Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Album Review: Alkonost - "Песни Вечного Древа"

Alkonost - Песни Вечного Древа

Artist: Alkonost (Russia)
Album Title: Песни Вечного Древа (Songs of the Eternal Oak)
Label: Metalism Records (Russia)
Released: 2007

The earliest Alkonost release (not including demos) was the cassette-only "album" Songs of the Eternal Oak in 2000. These songs were released on CD, along with the Spirit Tending To Revolt demo, as the eponymous Alkonost in 2002. The Russian folk metal band was a different beast back in the Songs of the Eternal Oak days, with their relatively raw production and black metal-ish male vocals, as opposed to the heavily-female-voiced, cleanly-produced folk metal that they began making with the release of Between the Worlds in 2004. The vocals of Alex "Nightbird" Solovyov didn't fully disappear (except on Between the Worlds' Russian-language re-recording, Межмирье... what was up with that?), instead alternating with the beautiful operatic vocals of Alena Pelevina, but I would imagine that, for fans of Alkonost's early releases, the transition between the Songs of the Eternal Oak material and Between the Worlds must have been jarring.

I'm not sure how many old-school Alkonost fans continued to follow the band during this transition period, but, for those who sometimes yearn for the old days while still enjoying the progressions and changes that Alkonost has made over the past several years, Песни Вечного Древа may be of interest to you. Though, now that I think about it, if you're one of these fans I just described, then you've probably owned this album for over a year, in which case this "review" is pretty much useless to you. So let me start again: for fans of Alkonost's newer albums who may not be familiar with the beginnings of this band, Песни Вечного Древа may be of interest to you.

For the most part, Песни Вечного Древа is a Russian language re-recording of the classic Songs of the Eternal Oak. They also include "День последний мой" (a new Russian language version of "My Last Day" from Spirit Tending To Revolt), which is a really nice version of one of my favorite Alkonost songs, and a song called "К родимой стороне," which may be a new recording of an old song, but, if it is, I'm not familiar with the original. This song is also unique in that it features guest vocals by Ilya from Svarga (Russia... not the Ukrainian NS pagan metal band) and Alexandr from Rarog (also from Russia, not the Polish band). Alexandr seems to get around, because he also did guest vocals on the album by Rodogor, which I should also get around to reviewing one of these days. [May 14th edit: He's also in Kalevala, who just released their debut. Must get my hands on that CD.]

How Песни Вечного Древа differs from every Alknost album released since 2004 is that the excellent harsh vocals of Alex "Nightbird" dominate the album. Alena only appears on a few songs, and even then her presence is minimal. I greatly enjoy her voice, but since these songs were originally done with only a male vocalist, it makes sense to put Alexey back in the spotlight for this recording. Because there's very little singing to balance out the growling, this gives the album a bit of a harder edge than other newer Alkonost albums, though the music and production is pretty much the same as what they've been doing recently. This may cause it to have more appeal for those who prefer the growled vocals, or those who feel that Alkonost (or at least newer Alkonost) is a bit too "wimpy." I have no idea, though. I enjoy both newer and older Alkonost, though I prefer the newer material because of Alena's voice and the modern production.

Though many if not all of these songs are more than 10 years old, and were written during the formative years of the band, they hold up rather well when compared to the songs that appear on The Path We've Never Made or Stone Heart Blood. The album has plenty of great moments, though it holds few surprises for those who own the original Songs of the Eternal Oak or Alkonost. And those who don't feel that one set of vocals can hold up the entire album (or who can't imagine Alkonost without Alena's vocals featured prominently) may be disappointed in the album. However, I think many fans will find this to their liking, as I have. I'm not exactly sure why Alkonost has chosen to re-record so many of their old songs with Russian lyrics, but in this case they've given us a newly-polished version of a great album, which I would imagine is good news to those who haven't warmed up to the more raw production and harsher sound of the original.

Perhaps it's not a "must" for every Alkonost fan, but Песни Вечного Древа is still a great listen and a worthwhile purchase for those of us who can't get enough of them. It's almost worth it just for the new version of "My Last Day."

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