SILENT STREAM OF GODLESS ELEGY (sorry Alex, it’s a singular STREAM) is a band I discovered during an explorative phase early in my college career, when MP3.com didn’t suck and featured a bounty of Metal artists posting their songs. A wide world cracked open for me, a world of PRIMORDIAL, METSATÖLL, AGALLOCH, EMPYREAN SKY, and INTERITUS DEI. The Czech Republic’s SILENT STREAM OF GODLESS ELEGY was among my favourite discoveries. I quickly snapped up “Themes” and “Behind Shadows”, but it was a couple of years before I got my hands on their 1996 debut, “Iron,” and only recently that I managed to find their 2004 full-length “Relic Dances” and 2006’s “Osamìlí” EP.
SSOGE possesses a rather unique style that blends Doom-Death with Bohemian Folk into a sound that can sound exuberant (see “Lovin’ On The Earth” from “Themes”), raw and alienating (the debut) or beautifully elegiac (“Garden” and “The Last Place” from “Behind The Shadows”). While it’s not a particularly challenging style to listen to, it is a remarkably difficult one to describe. The main thrust of the band comes in a string section that today features a cello and violin; earlier there was also a viola. Since the last album, the line-up has changed almost entirely, with only guitarist Radek Hajda remaining since the beginning (or even since the last album).
With that kind of drastic line-up shake up, “Relic Dances” is bound to sound a bit different from the band’s previous efforts. The change is obvious almost from the beginning, a move back to the dreary, ugly Doom that characterized “Iron,” with the mournful strings futilely crying in Folk dance motifs over heavy, crunchy guitars. As Doom goes, it’s midpaced and purposeful. Even the acoustic pieces we encounter are devoid of joy. The music video for “I Would Dance” perfectly reflects this sound; in it, a young woman in traditional peasant garb struggles through woody, snow-covered hills toward some unknowable, ominous pagan ceremony. The black-and-white imagery, the exhaustive barrier of the snow, all illustrate the sound here.
The other substantive change is an increased role for the female vocalist. SSOGE has always had a member of the fairer sex contribute vocals to their music, previously in the form of Zuzana Zamazalova, who only appeared sparingly on the previous three albums. Come “Relic Dances,” Hanka Nogolova (formerly of FORGOTTEN SILENCE and the Czech ENDLESS) often takes the role of chief vocalist, though Pavel “Hrnec” Hrncir proves a capable successor to Petr Stanek as a deep growler. The most common pattern is to have one provide the verses, the other the chorus and Hanka some additional vocal embellishments (don’t worry, she’s got a fairly mid-range voice, not a gossamer soprano).
Two tracks especially deserve mention, “Together” and “You Only Loved The Blood.” The latter is a wonderful traditional dance filtered through Doom-Death sensibilities, with the traditional dance dialled up wonderfully. The former is the longest track on the album and a great balance between crushing Doom and haunting acoustic work.
It has taken me nearly a year to get into this album. Refer back to my comparison to “Iron”; their debut is an ugly album that has never meant much to me except as an indicator of where the group would go. With the change in sound, it has taken a while for me to realize that the sound has also been refined, perfected. There’s a sense of purpose behind its obstinacy, its roughness, that was missing on the debut. Things are ugly and depressing because they’re supposed to be. It’s done right. Fans of Doom, Doom-Death, and Folk need this. But give it time to really dig into your mind and blossom. For only with time and understanding can “Relic Dances” be truly appreciated.
(Online January 18, 2008)