Zgard_TotemDo you remember what life was like prior to 2015 B.V. (Before Vardan)? Back when the phrase “monthly visitor” meant something radically different than black metal’s most notorious one-man sweatshop, the busiest man in black metal was Ukrainian pagan mastermind Yaromisl and his own one-man machine, Zgard. When we last heard from our heathen busy-bee, he put out his fourth album in two years, Contemplation, back in the summer of 2014 [Four albums in two years? Slacker!Steel Druhm]. While it was overly long and somewhat repetitive, it did show glimpses of anthemic beauty. Well, Yaromisl is back with Zgard‘s fifth album, Totem [That’s more like it! Steel].

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but there are marked improvements here. After a short, three-minute intro involving deep vocal chants and ominous sound effects, “Land of Legends” blasts forth with heathen Drudkh-ish fury. With plenty of layered tremolo riffs, a deep vocal choir in the background, and some rather maniacal vocals by Yaromisl there’s already more urgency shown here than on most of Contemplation. When the sopilka makes its appearance at the 2:42 mark, it adds a triumphant counterpoint to all the speed and urgency, helping the song to stand out. There is a bit of repetition on here, but instead of bringing the song down, it actually holds your attention throughout. Impressive.

There’s no shortage of surprises on Totem. “Forgive Us Nature” starts off with a beautiful female vocal and a gentle arpeggio acoustic guitar with a running lake in the background before blasting into oblivion for the song’s nine-minute entirety, save for the female vocals acting as a bridge during parts of the song. “Sorrow” contains one of only two whooshing wind effects found on Totem (YES!), with more acoustic guitars and a sad sopilka melody, and is the slowest song on here, and even then it plays at quite a clip later on. The title track contains the most upbeat of melodies between the sopilka and the mouth harp and some thundering drums by session drummer Severoth. Keeping in the theme of epic closers, “The North,” while containing the other whooshing wind sound effect, is a blasting, fervent number with no shortage of riffs, chanting, and frenetic blasting, and by the time the keyboards play off the final minute or so, you’re left wanting to play the song again.

Zgard_2015

The production is a bit better than previous efforts. While still brickwalled, there’s hardly any clipping, and the bass makes an appearance amidst all the mad riffage. The drums sound pretty good overall, and careful attention was made to assure that the sopilka and the clean chants sound better than past efforts. Also, once again, that’s some pretty sweet cover art. My biggest beef with Totem is the sheer length of the songs themselves. Again, more could be said with less, as a lot of it gets repetitive quickly, and I wouldn’t recommend listening to this album in one go, as it’s a lot to chew through.

Still, this is a step in the right direction. While it’s not something that will cause me to redesign my Top Ten(ish) of 2015, Totem is a good album with a couple of really strong songs. I can’t wait to see what develops from here, as Yaromisl is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the realms of atmospheric pagan metal.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svarga Music
Website: facebook.com/Zgard
Release Dates: EU: 2015.11.27 | NA: 01.15.2016

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  • Enjoy of deep kvltness.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Enjoy of deep artwork, though.

      • Pablo Casado Gañarul

        The depiction of a place that I would not choose to take a nap… And being spanish that’s A LOT TO SAY.

  • You wot m8?

    I just have to say, “zgard” is a dumb name. It’s like “housebreaking” or whatever that dumb shit was about a month ago. What the hell is a “z-gourd”? Is it some kind of squash? Is it a delicious meal made of said squash? No one knows…

    • Possible meanings:
      Z gard!: The guard!
      Z gard!: (like en garde! but Ukrainian)
      Z gard: personal bodyguard of Invader Zim
      Z gard: a jockstrap developed in Russia and EXTREME-ly painful
      Zga! ard(vark): oh look an aardvark I just choked on my goulash
      Zgar D: A. a scar in the shape of a D. B. Slavic hiphop artist

      • Francesco Bordoni

        were u from thor yo?
        ZGARD, BITCH

        • Pablo Casado Gañarul

          *50 Cent’s P.I.M.P. starts blasting with the rage of th Gjalarhorn*

          • Francesco Bordoni

            I reckon we’ve hit some kind of bottom – though it feels like we’re still falling XD

    • Will Atheling

      Quite a few people do know, especially in Ukraine. And they probably care as much about how dumb you think the name is as you do care about this old symbol. It is a specific form of a cross from Western Ukraine which dates from pre-christian times – and it is not that hard to google this sort of stuff, if you’d be really interested…

      • I was under the impression that he was joking. I could be mistaken though.

        • Will Atheling

          Yeah, he probably was. Not the sort of humor that satisfies real, well, snobbery.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    And the award for most mentions of “sopilka” in a Metal review goes to…

  • Feytalist

    Oh hey, a new Zgard album. Didn’t even know he was making one.

    I like Zgard. Have since Astral Glow. Glad to hear he’s getting better. Automatic purchase for me (helps that I’m a sucker for atmospheric black metal).

    Big sad about the dearth of wind sounds tho :C

  • I like it… I am not a huge fan of Black Metal screeches, but this is not half bad.

  • Elton Chagas

    Wow, I LOVED the embedded track! It reminds me a lot of Nokturnal Mortum.

    PS.: What happened to Nokturnal Mortum?

    • Filipe Machado

      The material for split with Graveland is fully recorded and now is in the queue for mixing and mastering in the studio, they say that they will finish it in the beginning of December. Special EP that will follow after that and full-length are almost recorded as well. EP and full-length will be finished in 2016.

  • The Angry Kropotkinist

    How have I missed Zgard..? Stumbled across this album on youtube. On my to buy list. Easy 4 out of 5 in my opinion. A great example of how to be experimental and be Black Fucking Metal. The vocals in particular are awesome.