Beneath each review posted on this hallowed website, a little comment swamp forms. They vary in size and depravity but in nearly everyone, a debate of some kind ensues. The other day, in just such a swamp, I expressed the — perhaps controversial — view that I like it when black metal bands infuse their music with different influences, sometimes straying into different genres. There I gave examples of post-metal and prog. Well, step forward and take a bow Bednja, who bill themselves as black metal hardcore. I will say up-front that I have never really got on with hardcore. I like the in-your-face aggression it brings but I can find that in other genres too and, with a few exceptions, I generally find myself bored by hardcore quite quickly. Does blackening the hardcore hold my attention any better?
Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas, which seems to translate as something like ‘Beyond the Valleys,’ is the debut full-length record from Croatian three-piece Bednja. Clocking in at only 33 minutes, they’ve ported over the brief bursts of violence I associate with hardcore, blending it not only with vicious black metal but also toying with some post-metal, death and folk — I assume traditional Croatian folk, although I’m in no position to confirm this — influences too. The result is a varied, roiling, visceral and deeply interesting record, that flows far faster than the river from which Bednja take their name. The most obvious hardcore influence is in the vocals, which favor a dual-delivery, gruff hardcore-style attack throughout. Mic duties are handled jointly by bassist Ivan Milković and guitarist Nikola Šarkanji, with all the lyrics delivered in Croatian. Overlaid onto ferocious blast beats from drummer Petar Babić, and trempicking from Šarkanji, which reminds me of Gaerea and Ulcerate, this bruising vocal style is surprisingly effective.
Across the relatively short runtime, Bednja keep things fluid throughout. After seven intense and breathless minutes of the first two tracks on Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas, they suddenly switch gears completely, with “Povratak Kralja” (“Return of the King”) opening in languid, post-metal tones that recall Arda or HarborLights. These then fall away in favor of lightning fast BM, with a bass groove to it that flows through into “Ledena Palaca” (“Ice Thumb”?). This again turns on a dime about midway through its run, with the death-tinged BM overtaken by atmospheric, instrumental post-metal again, this time set to a background chorus of crows. Fading out and building into the bleak heaviness of “Tisina Je Smrt” (“Silence is Death”) with the sounds of a river — the Bednja, perhaps? — Bednja continue to toy with us, as “Tisina Je Smrt” briefly takes on an almost death metal aspect. The title track, and album closer, opens in full hardcore mode before the icy and atmospheric black metal kick in. But even this doesn’t last, with metal abandoned completely for the final couple of minutes, as Bednja switch to full-on folk. Any pretense of metal is abandoned in favor of sorrow-filled chanted vocals over traditional instruments and a crashing thunderstorm, providing an emotive and unexpected closer to the record.
Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas has grown on me with each spin. The black metal backbone that runs through it holds the record together, while Bednja experiment with different influences and moods, not just from song to song but even within songs, nearly all of them with success. The guitar tone is great throughout and the bass prominent in the mix. The drum sound can be a bit brittle in places (start of “Tisina Je Smrt,” for example), with the cymbals going walkabout sometimes. For me, the area with the most room progress is the vocals. I say ‘progress’ rather than “improve” because I like what Milković and Šarkanji offer but with two of them on mic duty I would like to hear more variety introduced. The recent Nachterror debut, for example, showcased just how effective multiple vocalists smashing together different styles simultaneously can be. I’d also like to hear that incredible folk element of the record incorporated more seamlessly into what Bednja do.
Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas is one of those records that delivers a gut punch on first listen, and hits just a little bit harder with each listen thereafter. So does blackening the hardcore keep me interested? Without a shadow of a doubt. The sheer scope of influences packed into this little album not only surprised me but also kept me coming back. It’s not a perfect record and it’s also a short one but Bednja have delivered something quite special with Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas. Let’s hope they don’t keep us waiting too long for the next installment.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Websites: bednjacroatia.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/bednja666
Release Date: Digital: 11.29.2019 | EU: 2019.12.06 | NA: 12.13.2019