The horrors of Russian name giving
When you encounter a band name that sounds more like an expansion pack to a Role Playing Game than a convincing moniker for a Metal band, there’s a big chance you’ve dwelled into the Power Metal realm. And for some reason Russian bands are masters in inventing awkward names. Just take a look at UNSILENT PHENOMENON, BUTTERFLY TEMPLE or LITTLE DEAD BERTHA for example. Reading those names out loud just raises your hairs, doesn’t it? Luckily our mothers all taught us to never judge a book by its cover, so I tried to ignore the name and went right in for the kill. To my surprise, this wasn’t a SABATON-ish Power Metal ode our fallen comrades, but a war-themed Death Metal rollercoaster ride through most facets of extreme music. Hell, just call it a 50-minute bombardment packed with fresh ideas and daring song structures.
“Stalingrad: War Episodes” was already released back in 2004. So, I don’t know why it took 5 years to reach TMO, but I guess the Trans-Siberian couriers go by foot these days. And much to my pleasure, the album took a big dive in the rich history of Second World War and chose Stalingrad as its favorite playground.
The nekrocossacks's pot-pourri
The 7-minute opener “Deathblow” shows exactly how a war-themed Metal album should kick off. A Rob Halford(!)- sounding dive bomber quakes the ground and lets you expect the worst. As the explosions from the opening sample still ring in your ears, an eerie, mysterious riff comes creeping up on you like a thief in the night. After a hesitating transition these Russian nekrocossacks finally come all guns blazing. And oh my god, it’s one barrage of fresh riffs after another spiced up with lots of crazy/adventurous bass-leads and some delicious solo material. This progressive kind of Death Metal isn’t particularly technical nor sounds anything like GOJIRA, OPETH or THEORY IN PRACTICE. It’s a healthy mix of mostly Melodic Death with a frequent Thrash or Black Metal spasm and a good deal of Heavy Metal soloing. This fusion of extreme Metal chooses resolute for the melodic approach, thus not creating a wall of sound à la GOJIRA, a choice which I can only applaud. And to be honest, I wouldn’t know who to compare this type of Metal to. Having a quite unique sound like this surely can be considered as a big compliment.
“Retribution Fire” continues in the same godlike fashion. Some trumpets of doom are part of another cool intro before once again the ice-cold bass sound and some truly remarkable groovy riffs dominate the scenery. On this track, it’s striking how deep vocalist Anton Shirl’s growls are. He does a pretty good job hammering all the parts with his cork dry grunts. But unfortunately, these Chris Barnes-like vocals get old pretty soon and don’t always mix well with the adventurous and varied pot-pourri of Metal styles they dare to play.
“Not A Step Back!” and “U-88” (derived from the German type of WW2-submarines) are nothing short of amazing as well with alternating Hard Rock, Death and Black Metal influences. “She’s Just Killing Me” is a ZZ TOP-cover but could have easily been on a SIX FEET UNDER tribute album. On this track, their daring approach of first is traded in for a somewhat more straightforward chugging Death Metal barrage powered by Shirl's cork dry vocals. An enjoyable cover, but nothing more.
The production is very organic, which suits the abundance of styles quite well. It incorporates the sizzling melody of Melodic Death Metal and Hard Rock with the crushing heaviness of Death Metal, making it all meld into one solid outcome.
The last 4 tracks are taken from their 1995 demo “Absorbing Destinies” and, no surprise there, they can’t live up to the high standard set in the first half an hour. I wasn’t getting the idea that they were running out of inspiration, so it puzzles me why they would even put this filler material on the remainder of the disc. It renders a bit of an anticlimax and made me think of LUCIFERION’s “The Apostate”, which was a kick-ass album but suffered from the same odd demo closure material too. These tracks simply lack all the originality of their later material and bore you with an old school straightforward Death Metal chug fest. But the good thing about demos is that they are an effective measure to compare future material with, which shows TALES OF DARKNORD's growth in all its forms. But you should at least remaster or enhance them when putting on a new release.
In short, “Stalingrad: War Episodes” is a very bold and ambitious release with some minor quirks along the way. If you ignore the demo material, you’re treated to an interesting 30-minute Death Metal ride through the realms of originality. I wouldn’t mind seeing them on a bigger label, so the rest of the world could enjoy TALES OF DARKNORD as much as I did!
Check out “DeathBlow”, “Retribution Fire” and “U-88”.
(Online August 1, 2009)