Sunday, July 1, 2012

Album Review: Крода - Live In Lemberg

Крода - Live in Lemberg

Artist: Крода (Kroda) [Ukraine]
Album Title: Live In Lemberg
Record Label: Hammermark Art (Germany) / Battlelord Productions (Japan)
Released: 2008
Purchased From: ? (Can't Remember)

I procrastinated so long on writing this review that it no longer seems relevant, considering that the studio duo that made up this edition of Kroda parted ways a few years after its release and the supporting players that fleshed out the live lineup captured here (consisting of members of Ruina and others) are no longer associated with the project, either. I'm not certain, but it appears that although Kroda's first three studio releases, and the following retrospective Fünf Jahre Kulturkampf seem to be finding re-release on Kroda's new label Purity Through Fire, Live In Lemberg looks poised to be forgotten as a relic that no longer holds any meaning.

If that's true, I think that's a bit of a shame, because Live In Lemberg is a solid live album, especially considering that Kroda, though having three fantastic studio albums under their belts by the point this live disc was recorded, had only been performing live for roughly seven months. Sure, there are some rough spots to be found, as some of the music proved to be difficult to reproduce live. And the folkish nature of the albums had to be reduced in order to lessen the band's reliance on pre-recorded tracks in a live setting, so this version of Kroda is more raw than the polished version we heard on the first three albums. However, the upside of this is that the live version of Kroda featured here has a stronger "black metal" sound than the previous studio incarnation, which will appeal to listeners who wanted to enjoy their studio work but found it to lean too heavily towards folk metal. The live drums also add something missing on the previous studio albums, which featured a well-programmed but obvious drum machine.

More importantly, I feel that Live In Lemberg marks the start of a transition that Kroda was making towards a more "live" studio sound, a transition that was continued with the studio re-recordings found on Fünf Jahre Kulturkampf and the latest studio release, Schwarzpfad. Some reviewers have noted how different Schwarzpfad sounds than the first three studio albums (which shouldn't be surprising anyway), but it appears to me that the band was already headed in that live-sounding, raw black metal direction before Viterzgir's departure from the project in 2010.

Now that I've wasted three paragraphs talking about things that are irrelevant to the actual album, I should probably actually get into talking about this disc. Live In Lemberg features thirteen tracks, but three of them are instrumentals and two are encore versions of songs that appear previously on the disc. So, disregarding these, we have eight actual songs, but the band manages to cover quite a range of their early discography with these songs. There are a few songs each from Cry To Me, River... and Towards the Firmament's Verge of Life..., the first two studio albums, as well as songs from their split CD's with Oprich and Velimor (two discs which each contain essential Kroda material, unlike some split releases). They also include a metalized version of a Ukrainian traditional song and an Absurd cover. Sadly missing are any tracks from their third studio album, Fimbulvinter, which in my opinion was their strongest album up until this point. However, considering the length and complexity of that album's songs, it's understandable.

The production of the live disc is pretty solid, though not spectacular. Everything can be heard clearly, but it's lacking the kind of depth and immediacy that I would have liked. The instruments don't really stand out in the stereo spectrum, so it kind of has the effect of being recorded on a single mic, though I know that isn't the case. Fortunately, the levels are good, there's no distracting distortion or too much crowd noise (except between songs), and there's not a whole lot I can complain about. Eisenslav's vocals have a different tone than they did on the previous studio albums. There's more passion and strength behind them, which is probably due to the energy of a live concert. How his voice stays strong throughout the set and its encore is a mystery to me, and it's something that a number of black metal vocalists have apparently failed to master. He sounds quite good, as do all of the instrumentalists. The songs seem to lack the atmosphere of the studio versions, which is to be expected, but it does tend to draw my attention to the fact that these songs are well-written and hold up even in a live setting with mostly guest musicians.

Kroda must have been pretty happy with how their live sound was developing, because they later re-recorded a number of these songs in the studio with their live line-up on Fünf Jahre Kulturkampf. Because of this (and the concert's inclusion on the DVD packaged with that retrospective release), Live In Lemberg as a live concert CD may, as I said at the beginning of this review, seem irrelevant or unnecessary. Maybe that's true. I bought it before Fünf Jahre Kulturkampf was released, so I didn't have the same kind of dilemma that a newer Kroda fan might have, so if you are a Kroda fan and don't already own this disc, you would have to ask yourself the question of whether or not it is worth seeking out. For many, it will probably be "no," as this is hardly an essential piece of the Kroda discography. But, as a monument to a transition that was taking place within the band that led them to translate this live sound to the studio setting, I feel like it's an important part of the band's history, a history which is still being written by Eisenslav and Kroda's new incarnation. Whether or not that makes it worth a purchase depends on how big of a Kroda completionist you are and how much you enjoy live albums.

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