Thursday, February 19, 2009

Album Review: Znich - Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca (2007 reissue)

Znich - Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca

Artist: Znich (Belarus)
Album Title: Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca (Precepts of Last Ancient) + Bonus tracks
Record Label: Volh Records (Russia)
Released: 2003, 2007 (reissue year)

Wow, this was a really awesome surprise. I bought this album to complete my Znich collection, but I really wasn't expecting something this good. But, from the first time I heard the second track (and first actual song following the intro), Выпраўляла Мацi Сына, which, incidentally, is now one of my favorite pagan metal songs, I felt like I had stumbled upon a gem. And the rest of the album confirmed it. Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca may not be a very well-known or popular album, but, in my opinion, this is one of the essential Slavic pagan metal albums, especially of the Belarusian scene. It's quirky enough that a lot of people are going to dislike it right from the start, but I think it's one that could grow on you.

By this point, Znich had gone through various lineup changes since its inception, and vocalist Ales Tabolitch was the only remaining band member from the days of Язычнік я... The new lineup influenced the folk-infused sound this album took on, most notably the addition of female vocalist Natalia Volynec, whose wonderfully authentic folk-style vocals add so much to the Znich sound that one wishes she had remained a permanent fixture in the lineup. Unfortunately, this lineup would also completely dissolve, leaving Ales the only remaining member for their 2007 album Крыжы-абярэгi (please correct me if I'm wrong on this). For one painfully brief, shining moment, Znich had really happened upon something special, and fortunately it was recorded and became their second album, Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca.

For this reissue, Volh only had a few songs left to add as bonus tracks, as Znich has never been a terribly prolific band. So the nine tracks that make up the album are supplemented with two bonus tracks, one of a re-recorded Чорны Зніч, and what appears to be an early version of Купала На Йвана!, a song that appears in more polished form on the album proper. I don't know if there was any remastering done, but, regardless, the sound quality is great. The album is doomy and crunchy, with powerful guitar and drums. Most of the vocals on the album are sung, but Ales does occasionally growl, which sounds very good. His clean vocals are also good, often harmonizing with Natalia. True, the vocals are not always on-key, but this gives the album a bit of a rough-hewn quality that I think really fits the mood of the album.

In addition to the folk-style vocals, there are some bagpipes, flutes, and mouth harp to enhance the overall sound and atmosphere. Sometimes the mood seems festive, while other times it seems melancholic (a quality that I've noticed in just about every Belarusian metal CD I have... is it a cultural thing?). But overall I get a feeling of reverence and pride, and I feel good every time I listen to this CD. It's not a perfect album; I think it tends to drag a bit towards the end, when the female vocals disappear for a few tracks, but things pick up again on the final song of the album proper, the mournful-sounding Сiрацiнка.

As for the bonus tracks, I could take them or leave them. I didn't really need another version of Чорны Зніч (though this version isn't bad), but the early version of Купала На Йвана! is pretty good, if only to have another chance to hear the beautiful, layered female vocals at the end. Necessary? Certainly not.

I highly recommend Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca. It's probably not a good album to pick up if you're just getting into this style of music, since, as I mentioned earlier, it's pretty quirky, but I feel like it can stand proudly among the best of the genre. Those who like the folk choir-style vocals on Arkona's Ot Serdtsa K Nebu may enjoy the female vocals on Zapaviety Aposzniaha Starca.

Fans of Slavic pagan metal who are willing to overlook a few rough edges and quirks and discover the treasure beneath should definitely check out this one.

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