That there is a hefty amount of cross-pollination between the respective audiences of folk and (black) metal is no coincidence. Nor is the fact that black metal artists have always had a tendency to make forays into folk music. There is, of course, the populist folk/extreme metal fusion of bands such as Arkona and Skyforger, but we should not forget about black metal artists who have, throughout the decades, crafted entire folk albums without feeling the need to put out these records under the guise of side-project experimentation. Ulver‘s Kveldssanger is a classic example, but recent releases such as Lönndom‘s Viddernas tolv kapitel and Kamaedzitca‘s xQzTN 3087 show the continuity of this trend.
Different though traditional folk and raw black metal may sound, they represent two sides of the same coin; both reject modernity in their own idiosyncratic ways. As I wrote in an article on a folk/metal split:
‘Though commonly seen as a force of desecration, the black metal genre is ugly only in form, as its hideousness merely serves to hold up a mirror to the nauseating excesses of the era against which it revolts. Folk music, too, spearheads its own insurrection by attempting to purify itself of the grotesque musical mutations that together constitute the soundtrack of the 21st century. […] Impossible though it may be to deny the heritage of the past few centuries, which has lamentably engraved itself into our very being, one can resist its values by using its ugliness to create something beautiful once again. Albeit in different respective manners, this is what both black metal and folk set out to do.’
With the profound bond between metal and folk music taken into consideration, Piarevaracien‘s folk album Spadčyna (English title: Heritage) is less of an anomaly than it would seem at first. While the Minsk natives made a name for themselves with black/folk metal, their momentary switch to a blend of traditional folk music and elements of electronic and rock music offers a fresh take on the band’s aesthetic without abandoning its spirit.
Said spirit is derived directly from the Belarusian Volksgeist; a landlocked country that EU plutocrats have dubbed—without a grain of irony—‘the last dictatorship of Europe’ has a correspondingly hermetic disposition towards the outside world, focusing mostly on its political and cultural kinship with Russia. As a result of its seclusion, both governmental institutions and counter-culture artists take great interest in the country’s cultural roots. These roots, due to the vast forests, swamps, and plains that make up most of the Belarusian geography, consist for a considerable part of rural customs and folklore. Taking its historical bond with nature into account, it only seems appropriate that Belarus was one of the last countries to convert to Christianity, with old faith sects surviving well into the nineteenth century. After all, one of the original meanings of ‘pagan’ is ‘country dweller’, which is exactly what all Belarusians were, until very recently.
The pastoral charm of the tiny Belarusian nation is reflected in the melancholic, all-female choral singing on Spadčyna. This album’s unmistakable Belarusian folk sound closely resembles traditional projects such as Goryń or the Students’ Ethnographic Association, the latter of which was sampled generously on Kamaedzitca’s aforementioned xQzTN 3087 record. On most tracks, keyboards, electronic beats, and electric guitars make their appearance, but their presence is subtle enough to awaken the impression that the songs on this album are simply reworked versions of field recordings of Belarusian peasant songs.
Their traditional façade notwithstanding, the compositions on Spadčyna are all original. This was confirmed to Heathen Harvest by the band’s label, Crush the Desert. That we even had to verify this testifies to the band’s frighteningly accurate representation of Belarusian folk music (and possibly the ignorance of yours truly).
The meaning behind the songs corresponds to broader Slavic tradition: The four main tracks—’Kalada’, ‘Dunaju’, ‘Oj, kupała’, and ‘Za tumanam’—narrate the change of seasons whilst not omitting such typical folkloric themes as war, feminine innocence, and, well… Cossacks. Piarevaracien’s three session singers—Athame, Darja Zujeva, and Nasta Špileuskaya—channel perfectly the sorrowful yet persistent spirit that so often emanates from the old songs of the Eastern-European countryside. Meanwhile, the keyboards, drums, and acoustic guitars provide these laments with a more immediate, almost pop-like appeal.
These main tracks are interspersed with five untitled tracks, which make up the rest of the album. However, their namelessness does not mean that these remaining tracks are mere interludes. Rather, they rely less on vocals, with the singing being reduced to non-linguistic chanting. Electronic beats and synthesizers offer extra melodic seasoning, resulting in a more abstract narrative when juxtaposed against the straightforward storytelling of the named compositions.
Spadčyna brings together diverse, seemingly contradictory musical traditions in the most harmonious manner. It sees the voice of tradition break through the murmur of modernity without losing its innate eloquence. While countless metal bands have, over the years, experimented with folk music to varying degrees of success, Piarevaracien’s work is a particularly memorable one as it effortlessly captures the spirit of its homeland and pours it into a mould enriched with its own mannerisms. On Spadčyna, the old meets the new, standing united in their rejection of modern meaninglessness. Clearly, the spirit of the country dwellers of old has still not abandoned the nation of Belarus.
01) Untitled I
03) Untitled II
05) Untitled III
06) Oj, kupała
07) Untitled IV
08) Za tumanam