Monday, September 17, 2007

Album Review: Volh - "Solemn March Into the Ragnarok"

Volh - Solemn March into the Ragnarok

Band: Volh (Russia)
Album Title: Solemn March Into the Ragnarok
Label: Vacula Productions (Ukraine) / Othal Productions (Russia)
Released: 2006

When Russian pagan folk band Volkolak issued their metal album Dark Shine of Scales, many fans of the band were dismayed. Had they abandoned their folk sound for good, some wondered? Not to worry. In actuality, Dark Shine of Scales pre-dated their folk material by a few years. It had just taken a while for it to be released, for whatever reasons (I'd rather not know, personally).

While Dark Shine may be Volkolak's least-popular material, a few of us were intrigued by the sound. It was an interesting artifact, certainly, and not a terrible metal album, either, though somewhat mediocre.

Those that enjoyed Dark Shine may be interested in Solemn March Into the Ragnarok by Volh, a band (side project?) fronted by Grigori Kirjuhin of Volkolak (and possibly featuring other Volkolak members, though I'm not sure). More or less, it picks up where Dark Shine left off. This is hateful-sounding pagan metal through and through. The only folk sound to be found is a lonely jaw harp on a few tracks. Everything else is guitar, bass, drums (machine?), and Grigori's (here called Volkh) angry, distorted vocals. At a few points in the album, he also employs his Volkolak-sounding clean vocals, which is probably the only way anyone not familiar with Dark Shine of Scales may link the two bands, sound-wise.

Musically, Volh plays a relentless form of black metal, with lots of tremolo picking and blastbeats. This is not a style of music that I listen to very often, so I must admit that sometimes the drums give me a headache. However, the riffs are very melodic and I enjoyed the distorted vocals.

The songs don't do much to differentiate themselves from each other the first few listens. However, I particularly enjoyed the opener, "Don't Believe," and the seventh track, "Let Shine in the Spears of Valkyries Names of My Sons." There are also no instrumentals or pointless intros, which is refreshing. When you hear several dozen pagan metal albums begin with the sounds of battle or waves or nature sounds, followed by a 3 minute synth intro (believe me, I've been guilty of this in my own project, so I'm not trying to put anyone down), it's nice to hear a band get right to business and keep it moving until the album ends. However, it can also be exhausting. Fortunately, with 8 tracks at 45 minutes, Solemn March Into the Ragnarok is a good length.

This isn't an album that is likely to make much of an impact in the pagan metal scene, especially since it is limited to 1,000 copies. However, those looking for bands in the fast black metal style but with pagan lyrical themes may want to check it out. Volkolak fans may not be interested unless, like me, they enjoyed Dark Shine of Scales to some extent. I've found it to be an enjoyable release. It's not for everybody, but it's a solid debut for Volh and for Ukraine's Vacula Productions. Hopefully we will see more from each.