According to the dictionary, to “underrate” is to underestimate the extent, value, or importance of someone or something. What a way to start a review from a writer like me. A writer that, according to most readers, underrates reviews on a weekly basis. Talk about your ultimate clickbait. But, that’s not what I mean by “underrate.” I’m not talking about album scores or year-end lists. I’m talking about bands. The “underrated” kind. And there are lots of them. But there’s one, in particular, that I never knew existed until our Black Queen (Madam X) brought them to my attention. That band is Ukraine’s Kroda. Not including this year’s Selbstwelt, this underrated black metal outfit has seven full-lengths in almost twice as many years. Seven full-lengths—some might argue that Fünf Jahre Kulturkampf is a four-song EP with a bunch of re-recordings—of folky, pagan black metal that includes the usual bass, drums, and acoustic and electric guitars. But none exist without cello, flute, keyboards, tambourine, mouth harp, and kangling (the fuck…?). Fourteen years of a band growing into their style and, with that, seven time-tested albums. Add Selbstwelt and that makes eight in those fourteen years. Kroda aren’t underrated only in my eyes. They’re underrated in the eyes of science. You can’t argue that shit.
As far as pagan black metal goes, Kroda have done most, if not, everything. Much like their Austrian brethren Summoning (who released an album earlier this year), this 6+ member lineup have traversed backroads occupied by crushing black metal riffs (as per debut record, Поплач мені, річко…), toll roads controlled by unforgettable leads (Похорон сонця (Fimbulvinter) and Schwarzpfad), and side-roads haunted by navel-watching melodies (Schwarzpfad, GinnungaGap GinnungaGaldr GinnungaKaos, and Навій схрон). Selbstwelt continues that journey, taking many of its nods from predecessors like Schwarzpfad and GinnungaGap GinnungaGaldr GinnungaKaos—particularly melodic nods. And, with one of the cleanest productions in the band’s catalog, and a passion as deep as any band’s debut or sophomore release, Selbstwelt will—like the band’s entire discog—be another underrated album in the pagan genre.
Here, as with Schwarzpfad, song titles are individual parts to a full story. And, like all great stories, this one has a beginning, a middle, and an end; a conflict and a climax; and a conclusion that makes you wanna start it over again. The beginning is “Credo,” the middle is “Egodeath,” the end is “Nordlandschaften.” All are captivating instrumentals crafted to bring the desired mood. The first sets the stage with a Rotting Christ vibe that pitches you forward into the inevitable war ahead. The second is the war. And with it comes the marching folkiness of Samael and Rotting Christ—unsettling all and blacking-out any ray of hope. But, the third is that ray of hope. Its breathtaking, keyboard atmospheres are Selbstwelt‘s calm after the storm; its piece of mind.
But it’s everything lying between these numbers that leave the greatest impact. After the instrumental opener, “The Ritual At the Gates of Eternity” introduces us to some Marduk-like blasts and a black passion buried below its surface. A passion that stays to the paths set by Schwarzpfad and GinnungaGap GinnungaGaldr GinnungaKaos. Then it tops it with desperate screams and heart-wrenching strings as it approaches its end. But “The Ritual At the Gates of Eternity” ain’t the only one with this power. From the start, “Beyond the Life and Nonexistence” engulfs you with gorgeous strings and clean guitars before unleashing some folking flute and mouth harp. From here, the build doesn’t stop until the song parts ways with every emotional arrangement it has hidden in its sheath. But the best atmospheric conclusion belongs to “The Land of Selbst.” Beginning with some old-school, black ‘n’ roll bass slides, GinnungaGaldr’s vocals grind at the earth like a well-drill. Once the earth breaks, riffs as familiar as those from Kroda‘s debut spring forth. After slithering across this virgin land, the song builds and erupts into a shower of feels.
Like many of the band’s previous releases, this one comes with a cover track to act as the album’s true closer. And, my god, they couldn’t have picked a better song to match Selbstwelt‘s character. Summoning‘s powerful “Like Some Snow-White Marble Eyes” finishes the record in the best possible way. The original is breathtaking but this ain’t far behind.
With that, there leaves only one song that doesn’t fully ensnare me: the third installment, “A Long Alone Pathway.” It’s not a filler piece but it isn’t as full as the others. The other issue is, by creating a cleaner production, the end-product is rather compressed. It doesn’t ruin the flow or break the album, but the compression is there. That said, this is another fantastic album from one of the most underrated bands out there. One can only hope this group doesn’t remain neglected much longer. That’s why this review had to be done. No matter how late it is.