Vjacheslav Golub, the mastermind behind the Belarusian Erde, performing here under the nom de plume of Untermensch, seems to be a fairly popular musician coming out of the Eastern European neofolk scene. Böse Zeit, the project’s debut album on Austria’s Steinklang Industries, has acquired a gathering of various contributors—a vast and musically heterogeneous group of fellow artists from Golub’s corner of the world. Most of these artists, it goes without saying, are totally unbeknown to the average Western European or American listener. Erde of course translates to Earth in German; it’s an entire declaration of intent with a single word. At this point, the listener would be naïve to expect anything other than folk music, especially the breed that is most rooted in the musical and metaphysical traditions of Vjacheslav’s native land.
The opener for Böse Zeit, ‘Zur Freiheit!’ (To Freedom!), features fellow Belarusian folk metal band Pragnavit; their brass and drums unleash the untameable power of traditional music. Both the title and the rhythm suggest some sort of Slavic version of Bacchanalia, wild hunts in the woods, orgies of sex and blood.
After such a fulminating start, while still the heart pumps like crazy, we’re allowed to get some air and take a long breath in the presence of the majestic ‘Unruhevollen Jugend’, which marks a decisive shift to martial sounds. The adjective ‘unruhevoll’ conveys the troubled, dramatic restlessness of a youth defined in the refrain as ‘so young, so blind’. On ‘Der Wind’, Erde retakes the folk paths aided by Sevast; the piece is a multi-layered instrumental track where sounds and instruments combine (I seem to perceive hearing a mouth harp, which I’d say is an unusual choice) to ultimately return a complex canvas of popular folklore and spirit.
Following are the bombastic ‘Masters of Silence’ and its counter-altar, ‘Gore’, whose lyrics originate as a traditional Russian prayer. Profoundly influenced from Slavic folklore is also ‘Vesna’, Böse Zeit‘s penultimate track; V. is the mythological feminine figure of spring and youth. Its andamento is merrier and more festive than the general mood but doesn’t lack the dark corners now and then that are oh so important to the genre.
Outside of Golub’s Slavic folklore, two characters step into Erde’s pantheon of influences: Leonard Cohen and, even more figuratively, Rainer Maria Rilke. The first is paid homage with a cover that once again changes the rules of the game and binds together the martial, masculine sensibility of the percussion with the ethereal chant of Anastasia from Emphavoice; the alternation between these two elements keeps the attention span high for the listener. Majdanek Waltz are the final guests for the album, appearing on ‘Die Quelle’.
Böse Zeit puts on a great show in the end; the only doubt that may be lingering for me is a slight musical inconsistency which is also the reason why the album is so well-assorted when it comes to changes of pace and style. The collaborations also absolutely play a big part.
While Böse Zeit is surely a deeply Slavic album at heart, it is also undeniable how, when digging into one’s own soul, anyone can find a profound bond on the same level as the musicians in terms of being able to appreciate their spirituality. Where rationality divides, common values and ancestral heritage bring together—around a bonfire at night, if possible.
01) Zur Freiheit! (Feat. Pragnavit)
02) Unruhevollen Jugend
03) Der Wind (Feat. Sevast)
04) Masters of Silence (Feat. A.Y.F.)
05) Gore (Feat. Moon Far Away)
07) The Raven (Feat. Emphavoice)
08) Die Quelle (Feat. Majdanek Waltz)
10) Try Angaly