Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Album Review: Žrec - Žertva
Artist: Žrec (Czech Republic)
Album Title: Žertva
Record Label: Murderous Music Production (Czech Republic)
Released: 2008 (June)
Most of the well-known Slavonic pagan metal bands come from Russia, Ukraine, or Poland, but fortunately there seems to be a growing presence of bands from other Slavic nations. In this case we have Žrec (a word for a pagan priest), a relatively new band that hails from the Czech Republic. I came across their debut album, Žertva, by chance, and fortunately I did not pass up the opportunity to purchase it, because I have not seen it for sale anywhere since. Hopefully their label will get more copies distributed for sale, because Žrec is a good band that is worth checking out for fans of this kind of music.
Žrec plays pagan metal with a strong folk presence. Much of the folk sound comes from the violin, which is played by guest musician Petra Sélesová. The violin is practically ever-present on the album, sometimes playing folk-ish melodies and other times acting kind of like a lead guitar, since there is only one guitarist in the band. At any rate, it fleshes out the sound and is quite welcome to my ears. There are also flutes on the album, played by band member Ingvarr, who also supplies the clean vocals and keyboards. The other three members, guitarist Torham, bassist/harsh vocalist Soulburner, and drummer Sarapis, also play in a black metal band called Moravská Zima. Žrec sometimes sounds like black metal, due to the harsh vocals, but the metal itself sounds, to me at least, like it is also influenced by traditional heavy metal and possibly even thrash. At any rate, it's pretty unique. It almost sounds Russian at times (at least it does if you can't tell the difference between two Slavic languages by hearing them growled), but Žrec retains their own identity.
The production of Žertva is somewhat raw and imperfect, but the production actually gives it a somewhat earthy sound that fits quite well with the spirit of folk metal, in my opinion. Everything sounds natural; a bit unpolished, but not in a bad way. You can hear everything pretty clearly, even the bass. The songs don't always follow strict metal structures. For instance, mid-way through the title track, the music stops, is followed by a shout of "Sláva Mokoši!," and then changes gears for a more folkish section for more than a minute before returning to its normal self again. And track four, "Lystoczku Czerwenyj," is actually a Ukrainian folk song, and its rhythm may remind one of Korpiklaani.
An interesting choice for this album was the inclusion of a poeticized Czech-language cover of Nokturnal Mortum classic "Perun's Celestial Silver." It was a risky choice of tracks to cover, since "Perun's Celestial Silver" is one of the most beloved tracks among Nokturnal Mortum fans. As I've stated in at least one earlier review, I'm no great fan of covers, but, in my opinion, Žrec did an admirable job with this one. Rather than compare it to the original (and which would I compare it to, anyway? The Lunar Poetry version or the NeChrist version?), I'd like to remark that its inclusion as the penultimate song on Žertva does nothing to disrupt the flow of the album, nor does it clash stylistically with the rest of the songs. By doing the vocals in their own language and by adding their own distinct flavor to the song, Žrec has made the song their own. It's still recognizable as "Perun's Celestial Silver" from the very first seconds of the song, and it retains the black metal sound of the original, but it fits nicely on this album and is a welcome addition.
Another positive aspect of Žertva that is worth mentioning is the vocal performance by Ingvarr. His unique vocals fall somewhere between folk style and a more operatic style. His vocals aren't used as often as Soulburner's harsh vocals are, but they're used when appropriate and sound great on the aforementioned "Lystoczku Czerwenyj" and on the final track, "Raráš Rakáša," which is my favorite track on the album. Ingvarr also influenced the band to evolve into their present folk metal style, so his being added to the band was a great move, in my opinion.
Due to many factors, including distribution and location, Žrec may not gain nearly as much attention as they deserve from the pagan/folk metal community, but, if you have the opportunity, I recommend you check them out and try to get your hands on Žertva.