I hold the Russian scene in pretty high esteem, as it is one of the most overlooked areas in Metal, with lots of bands that show remarkable quality and often also originality, especially when they draw inspiration from Russian Folk. Enter SMAGA from Siberian Tugulym and their debut EP “My Lands”, who come labeled as “Slavonic Pagan Black Metal”. Especially Russian bands that take on anything Pagan or Slavonic usually draw from Folk, so sounds like a winning combination, now doesn’t it?
And what strikes first is the great production, which has power and clarity, it is rare to hear the bass playing such a prominent role in this sound, I definitely can say that I am impressed and the songs also show maturity beyond the short existence of the band so far. While Black Metal undoubtedly is the firm foundation of the four songs on “My Lands”, there are omnipresent melodies (which never take over the songs, though), which go hand in hand with Velemudr’s gruff voice (which also fits the mood of the tracks perfectly) and the very varied approach to the song writing and structure, which shows great dynamics and flow, listen to “Perun’s Arrows” and you will hear for yourself, this is a potential classic in the making and once more the bass pumps audibly and adds to the overall sound instead of just following whatever the guitars set as example.
There also are some Folk influences to be found, but compared to most other bands they are subdued and only come out in a bit of acoustic guitar and some chanted verses (in the title track), so while the mood swings within the songs, they never go all-out Folk, which (while I love it in many bands) actually sets SMAGA apart quite nicely.
So Russia has spewed forth another highly interesting and highly talented act with SMAGA, which deserves to be noticed by a wide Metal audience, because they should on the one hand appeal to a quite nicely sized chunk of it and on the other avoid the all too obvious pitfalls of more than a few Pagan Metal bands by processing the influences in a maybe more subtle way. In any case anybody, who has a liking for this kind of music should try to lay hands on “My Lands”, I personally want to hear a full album now!
(Online November 4, 2008)