Straight from the press and already half gone Years of Ashes and Memory, the second expenditure by this virtually unheard of Russian band, reaches a new and far more treacherous summit for raw pagan black metal then many can ever aspire to. This has to be one of THE best pagan black metal albums of the past decade, it’s really that incredible. For starters the album kicks of the massacre with the title track powered by a stampede of bass drum and low end tones giving an atmospheric and antagonizing strength to an already furious and primordial pagan assault further backed by slight folk rhythms in both melody and rhythm guitars and an incredible Goth style synth that reminds me of the Sisters of Mercy. Through tremolo strummed chords ring out as a wall of distortion explodes in the background and  ghoulish vocals call upon the slavic spirits to set off a massive fire storm that rages across fields for dozens of miles. Orthank literally combines the glory and muscle of Blood, Fire, Death with the rawness and spirit of Dark Medieval Times and The Shadowthrone, and the magnificence of Summoning into 7 minutes of black metal grandeur, so if that alone doesn’t peak your interest than you’re clearly on the wrong website. Much like other raw pagan black metal bands such as Branikald, Forest, Rundagor, which all hail from the same era, country, and share members as part of Blaze Birth Hall back in the mid 90’s; Orthank embody the idealism of European ancestry and contain the same raw, unbridled, trend-less fury but bring it to a more modern time with better production.

I’ve been listening to this album at work thanks to their Bandcamp stream for days now (until the tape arrived in my mailbox) and cannot resist the less-than 30-minutes of Slavic heathenism this band embodies. Every listen begins with the inescapable majesty of “Years of Ashes and Memory” and then drifts briefly before recapturing my attention with the chilling and blood boiling rush triggered by the epic Slavic folk anthem “Spring Arrival”. Here, right smack in the middle of the album, “Spring Arrival” steps in with a more haunting atmospheric song strongly rooted in pagan rhythms with a climactic flow of slow-mid-blazing-slow tempos that re-awakens the fire from the beginning but brings in a bit more of the ancient feel with cleaner vocals that eventually  morph into throaty howls of pagan chants. The slight cleanness to the main vocals with the echo effect of the production gives a damn good tribal ritualistic sensation that is greatly amplified when the pagan vocals kick in toward the end of the song, and with  the  bass being so very audible and pumping the physicality of the song really becomes three-dimensional. There’s also a slight call and response between the pagan and main vocals that is reminiscent to that of Viking themed black metal that always generates the feel of warriors calling out to each other during battle, which is always a major high point for me.

Technically Orthank is a one-man operation, but the lyrics are credited to a second member who did bass, vocals, and lyrics on their debut last year, so there’s a likelihood that the line-up is the same here and just not updated on their Bandcamp site but I can’t say that with any certainty. Anyhow, Orthank fit in a perfect grey area between old school black metal, raw black metal, Pagan black metal, and atmospheric black metal. In fact they are similar in style and sound to other acts (mostly Slavic) such as Branikald, Drudkh, and Forest with hints of Summoning, Satyricon, and Bathory.  The Slavic sound is very distinct in comparison to the Scandinavian/Viking sound, but with Orthank (lyrics aside) it’s a really hard distinction to make as they fit perfectly in the intersection of the two styles, which in my opinion, works in their favor. My only concern is the NSBM labeling, but many bands adopt the pagan moniker, and while I support that wholly I don’t support Nazism, and although National Socialism is associated with that movement it’s actually more in line with the idea of self preservation and national pride.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and even though I might not entirely agree with them, I still accept them. Many still love Wagner even though he was a huge Hitler supporter and his works are still incredible because of what they are and what inspired them within himself. So please recognize some of these bands, many of whom are mislabeled, for what they create is unique and many times incredibly powerful. Forbidden, and most certainly myself, do not condone many opinions, but we support the ability for people to have them and we are equal opportunity bigots, i.e. “We hate everything/everyone equally”. Use your brain and make your own judgements \m/.

You can stream the full album and even buy a digital copy at their Bandcamp site:

http://orthank.bandcamp.com/album/years-of-ashes-and-memory