Friday, 5 March 2010

Alatyr - Alatyr (2007) 80/100.

I assume there might be a temptation for some to misleading label Alatyr’s self-titled debut as being of the depressive mould, but there are definitely qualities from other sub-genres within the delicate ambiance of the record that disassociate itself from that particular movement within the black metal scene. Alatyr are adept at creating a wide ranging style of black metal that touches upon several styles, including ambient, atmospheric and even pagan forms. When judging what characteristics make this debut a hit amongst the fans it is easy to look towards the repetitious dirges of the guitars and the fierce rasps of vocalist Striibog when, in actual fact, it is that and much, much more. Although Alatyr have their sound divulge into several different takes on black metal, I still find myself able to make references to depressive bands without wanting to send out the message that this itself is of that nature, too, when it clearly isn’t if one takes the time to fully explore the simplistic structures more carefully. I myself consider this one of the hidden gems of European ambient black metal considering its use of divine keyboards to conjure up an imperative epic feeling in the soundscapes. However, this record isn’t without its problems.

The eclectic cover of Darkthrone’s classic, ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ and the opening two songs, of which one is a fully instrumental song, do hint at a few issues with which Alatyr need to address but, overall, this record establishes a theme of ambiance and epic attributes that qualify it as an obscure gem of the underground. To my ears, I hear a resemblance to fellow European bands like Trist and, to a lesser extent, Hypothermia. Trist are primarily the example I would like to use when comparing this self-titled piece to any other. I don’t fool myself and I hope not to fool anyone else into believing that Alatyr are a carbon copy of Trist because they’re not. In fact, the pagan themes wouldn’t allow such an occurrence to happen and forcibly shunt the records mannerisms away from that of any other band, making this an individualistic effort with several possible influences and no overriding influence which forces the listener to believe this is a direct result of one particular band, or record made in the past. The use of keyboards, in particular, is pivotal to the success of Alatyr and is the sole reason that they do not become just another face in the bustling crowd.

I have come to expect keyboards to be used on outfits that revolve around issues of a pagan nature, but not to the same affect as Alatyr. Striibog cleverly pieces together an impressive epic atmosphere on most of the songs through the use of keyboards alone, although he also provides the buzzing, rasping vocals with which we’re probably all accustomed to hearing on a record of this type. Normally, pagan and folk music intertwine and sometimes, the conclusions can be lost in translation with much of the instrumentation yielding a poor outcome, but the experimentation of this self-titled piece is cleverly weaved in and around the modernity in such a way that no form of hybrid sounds will disrupt the harmony. For example, ‘Prazdnota’, another instrumental song, is wonderfully juxtaposed with the brilliant ‘Hviezdy’, a song which exudes the true qualities of the band. ‘Prazdnota’ is unlike any of the songs before, or after it. Composing mainly of Striibog’s pivotal keyboards and slow percussion, this song reflects a beauty that isn’t seen in most bands of this nature. To me, there is a desire to reference such artists as Burzum given Varg’s experimentation with folksy keyboard based songs and long instrumentals such as the thought provoking ‘Tomhet’ on the classic ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’.

‘Tomhet’ is a song that made slow, beautiful ambiance a key feature on most atmospheric black metal records of this kind. Alatyr take Varg’s prison work and give it an extra sense of credibility due to the superior production values and better quality of the instruments being used. A traditional feeling isn’t unheard of within Alatyr’s record, though it certainly harbours a modernity through the use of slow, repetitious riffs akin to bands like Trist, with a surprising emphasis on cleaner instrumentation, as shown perfectly on the stunning ‘Hviezdy’, which isn’t without its typical distorted guitars also (making for wonderful juxtaposition). As previously stated, there are traditional aspects to this piece, too. The cover of Darkthrone’s classic, for example, is one song where these hints come to life in surreal fashion. I must admit that I was taken aback by the cover since it varies from the original in key places, whilst maintaining the sense of keyboards on the record by intertwining them into Darkthrone’s grim classic and making it more colourful and bright even. The true essence of the song is the same with emphasis on repetitious blast beast and cutting guitar riffs, but the vocals feel TOO buried and the tone of the song too sloppy to consider it a worthwhile element of the record. For me, the cover shouldn’t have been included. It has no real place and doesn’t move in the same direction as the rest of the material. Despite this, Alatyr still end with their heads held high and onto a potentially successful future in ambient/atmospheric black metal.

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