I’ve gone and done it again. I snapped up a promo based on a band name that immediately set my mind racing towards visions of sci-fi-concept-album-mindfuckery, egged on by the reliably unconventional nature of I, Voidhanger releases. In the time between reserving Tchornobog‘s self-titled debut and actually listening to it, I was somewhat hopeful; this is apparently a continuation of the heady concept sole member Markov Soroka established with his Eternium project. While far from great, that band was undeniably ambitious, acting like a more death metal oriented Bal-Sagoth as a vehicle for its esoteric sci-fi story. Strangely, Tchornobog sounds very little like Eternium despite the conceptual overlap. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing – if only Tchornobog wasn’t such a tchornoslog.
Tchornobog is Soroka’s attempt at infiltrating the extreme metal sect occupied by the likes of Portal and Abyssal; a brew of cavernous, cacophonous death metal, dripping with fringe-style elements that blur genre lines. The latter band is probably the closest comparison to Tchornobog’s execution, as both craft a veritable whirlpool of chaotic guitar layering and varied drum rhythms. If there’s anything I’m overtly positive about here, it’s the atmosphere that these performances conjure. Tchornobog’s sound is so disgusting and viscous that you can practically feel it coating your eardrums, with ethereal, The Great Old Ones-like leads cropping up on occasion to provide a cosmic undercurrent. The production is absolutely not flawless – more on that later – but the record’s layered instrumentation certainly leaves a lasting impression. The ambient, squelching sound effects at the end of “The Vomiting Tchornobog,” which may or may not be recordings of the end result of a meal at Chipotle, certainly bolster a sense of disgust. Yuck.
While there are undoubtedly instances of innovation and memorable riff-craft to be found, scouring for these nuggets proved, for me at least, a draining and borderline miserable experience. Tchornobog consists of four numbers that clock in at a total of sixty-five minutes, and there’s not nearly enough substantial material to sustain these bloated compositions for even half their length. The tracks are constructed from a series of disjointed, overlong movements, each one sustaining one or two guitar patterns for several minutes, before Soroka determines that the riff horse in question is long dead and thoroughly beaten and cycles to the next passage. In most cases, this pattern shuffles towards a conclusion that loops back to the opening riff in a vain attempt at establishing some sort of identifiable song structure. I get the impression that Tchornobog probably thinks this gimmick is rather clever, but this payoff never feels earned or worth reaching in the first place.
The poor production only amplifies Tchornobog’s songwriting sins. This style of metal carries an oppressive weight that practically demands murky tones, and while the guitars are certainly subterranean sounding, they also lack personality and bite. This leads to a rather unique problem where, though the strings are undoubtedly given priority in the mix, they also sound strangely distant and detached. This is nothing compared to the bizarrely subdued drum mixing, though; apart from the cymbals, the drums are almost completely smothered when Tchornobog ramps up the intensity, a problem compounded by the obnoxious reverb applied to the one-note growls. Markov is most successful, then, when he pumps the breaks; there are suitably somber doom passages to be found, especially on “Non-Existence’s Warmth” which recalls Bohren & der Club of Gore through its melancholic utilization of a lone saxophone. Again, though, these sections lack the intended dramatic weight without any semblance of song structure to frame them.
I don’t outright hate Tchornobog, and I expect many listeners will be quite taken with it. There are legitimate instances of dark, unsettling beauty buried deep within the sheer density of this record, and diligent fans of avant-garde metal may register depth in what I perceive as an utter lack of attention to songwriting. To these ears, there’s roughly enough material here to sustain an EP, and stretching said material to three times its length has the same effect as blowing up a thumbnail image to full screen without adjusting the resolution. You can make out the scraps of potential if you squint, but most of it is lost to the tchornofog.