Let’s get this part out of the way. 1914 is a Ukrainian metal band that plays songs about German stormtroopers. What could go wrong? It didn’t take much effort to find an interview with founder and vocalist Ditmar Kumar in which he mentions that he’s often asked if 1914 is a Nazi band and drops this quote: “Fuck Nazis and all kind of totalitarian shitheads.” Subtle, but I think we can move on.
To say that 1914 is obsessed with WWI might be an understatement. Their sophomore album The Blind Leading the Blind is set to release at the 11th hour on November 11th in order to hit shelves at the exact moment of the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. Kumar eats, sleeps and breathes The Great War. He’s even served as an archeologist unearthing artifacts and human remains from the period. His personal mission is to bring awareness to the history of the conflict. So sit down and grab a pen. School is in session.
What does our teacher sound like? Mix Asphyx and Bolt Thrower then add some sludge, black, and even a little post-metal and you’ll be close. Our lesson begins with an upbeat British recruitment song that lulls us into a false sense of security before the crushing heaviness of first proper track “Arrival. The Meuse-Argonne” drops us into the middle of the deadliest battle in US history. Going from blackened death to pure black to death/doom and back, this song is a great example of what the rest of the syllabus entails. “Passchenhell” and “A7V Mephisto” are rumbling crushers. The former includes two dissonant violin solos that were unsettling until I realized that that’s the point. “C’est Mon Dernier Pigeon” is a blackened death beat down. “Stoßtrupp” sounds like it belongs on a Bolt Thrower album. Any and all of these songs are of such high quality that they could be standouts if it weren’t for closer “The Hundred Days Offensive.” The song opens with a clip from All Quiet On the Western Front played over beautiful cleans then launches into a long post metal crescendo intersected by a couple of blackened death passages. It tells the story of a group of soldiers in a trench succumbing one by one to enemy fire and mustard gas. It will fight for my top song of the year, and that’s saying a lot from a guy whose consumption of things labeled “post” is generally limited to Fruity Pebbles.
The band members use their talents incredibly well to create an atmosphere of despair and horror for which they’re aiming. Kumar alternates and sometimes layers intelligible death growls and black shrieks, giving weight to the lyrical subject matter and keeping things fresh. Guitarists Liam Fessen and Vitalis Winkelhock eschew theatrics and instead focus on pounding riffs and melodic accent leads. In this year where tech death is trying its damnedest to be King, it’s refreshing to simply be pummeled into submission by heavy riffs. Rusty Poloplacht’s drumming is a true highlight, matching each stylistic change perfectly.
My issues with the album are few and minor. As a Ukrainian band singing in English, there are a few awkward phrases, but the quality of the songs makes this easy to overlook. The album includes a lot of period music and movie clips. I think some of the samples used could be shortened or eliminated to help the album flow better. The band is adept at using their music to create moods, so they really don’t need to rely on the samples as strongly as they do. That being said, most of them work to enhance the immersion, and the intro and outro propaganda pieces serve as idealistic bookends that contrast well with the hopelessness the meat of the album works to create.
As one of The Nameless, I was extremely hesitant to rate this album so highly. I gave it extra spins and tried listening to other albums between play-throughs so I could be as objective as possible. The bottom line is, 1914 have taken at least four genres of metal — few of which usually grab me in their pure forms — and fused them to create one of my favorite albums of the year. This is probably the last you’ll be hearing from me as I’ll be spending the foreseeable future reading WWI Wikipedia articles and listening to The Blind Leading the Blind.