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Ugniavijas – Karo dainos

Karo dainos

Karo dainos

With so many artists in both metal and folk trying to live out some alien (often Viking-themed) cultural fantasy, it is a joy when a group unambiguously advertises its cultural origins. That the latter approach works especially well with more obscure cultures is evidenced by the release at hand. Even the cover art of Karo dainos, the 2012 album the Lithuanian folk quintet Ugniavijas, hints us into the direction of their Baltic provenance. A horse, a sunwheel, and the axe of Perun: Even those who never bothered to get into the particulars of Lithuanian folkloric symbols will know to at least search for this project’s roots in the Eastern half of Europe.

While the translation of this album’s title—War Songs—refers to a theme unbound by time or territory, it still provides us with an accurate reflection of Lithuania’s history; this nation has undergone continuous territorial changes over the centuries and often found itself at the receiving end of the Evening Land’s innumerable violent outbursts. Even when the Lithuania we know today obtained its independence within our lifetime, it did not happen without bloodshed. Thus, for war to be the theme of the twelve traditional hymns performed on Karo dainos is, quite simply, a historical inevitability.

The sound of Karo dainos reflects the Baltic spirit and its corresponding geography in the sense that it is trapped between Norse/Germanic clamour and the Weltschmerz of the more introvert Slavs. Slow-paced tribal percussion reminds of Russian and Belarusian songs about the attacks of the Mongols or other barbaric invaders[*]. Meanwhile, the vocals consist of multiple performers (all male) singing harmoniously at different pitches, making for a multi-layered vocal structure that is characteristic of (though by no means unique to) Norse traditional music.

Ugniavijas

Ugniavijas

It is clear from the very start of the album that Ugniavijas relies heavily on its vocals. Album opener ‘Pulkun’ is a canon-style song that is almost a cappella, save for the percussion, whose presence is limited to establishing a basic rhythm. Granted, not every song has such stripped-down instrumentation, but even on the occasions when such instruments as the bagpipe and the kanklės (a traditional Lithuanian string instrument similar to the Russian gusli) make their appearance, their role is mostly accessory in nature. One exception is the bagpipe-based instrumental ‘Senovės kova’, and indeed it is not as memorable as songs such as ‘Žvingia Žvingia’ and ‘Palaukėj pamiškėj’ where the four voices this band has at its disposal are the sole melodic instruments (though, admittedly, part of that gap in quality can be traced back to the underdeveloped bagpipe technique).

Those who are interested in traditional European folk music, particularly its Baltic variant, will find in Karo dainos an appealing homage to the legacy of turmoil that makes up a considerable part of Lithuania’s history. By contrast, those sceptical of the genre’s allure are not likely to be won over by Ugniavijas’s album. Then again, the power of traditional folk music has never resided in its ability to woo the listener, as it rather aims to serve as the conduit of a culture’s collective memory. Particularly for Europeans who still feel connected to their ancient homeland, folk music serves as one of the few remaining windows through which to witness the ownness of our ancestral nations before large swathes of them were drowned out by the Washingtonian Concert. With that in mind, Karo dainos—by a considerable margin—does more right than wrong.

*A good comparison would be ‘Abarona Krychava’ (‘The defence of Krychau’), a Belarusian song which dates back to the times of the Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Sources:

Dangus Presents the Magical World of Baltic Dark Folk with Romowe Rikoito and Ugniavijas
Karo dainos
Release Page

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Track List:

01) Pulkun
02) Verkė tėvas ir motina
03) O kai sauliutė tekėjo
04) Balnok tarnai
05) Anksti ryto kėliau
06) Tu pucine
07) Vai kalnai kalneliai
08) Senovės kova
09) Žvingia žvingia
10) Oi šermukšnio
11) Ko gi ūžia tie sodeliai
12) Palaukėj pamiškėj

Written by: Degtyarov
Label: Dangus (Lithuania) / DGCD042 / CD
Traditional Folk / Baltic Folk