TRNA – Istok Review

TRNA first came to my attention not long ago, when I volunteered to review Istok, their fourth full-length release, without knowing anything about it. I learned that the band describes their own music as “celestial blackgaze” and thought, what could go wrong? Obviously that answer to that is “everything,” but I was optimistic. As I read about the band’s story, one that drifts away from their Russian homeland to try and capture the spirit of an altogether dreamier, darker, and more abstract place, I grew increasingly intrigued. The band lists influences ranging from Wolves in the Throne Room to Slowdive. Then I discovered the project is an instrumental one. From here, there was no other path but forward – I just had to hear this thing.

Immediately, I was sucked in; the opening title track is a beast of melancholy – heavy, dreamy, cold, and triumphant. Tremolos dominate with sweeping bleak desolation, utilizing slow builds and epic swells. I’m willing to bet the album cover artist, Roman Kamin, has listened to this song, because that is exactly what listening to this song feels like. If you’re someone who thinks that not having vocals might be a problem, TRNA are more than happy to prove you wrong within two minutes of “Istok.” This song does not need singing, growling, or lyrics of any kind to convey its heart-wrenchingly bleak message, or to stand as a perfect mission statement for the “celestial blackgaze” that TRNA are aiming for. Istok starts by putting its best foot forward, and we are off to the races.

Of course, starting with your best track means that it’s all downhill from there, but the songwriting on Istok is so solid that, for the most part, this is fine – Istok is never anything less than good. “Burning Bridges, Shattered Dreams” is an enduringly powerful track, reminding me pleasantly of Malist in it sopening before it explodes into a furious storm of black metal. “Echoes of the Past” takes on a slower approach, a bit gloomier, with frigid passages making way for sweeping guitar leads and an altogether haunting atmosphere. There is so much character in Istok, owing largely to TRNA‘s seemingly unique vision; their inspirations take them far and wide, but it’s their skill at songwriting and execution that ties it all together so well.

With solid songwriting, a beautiful vision, and the skill to execute it, Istok feels unstoppable, but finally stumbles in an interesting way three tracks in. For the album’s third song, “Shining,” TRNA collaborated with Gaerea, crediting them with taking part in the creative process, including writing lyrics and performing vocals. Yes, it turns out this isn’t quite an instrumental album, and the sudden appearance of Gaerea‘s impassioned wails is actually a bit jarring. Istok works really well as an instrumental opus; breaking that for twelve minutes partway in takes a lot of the steam away from the work. Maybe TRNA realized this, as the closing track of the album is… that’s right, “Shining (Instrumental),” adding an extra twelve minutes to the end of what would otherwise have been an album with a runtime of less than an hour. “Rebirth” would have been a fine place to end Istok, and around the forty-eight minute mark, the album does begin to feel like it’s overstaying its welcome a bit. Between the inclusion of really impassioned vocals for only one track, repeated that track without those vocals at the end, and the resulting 60-minute run time, Istok has too many structural issues for me to truly immerse myself in TRNA‘s vision as intended.

It’s hard to be harsh here, because, for the most part, I think Istok is great, succeeding at creating an atmosphere, a vibe, an identity, even, that completely pulls me in and speaks to me in a wordless language with clarity. If one version or the other of “The Shining” had been a bonus track, or if some of the longer tracks had been edited down a little more, who knows? The fact that Istok feels as strong as it does despite my misgivings is, I believe, testament to TRNA‘s talent. Certainly, they’ve won me over, and I will be eagerly looking forward to seeing what they do next.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Candlelight Records
Websites: trnaband.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/trnaband
Releases Worldwide: September 3rd, 2021

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