Vspolokh – Помре Review

“In mainstream literature, the anti-hero dies. In Ural literature, everyone dies.” This cheery adage is not only the plot of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, but also the philosophical basis for the music of Russian black metal group, Vspolokh. The band makes no bones about its admiration for its Ural heritage, playing a form of music it describes as “Ural Chthonic Black Metal.” Color me intrigued, if somewhat skeptical; for an album claiming Russian heritage as its inspiration, the cover looks a little too much like that of a recent (excellent) release from a Swedish band (Murg’s Strävan). Regardless, Помре (Rompe), Vspolokh’s second album, and first since 2010’s Печаль о прошлом (Sorrow of the Past), promises to fuse bleak, raw, uncompromising black metal with serious themes of nihilism, futility and the meaning of isolation. Sounding a bit… familiar?

“Never attack Russia in the Winter,” or so the old adage goes. The unforgiving environment, the freezing weather, the vast landscape… while these are unkind to foreign armies, they provide extremely fertile ground for great art. Which makes it all the more puzzling that Помре sounds so similar to a number of other bands. Whether Fen, Wolves in the Throne Room, or even last year’s Evohé, this is a well-established aesthetic. Listening to Vspolokh is like putting on that comfortable t-shirt from your first gig; immediately familiar yet comforting at the same time. This is all fine and good, albeit a little disappointing; when a band has promised to draw on the bleak canon of Russian literary heritage to power its music, you expect a degree of boundary-pushing. With Помре, that is not to be. Not all great music is original, though, and bands can make up for a lack of new ideas with consistently excellent song-writing. Like the latter novels of Tolstoy, in this regard, Vspolokh is only partially successful.

Помре consists of five long tracks (none running under seven and a half minutes), and two interludes. When Vspolokh fires, as on title track “Помре,” this time allows the band breathing space to construct interesting compositional variations around solid riffs that alternate between dissonance and hypnotic chanting. While these Russians portray a harsh and intimidating image, their music is frequently catchy, with a firm grasp of melody that enhances the harshness of the black metal. “Туман и пепел” showcases this variety, with unpredictable, yet logical, tempo changes woven together to produce a profoundly satisfying track. Vspolokh is also not afraid to take the foot off the accelerator when necessary, embracing sections of post-metal and even traditional instrumentation. The smooth and seamless way different genres are blended together makes these tracks fun and interesting.

Unfortunately, not all the songs are as successful. Some struggle to justify their length, ultimately relying on padding and filler. “На серых равнинах” takes an age to warm up, builds to a cool climax forged on a compelling black metal, before a ponderous denouement closes it out. It’s not bad, it’s just crippled by bloat; an interesting 5 minute track trapped in a 10 minute track’s body. Other songs like “В загробье” suffer a similar fate, with familiar black metal tropes dominating without any particularly original features to make them stand out. An overwhelming sense of familiarity is frequently felt, and you find yourself yearning for Vspolokh to really imprint its personality on proceedings.

Помре contains a lot of really solid material, entertainingly performed. It also contains a fair bit of filler. What it really lacks, though, is truly original ideas. Like its cover, it seems to ape and tweak ideas, rather than really coming up with new ones. While there is plenty here to enjoy, you’ve probably heard this kinda atmospheric black metal before. This is disappointing considering the heritage Vspolokh claims to draw upon. The great Russian authors like Gogol, Dostoevsky and Turgenev aren’t revered today because they played it safe. For better or worse, they stamped themselves on their art. Помре is good black metal. If these guys want to make great black metal, they’ll need to be more original next time.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Purity Through Fire
Websites: vspolokh.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/vspolokh
Releases Worldwide: June 21st, 2020

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