Neofolk’s Eastern European voice has long been lacking, for any given number of reasons, since the genre first began to anchor its roots and evolve into a solidified sub-culture of industrial music. Considering the rich history and the prideful, strong people of this region, you would think that a country such as Russia would harbor hundreds of minds and hearts eager to jump into a genre that, for many, and in many ways, perfectly embodies the spirit of those lands. That said, labels like Bunkier Productions, Der Angriff, and, though based in Israel, The Eastern Front are providing a necessary, and sorely over-looked, glance into this beautiful world of expressive folk and martial remembrance by giving some of the projects from this region a foundation on which to stand and project their music into the Western world. Ritual Front, known for this release as “Ритуальный Фронт”, is a classic example of some of the wonderful music that has come out of this part of the world thanks to these labels, with this album specifically coming to fruition with the help of Bunkier Productions. Ritual Front is the work of a duo of musicians in Michael A. and “Roric”, with the session-member help of Sergey Bukreev, Tatiana Vasina and Anna Inshutina. All lyrics are sung in Russian or Polish, so don’t expect to join in vocally unless you speak either language.
The opening track, “На Сырой Земле” or “On Mother Earth” opens the album in what begins as a subtle ambient industrial sound that quickly fades out in favor of an atmospheric synth, acoustic, and melodically droning guitar structure that eventually meets with lavish stringed arrangements, imposing a sound not unlike that droning wonder which I’ve only heard from the likes of Julia Kent in her “Last Day of July” EP. This exceptionally emotional introduction to the album cuts abruptly, and the song is quickly reignited, drawn away from the ethereal and into a more powerful existence by featuring tribalistic percussion, melodica, and the relatively monotone, reflective voice of Michael A. The band shows off some song-writing complexity in the bridge of this track, breaking out into an instrumental, orchestral interlude that showcases their sharp aptitude for martial classical music — a style that is further realized through the ending which features a sampling that is, though on a much less anthemic scale, similar to Rome’s “The Secret Songs of Europe”. All of this is found within the first track which stands on its own as unique as the other five found on the album — all of which can be seen in their own respective light.
For instance, track two features a much more serious, tenebrous tone, opening to an unsettling guitar melody with a synth-string accompaniment that would fit easily into an atmospheric horror soundtrack. Again, much like the first, the track completely changes both pace and mood once the voice and percussive elements enter the mix, becoming more of a straight-forward, classic neofolk song with some traditional elements that are evident through another spectacularly performed orchestral bridge, this time featuring a solo flute performance that ends up amongst a full cast of additional instrumentation. It is simply uncannily impressive in regards to instrumental and melodic complexity, and to take it up to another heightened level, the lyrics are derived from a poem entitled “Śmierć” by the World War II-era Polish poet and activist (member of “Komenda Obrońców Polski”) Grażyna Chrostowska — a tragic figure who was ultimately one of the millions murdered by the occupying German forces. At the time of her death, she was only twenty, and while countless other people at her age or younger met their fate at the hands of the Nazis, it is still difficult to swallow.
Another change in pace comes from the third track which is, curiously, performed by a different artist all together in “M.O.B.A.S.” aka Voist Angiras whom, other than this song, doesn’t seem to have any other works available. This is a work of pure ambient industrial that takes urban field recordings, a martial industrial background, and a Board of Canada style, playfully foreboding layered melody and molds them into somewhat of a haunting departure into the World War II eastern front. Beyond this, the title track, “The Sun of the Dead”, is another textbook neofolk track, albeit with a mostly instrumental approach (with two moments of vocals) and a distinctly Eastern / gypsy-esque influence. The following track, “Zeljko”, is a bombastic instrumental track with some mild psych influences — influences that would come out in full force on the last track of the album, a cover of 90′s cult band Chimera from St. Petersburg, entitled “Water – Fire”. This one has a commanding vocal approach and is fairly strange. It opens up sounding like it will turn into a relatively straight-forward psych rock track, it quickly and abruptly turns straight into left field, adopting a style that is somehow a cross between industrial, darkwave, and ambient with very subtle folk influences found in sparse moments. It would be impressive if it weren’t originally from another artist, but Ritual Front manages to breathe life into it once more.
As with many albums lately, there are only a few subtle details that keep the album from achieving a perfect score, in this case it would be — and this is literally the only negative moment — the sloppy performance of the guitar in the opening track. It thankfully ends up blending well into the wall of sound in front of it, but it does become distracting and throws off the beat of the track in moments. Fortunately, this is only the intro to the track and performance throughout the rest of the album is pretty spot-on. Overall, “Солнце Мёртвых” is one more brilliant work in the realm of neofolk, and an important one at that considering the area of the world that it represents. Unfortunately, the fact that it is a very limited release will assuredly keep it buried by the dust of time, but those who do make the effort to attain a copy will be happy to discover that they’ve found a rare gem.
On the damp ground space sold
In a centuries old forest, leaves torn
In the still waters of the Red
In the sky floating clouds of black
In the towns of large crowd of noisy
People in the crowd, his eyes bleary
On a crowd of shadows gliding gallows
Blood poured out of the sunset.
01) На Сырой Земле
03) U Hlybi Kryvavaj Hleby
04) The Sun of the Dead
06) Water – Fire (Chimera Cover)