood-lusting violence and mortal terror, of murderous barbarism and shattering fear and pain.
“Liberators” is an electrifying display of chaos, the work of instrumental speed demons operating in the red zone of their craft — but the trilling melody that surfaces at the end hints again at the mournfulness of the song’s opening.
The entire album is as powerful as these two songs, but also reveals further alluring nuances within Totalitarian‘s brand of nihilistic black metal. It is recommended for fans of Marduk, Zyklon B, Angelcorpse, Mayhem, Sammath, and early 1349.
01 1933 (4:32)
02 On The Wings Of The Great Terror (5:13)
03 Defeated, Destroyed And Divided (3:57)
04 Liberators (4:20)
05 Of Bullets And Gas (5:31)
06 Deathcult Eternal (2:28)