Wartha - Azure Lakes - (9/10)
Published on February 6, 2015
Belarusian metal is not an everyday occurrence, even though the relatively few acts that filter out of the Eastern European country often convince with either originality or quality – or both. Folk and pagan metal have very deep roots in the Slavic countries, often resulting in excellent and easily identifiable albums, so it would have been easy for Wartha to follow down the same path with their second album Azure Lakes, but no, instead of opting for a jaunty romp through the fields and forests around their hometown Minsk, the quartet has taken a turn away from their debut Paŭstań and for good parts ditched the female vocals as well as the harsher screams and also a lot of the speed that their debut still had featured. Instead, Azure Lakes is a far more introspective affair, displaying strong doom influences, while maintaining their pagan spirit and concentrating on the interplay of excellent clear and growled vocals.
And this certain re-orientation is not just showing Wartha in a different light, but shows a tremendous step forward that makes Azure Lakes more than just a hidden gemstone that is waiting to be discovered (or maybe just that). Only few bands manage to incorporate a darker and more melancholic side into their pagan metal and the Belarusians really managed to potentially carve their own niche. Despite the often slow tempos and melancholic atmosphere, the 58 minutes of Azure Lakes are never one-dimensional, but clever changes in the rhythm bring enough dynamics and flow while maintaining the momentum of the songs.
By delivering lyrics in both English and Belarusian, Wartha also go a little against the grain of a genre that often puts high emphasis on singing in the band’s respective native tongue, something that might take a few people by surprise. But that aside, the increased focus on Knyaz Perepelok’s excellent clear voice adds to the equally increased focus on atmosphere and mood, making the growls ever more efficient as accentuating counterpart and definitely help the songs’ multi-dimensionality.
Wartha are not taking the easy way by pointing inwards and developing depth and that’s what makes a nine-minute song such as “Źmiej Voziera” just draw you in and envelop you in its atmosphere rather than pummeling you with fast rhythm and spitting you out faster than you managed to get onto the ride. “Što j pa Moru” is probably the strongest reminder of their folk metal “past”, still slow, but with the typically Slavic female vocal style leading the way, something (the folk metal influence) resurfacing in the playful lead guitar of “Heritage”, but it is more accentuating than pushing into the foreground.
But there is no denying in the beauty of the doom metal passages of “Azioraŭ Błakitnych” or the epic and deep atmosphere of “Dajcie im Pamierci”, even when the former erupts into a blastbeat section under the epic atmosphere or “Viadźmar” surprises with a fully double-bass-driven passage, everything stays cohesive. And there is one additional gem hidden at the end, which is a cover version of a song by Belarusian rock band Mroja, titled “Ziamla”, which has been transformed into a superb doom metal track, highly atmospheric, with leading female vocals and accentuating growls it is a great closer to an all around very high quality album.
Add in the mood cover artwork and warm, clear production, Azure Lakes literally has all the right ingredients to bring Wartha a wide fanbase without trying to chum up with any fan camp in particular, but just displaying an extraordinary hand for organic atmospheric development and it could appeal to fans of doom, pagan, folk and bordering sub-genres and definitely should appeal to fans of good metal, period! A highly positive surprise of 2015!