Schwarzpfad album cover
Kroda (Ukraine) – Schwarzpfad (Purity Through Fire, 2011)
Kroda has for a long time been one of the cornerstones of Ukrainian black and pagan metal pantheons. Ever since the excellent “Cry to me, river” was unveiled in 2004, the duo refined their craft and evolved to new heights. From an obscure studio outfit, they worked their way onto the live circuit, exposing the material to the hungry audience. Hence it was to the disappointment of many, when guitarist and composer Viterzgir announced his departure from the group. Responsible for the vast portion of the band’s music as well as photography, his absence cast a rather obvious shadow on the future of Kroda.
But time does not stand still, and as time went on, rumours about re-surfacing of the project were officially confirmed. It is of little relevance to this review to focus on the minute details, but the result is something that speaks for itself. Schwarzpfad is not only picking up where the old material has left, but raises the bar much higher than even the old material suggested. Re-vamped and revitalised band has adopted a darker image, and sound slightly closer to the black metal of the 90’s, without discarding entirely the folky flourishes and melodic progressions of their early work. The overall sonic impression is that of a sharper, more aggressive approach that is more mature and accomplished.
One can speculate endlessly on what could and could not have been; who is right and wrong concerning Viterzgir’s departure and the future direction of either musician. Regardless of this, one thing that is undisputable is that Schwarzpfad is an incredibly strong album, with excellent musicianship, great dynamics, and a hungry spirit that I haven’t heard in Kroda’s music in a fairly long time. Stripped of some unnecessary complexities, like a pruned apple tree, the band has emerged obviously stronger and more inspired about their craft. The album is a very intelligent and seamless mix of ferocious black metal and gentle folk melodies – but more importantly, one that contains good, memorable songs that all have their own identities without compromising the whole.
Those familiar with Kroda’s material recorded hitherto will remember the thick, distorted metal riffing, with overabundance of flute melodies, which was full of energy yet occasionally repetitive and inelegant. The tendency to repeat some of the melodies in the course of their albums, and the less successful ideas made the records less cohesive and enjoyable than their potential promised. Schwarzpfad alters this imbalance with much stronger arrangements, better melodies, and without reverting to any ideas from the past. The only links are the flutes and some other folk instrumentation, but this was weaved more carefully through the mix and their place in the songs themselves seems to have been thought through far better this time. Eisenslav’s roaring vocals are also given plenty of space to breathe, without overshadowing the rest of the instruments. Furthermore, the fact that the drums are played live on this album, as opposed to some of their earlier efforts that utilised a drum machine, is a significant booster to the punch and natural delivery of the pieces.
It is indeed hard to pick faults here, and it’s likely that most will rest within individual tastes. The album is fresh, cohesive, brimming with energy and honest passion of the musicians. Each piece acts as a movement in the story, bringing a far more profound, conceptual and flowing feel to the experience – something that a simple collection of songs couldn’t achieve. One does wish however, that such a great re-emergence continues, and that the musicians do not rest on their laurels. There’s always room for growth and development, may their next album be a testament to this knowledge.8/10
Reviewed by Alexei Gudimenko