Drudkh - Forgotten Legends

Drudkh - <em>Forgotten Legends</em>

Drudkh is fast becoming one of my favorite bands, bar genre. Generally categorized as black metal, the Ukrainian nationalist horde also draws extensively on Eastern European folk music to create sweeping dirges that seethe with half-buried polyrhythms. Leader and guitarist Roman Saenko has long flirted with fascism, and though the band’s lyrics are apparently (and perhaps thankfully) indecipherable even to native Ukrainians, the music is clearly inspired by a vision of traditional village life as a well of hate, force, and beauty.

Drudkh’s most recent album, 2009’s Microcosmos, included moments of classic rock guitar and high-end production that starkly set off the grimy black metal buzz. For those like me who discovered the band late, it’s fascinating to compare Forgotten Legends, their first album from 2003, just re-released on the label Season of Mist.

Most of the band’s trademarks are already in place. Textures are dense, song names evince a pagan fascination with nature (“Forests in Fire and Gold;” and track lengths reliably hover around the ten minute mark.)

Still, there are differences. As befits a first outing, Forgotten Legends sounds unpolished. There are no keyboards, and the drumming is further up in the mix; an insistent brutal thudding that makes the album simultaneously more propulsive and more ominously monotonous. The first track, “False Dawn,” opens with a bird’s cry, and then roars out with a noise-drenched primitivism reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, the Stooges, or even Hasil Adkins.

Those folks could well have been direct influences, or it could simply be a case of parallel evolution. In either case, the arty underground’s retro-fetishization and post-modernization of roots rock’s garageier moments is mirrored by Drudkh’s retro fetishization and modernization of Ukrainian folk rhythms. Eastern European philosopher Slavoj Zizek talks about “The authentic twentieth-century passion for penetrating the Real Thing (ultimately the destructive Void).” In Drudkh’s “Eternal Turn of the Wheel”, you can hear all of that — passion, Real, Void. The leaden drum and the wall of feedback press down on the almost obscured but constantly resurgent melody, as if the music intends both to uncover and to obliterate its own soul.

Pop music gets much of its energy from the distance between roots sources and commercial product; the aching gap that results from loving the (largely fictional) primitive and realizing that the love is itself a measure of what’s lost. Or, to put it another way, if you’re actually a blues musician, you don’t need to fetishize traditional blues. Such nostalgia can come across as half-hearted affectation or ironic wink. Drudkh, though, makes it sound like a ragged wound. Particularly on this first, raw effort, roots exploration for this band seems to mean digging through stones and thorns with your bare hands, searching for chunks of your own bloody flesh amidst your own muffled cries of rage.

Recommended Tracks: “False Dawn,” “Eternal Turn of the Wheel”

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