Dzö-nga may not be a household name, but it certainly is a weird one. Formed in 2016 by Boston musician “Cryvas,” the project takes its name from a demon which supposedly inhabits the Himalayan mountain Kangchenjunga1. Last year’s debut Five Treasures of Snow explored this idea by using ambient black metal to create songs about an “otherworldly Himalayan ascent,” while January’s Upon the Shimmered Bow EP introduced folk influences and a raw atmospheric black metal sound. Sophomore full-length The Sachem’s Tales sees Cryvas crafting a concept album about Native American folklore, aiming to combine Cascadian black metal with classical music. Joined by female vocalist Grushenka Ødegård and session drummer Aaron Maloney (formerly of Pennsylvania metalcore act This or the Apocalypse, oddly enough), has Dzö-nga given us the next Bergtatt or delivered another Bandcamp black metal record whose hype will fizzle faster than you can say “Ghost Bath”?

Fortunately things lean much closer to the former. Though Cryvas began Dzö-nga less than 18 months ago and already has two recordings released, the man obviously possesses great compositional maturity and no shortage of ideas. Throughout Tales’ 43 minutes, Cryvas skillfully employs piano, acoustic guitar, organ, strings, and the operatic vocals of Ms. Ødegård to conjure songs with ample melody and imbue them with plenty of dramatic climaxes. I hope I’m not overselling it with this, but as a point of reference imagine early Ulver with the acoustic palette of Opeth and the classical influence turned up to 11.

Intro “Midewiwin Lodge” sets the stage with the sound of rainfall and a rapidly plucked acoustic guitar, before “To the Great Salt Water” replaces that guitar with rustic piano. The piano’s tender melody continues over buzzing electric guitars and pounding double-bass, and remains twinkling as the song alternates between these blasting sections and quieter moments of Ødegård’s singing. It’s only in the song’s second half that Cryvas’ desperate Vattnet Viskar-esque rasp fully takes over and the guitars begin to form riffs that escalate with subtle transcendence. The track reaches its zenith with soaring strings before all instruments fall away and the opening piano melody returns for a soft folky finish.

Explaining the twists of one track essentially took up an entire paragraph, and I could easily do the same for most of the remaining six. Needless to say there are plenty of musical treats on Tales, with songs forging their own identity as they navigate from stormy blasting to woodsy bass-led interludes and back again. “The Wolves Fell Quiet” is perhaps the harshest and most ominous cut here, standing out for its sharp clean chords and the gorgeous flowing piano of its midsection. “Against the Northern Wind” introduces a gothic organ before delivering some terrific clean/harsh vocal harmonizing and evoking California’s Petrychor with its impossibly fast blastbeats and plucked melodies. Final proper track “A Seventh Age of Fire” breaks in with blasting beneath an acoustic melody before introducing male operatic vocals and finishing with a majestic conclusion that exudes more drama than a high schooler’s Facebook page.

It’s clear Tales is a strong album and that Cryvas has a knack for telling a story with his music. Unfortunately, too often the classical instrumentation eclipses the black metal, leaving the electric guitars doing little more than buzzing ferociously beneath the other instruments. In a way Tales feels like the perfect example of a black metal record that uses the genre as a vehicle for something else. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, more moments of actual riffing like that in “Great Salt Water” and “Wolves” would undoubtedly have made Tales stronger and more well-rounded. It also doesn’t help that Cryvas’ rasps are very loud in the mix.

Fortunately, aside from this quibble Tales is a lovely sounding record, with a bright and lush production that captures both the harshness of the metal elements and the richness of everything else. Closer “The Witching Meadow” is as good an example as any, concluding the record with uplifting acoustics that seem to mentally return listeners to the tribal leader’s bonfire after hearing his mythical stories. For those tired of this style’s done-to-death themes of pagan glory and nature-worship, Dzö-nga stand beside Nechochwen as a band offering an intriguing Native American theme along with exciting instrumentation and a healthy dose of originality. Fans of Agalloch, Ulver, and other folk/black acts are sure to love this. And as always, bonus points for the umlaut.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Avantgarde Music
Websites: dzo-nga.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/dzongalives 
Releases Worldwide: June 24th, 2017

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  1. Try spelling that one without looking!

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  • madhare

    Frazetta rip-off cover picture. Band name looks like someone tried to type Danzig drunk on a Scandinavian/German keyboard layout. Hmmm… But based on the review, I better check it out.

    • Danzig on a German keyboard would be Danyig.

      • Brutalist_Receptacle

        Danzig before WW2 would be Gdańsk.

        • And before that Gyddanyzc. I wonder what that would become on a German keyboard, drunk.

          • Goldicot

            djakfhdjslafhjda

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Isn’t that the Icelandic volcano that in 2010 caused the largest air-traffic shut-down in Europe since World War II? Mmm, wait, that’s Eyjafjallajökull.
            Both words look like someone dropped a bucket of golf balls on their keyboard.

        • It’s actually the opposite.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      The cover reminds me of Rien Poortvliet’s trolls from the Gnome book.

    • Nag Dammit

      No-one mention the band photo. I thought it was one of those pesky ads for a second. My guess would have been erectile dysfunction.

      • madhare

        :D Now that you mention that… I just thought they had tried doing a little bit of Frazetta-vibe in that too. Jaguar queen style or something.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Of course the Frazetta rip-off cover picture is a good thing!

    • Ivan E. Rection

      I got a Michael Whelan vibe from the cover (Cirith Ungol), especially the pose.

  • Absolomb

    Love the name, love the album, love the concept and enjoyed the review.
    Best get to it.

  • Akerblogger

    I like the sound of this. I like the sound of this a lot. The album isn’t on the Dzo-nga bandcamp page, but it’s up on the AvantGarde page: https://avantgardemusic.bandcamp.com/ and it’s only €3, so no excuses not to get it really.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      …and pick up the new Wode and Progenie Terrestre Pura albums, while you’re at it.

      • ArtifeX

        Excellent advice.

    • madhare

      Thanks! I was disappointed when I couldn’t find it on their own page.

  • IamDBR

    Those harsh vocals are gnarly but yeah, a bit too high in the mix. Minor complaint aside, this is quite promising so far.

  • This is really well written and I personally like the mix. I don’t always need loud guitars. I understand the criticism on that part of the sound but I think it makes for an enjoyable experience. The album are is great as well, which I always appreciate. Thanks for another recommendation I won’t be able to pass up! I’m pretty sure my wife will be filing for a divorce after the amount of money I have spent on music since stumbling upon this site 5 months ago.

    • Mollusc

      I had to really cut back recently. I found this site last year (took me a while to work up the courage to join the discussions) and things got a little out-of-hand… I’ve been thinking of getting a second job and secret bank account.

  • Brutalist_Receptacle

    THIS IS GOOD.

  • Planex

    Magic: The Gathering album art week here on AMG.

  • Nukenado

    The cover looks like Warcraft concept art.

  • Here’s Johnny

    Listening to the “The Wolves Fell Quiet” just now, liking it a lot. The production is quite diabolical, the music is good enough to push through that though. Lots of potential here.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I can’t compare this cover art to anything but Frazetta…

    • Alexander Newton

      Is that a good or a bad thing?

      or just a thing thing

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        I would say it’s just a thing… ;)

        • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

          Like that Molly Hatchet record with the Frazetta cover. So stoked to buy it as a kid, only to find out it was the poor man’s Allman Brothers.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            ALL Molly Hatchet records had Frazetta covers (I think). Good thing the time I bought one I already knew they were the poor man’s Allman Brothers.

  • Matt slatz

    That thing on the cover looks like the love child of the samhain demon guy, and a bigfoot

    • Mark Z

      It’s a Wendigo!

  • Thatguy

    They cram it all into the embedded song. Soft atmospheric sounds, echoing rudimentary piano, whispy female vocals, obligatory growls.

    Really, guys? This is very bad and should have been the 1.0 of the week.

    • You need some time away from metal and interacting.

      • Thatguy

        Thatguy is not being a miserable old bastard – note my lack of comment on Ereb Altor which I just didn’t care for. This music is tripe.

        • Hideous destructor

          It’s well executed, even if it’s not really evolved from what was being offered in the mid 90s – still quite enjoyable.

    • Mollusc

      Yeah… I don’t get this either. I really like Nechochwen, though. Feel like I’d be mean to state my actual criticisms, would be like beating a puppy.

      • Thatguy

        I’ve beaten the odd puppy here but you are right.

        • Mollusc

          As the old saying goes: “have puppy, will beat.” Or something.

  • The Dude

    Kronos ? Wasn’t that guy dead (or on some sabbatical of sorts) ? Seriously though, long time lurker finally posting just to say welcome back !! Your reviews are the ones that most match my tastes and I was really starting to miss them.
    I didn’t even look at the score, let alone read the review, I just got hyped when I saw Kronos wrote something so I have nothing particularly relevant to say. Except maybe that someone should review the latest Shadow of Intent, great record.

  • jrichocean

    “…but as a point of reference imagine early Ulver with the acoustic palette of Opeth and the classical influence turned up to 11.”
    Yea, pretty solid reference Mr. Z. Although since I’m an AMG reader, and therefor in no way overly-picky, I really have to point out that the classical was only turned up to 9.38…