It’s always fun to pick up a promo from a band that you’ve never heard before. Especially one hailing from a country you know diddly shit about. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of researching bands like this is reading about the rich heritage that surrounds the music. And on today’s exotic expedition into the unknown, we will explore Darkestrah, a black-metal outfit from Kyrgyzstan. Each of Darkestrah‘s previous releases inject regional stories, myths, and landmarks that range from the legacy of Genghis Khan (Khagan EP), the oral traditions of mythical hero Манас (Манас), and a nod to the infamous Silk Road trading routes (The Great Silk Road). These concepts provide a canvas for the orchestral atmospheres, synthy soundscapes, and the subtle useage of Kyrgyzstanian throat-singing and instrumentation, like the temir-komuz (a mouth harp) and the komuz (a lute-like instrument). But with a new vocalist (as replacement to founding member, Kriegtalith), the band pushes beyond itself to capture something more epic. But can Turan effectively continue the history talk set by its five predecessors or is the class doomed to nod off mid-lecture?
Darkestrah have come a long way from the Old Man’s Child synths and atmospheres of the raw-natured debut, Sary Oy. Though the overall style of the band remains intact, Darkestrah settled in with the Chthonic/Drudkh/Rotting Christ-like moods and homeland identity on 2007’s Epos (a one-song affair whose direction upset many an early fan). The Great Silk Road and Манас took the direction set by Epos (and Drudkh), expanding it into lengthy full-lengths and full-album concepts. Манас may top The Great Silk Road in cohesiveness, massive atmospheres, acoustic guitar sections, and alternating rasps and clean vocals, but Turan picks up right where Манас left off. Turan delivers the next chapter of the story (and the next era of the band) with the same kind of passion and power found on these previous releases.
“One with the Grey Spirit” opens with enough acoustic guitars and folky spoken-word to make you believe in pretty much anything. Following the intro the song transitions through some post-black melodies that crack the ship’s hatch, releasing the true atmospheres of Turan. About three-quarters of the way through the song, it heads into the deep-end with a folkish, string-led mood that foreshadows the remainder of the album. The opener may be a decent track, but “Erlik-Khan” blows it out of the water with beautifully crafted clean guitars, female vocals, and synth geysers meant to soak you from head to toe. The highlight of the song, however, comes when the black-metal assaults fade, allowing some of the most engulfing, heart-wrenching, orchestral moments of Turan to emerge.
Similarly, “Bird of Prey,” and closer “The Hidden Light” evince a fluidity as submissive as a headlock. Both tracks use icy winds and pulsing drum-work to ensnare the listener and encase them in crippling, swelling passion that leaves one feeling simultaneously calm and hollow. While not as powerful as the aforementioned tracks, “Gleaming Madness” utilizes the songwriting of its predecessors to leave you so broken that head-banging and moshing are completely out of the question. While these aforementioned tracks are simply gorgeous, numbers like the opener and the Primordial-like “Conversions of the Seer” lack the warmth of their bunk-mates. Though the tracks still work in the grand scheme of things, they disrupt the cohesion of the album just enough to suggest restructuring.
But one thing is clear about Turan. It takes everything done previously by the band, builds it up, coats it in melody, and delivers it in the most heart-aching, hypnotizing way. Gone are the raw, black-metal moments of Sary Oy and Embrace of Memory and, in their wake, stands a polished record that combines Kyrgyzstan culture with paralyzing emotion. This six-track, fifty-minute album may feel long at times, but the layered brushstrokes of tearful melodies and fine-bristled orchestrations give the album a fluidity and smoothness. If you are a fan of the band, and enjoyed The Great Silk Road and Манас, purchasing Turan is a no-brainer.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Osmose Productions