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Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky - Girl with strawberries, 1909

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky – Girl with strawberries, 1909; taken near Aleksey Ganin’s home region

In celebration of Summer Solstice, Sivyj Yar‘s latest EP, titled The Unmourned Past, is being released today. Heathen Harvest is exclusively streaming the EP’s first of two tracks: ‘The Wind Whispers in Solitude’. To celebrate this honour, we have provided a review that delves into the background and symbology of this new release, and Sivyj Yar’s discography as a whole.

Following their 2013 release The Dawns Were Drifting as Before, the Russian black metal project Sivyj Yar slowly ascended to underground prominence. Although subsequent releases have featured session drummer Aeargh, Sivyj Yar is pricipally a solo effort by multi-instrumentalist Vladimir. By means of his Alcest-inspired riffing, melodic bass-playing and Varg Vikernes-esque screams, Vladimir has quickly turned Sivyj Yar into one of Russia’s leading black metal exports. While the band’s latest EP, The Unmourned Past, offers only two tracks, it is not to be seen as a ‘quick fix’ to keep the audience in suspense; rather, it is the coronation of Sivyj Yar’s work so far.

The significance aforementioned album The Dawns Were Drifting as Before is not just that it ushered in Sivyj Yar’s breakthrough to the Western metal underground. Thematically, this full-length departed from the nature-inspired mysticism of their first few releases, and was the first instalment in what would become their ‘peasant trilogy’. Said trilogy –which also includes their subsequent albums From the Dead Villages Darkness (2014) and Burial Shrouds (2015)– tells us of the hardships of rural life in Russia. Particular attention is devoted to the famines that swept the countryside during industrialisation under Soviet rule. As a result, the ‘death’ and ‘darkness’ alluded to in the band’s recent album titles is much more tangible than the generic, abstract treatment of these topics that typifies black metal.

Sivyj YarINSERT

The Unmourned Past album art, featuring poet Aleksey Ganin (1893 — 1925)

With The Unmourned Past, Sivyj Yar pays one final visit to the dire countryside of the pre-WW2 Soviet Union. Featured on the cover art is Aleksey Ganin, an early 20th century poet from rural Russia. Ganin belonged to the movement of neopeasant poets (‘новокрестьянские поэты’) along with his friend, the more well-known Sergei Yesenin. During his short life, Ganin wrote several poems critical of the Bolshevists, in particular their treatment of farmers. As a consequence, he was branded a counterrevolutionary by the Soviet government, and he was soon after executed in 1925, at the age of only 31. This obscure icon of Russian peasantry was chosen to represent The Unmourned Past not by coincidence; like Ganin’s poems, Sivyj Yar tells us of the suffering of the ordinary men and women living in the countryside during the unforgiving first decades of Soviet rule.

The Unmourned Past‘s ominous topic material demands music that carries a suchlike atmosphere. And indeed, little joy is to be found among these 21 minutes of music. Sivyj Yar has always been a master at crafting moods that are acute, desperate, and mesmerising in their bleakness, without ever falling back onto the goofy angst of so-called ‘depressive-suicidal black metal’. This all-too-rare balance finds its origin in the way the two dominant styles –post-black metal and Slavic black metal– are juxtaposed against each other. Post-black metal (or whateveryouwannacallitthisweek-gaze) tends to overdose on its typical mix of euphoria and melodrama to a point where the music becomes comical and maudlin rather than sweeping and overwhelming. Sivyj Yar, however, balances out its bombastic tendencies with the more subtle, meandering melancholy that is an integral part of the Eastern European black metal tradition.

What also helps The Unmourned Past hit that sweet (but not sugary) spot is the fact that Vladimir is quite simply a great composer, and he is only getting better. Compared to The Dawns Were Drifting as Before, on which songs typically consisted of two or three clearly divided movements, the transitions on both ‘The Wind Whispers in Solitude’ and the title track are silky smooth. Instead of changing abruptly, the moods now transform gradually, sweeping up the listener with less effort than ever before. The rich instrumentation does the rest of the work; with occasionally even a domra and a violin hidden beneath the high-pitched guitars and the band’s characteristically floral basslines, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that so few people are involved with this project.

The Unmourned Past may not offer as many songs as any of the entries into the peasant trilogy, but Sivyj Yar’s new EP is nonetheless an essential addition to this part of the band’s discography. It sees Vladimir perfect the style he pioneered on The Dawns Were Drifting as Before, making The Unmourned Past the ideal occasion to seal off this part of the band’s career before they move on to new thematic horizons. Sivyj Yar’s latest release is also definite proof that they are one of the primary forces in Eastern black metal today. Where Drudkh failed with A Handful of Stars, Sivyj Yar successfully incorporates post-black techniques into the Slavic black metal sound, creating music that feels both novel and traditional at the same time. With The Unmourned Past, Sivyj Yar should now be on the radar of every black metal enthusiast.

Track List:

01) The Wind Whispers Solitude

02) The Unmourned Past

Written by: Degtyarov

Label: Avantgarde Music (Italy) / Bandcamp

Digital; CD, Digisleeve (Ltd. 200)

Black Metal/ Post-Black Metal/ Slavic Black Metal