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Apokrifna Realnost’s “На Рєкахъ Вавл҃нскыхъ”: An Orthodox Christian Journey Through the Lens of Late-Eighties Darkwave

by Suweln Dangvn

This is an old record; in fact, after a little research, it appears that На Рєкахъ Вавл҃нскыхъ was first released nearly thirty years ago in 1988. I recall listening to it for the first time a few years ago, and now a new label, AnnapurnA, which is mostly dedicated to releasing ‘unconventional’ music, has emerged and reissued it in 2017. It was a pleasure to get a digital review copy from them because this effort from Yugoslavian band Apokrifna Realnost is quite a gem indeed. To this day, На Рєкахъ Вавл҃нскыхъ is still the first and only album from the duo of Goran Trajkoski and Zoran Spasovski, both known later for their work in important Macedonian darkwave bands Anastasia and Mizar. This brief, solitary evidence of Apokrifna Realnost’s existence consists of only five short tracks that clock in at a total of about twenty minutes. Despite this disappointingly short duration, what На Рєкахъ Вавл҃нскыхъ does have is a really deep atmosphere created by various instruments and vocal approaches, particularly chanting. As hinted at by that specific tradition, this album is an orthodox Christian record. This is confirmed by the presence of a verse from the Gospel of Luke 19:41-44 in the original version, written in archaic Serbian Cyrillic:

“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”

Unfortunately, since I can’t actually understand the lyrics behind the album because of lingual barriers, my attention while listening to it was focused on sound alone. The sound consists of various string instruments, drums, occasional ambient sounds, and vocals.

На Рєкахъ Вавл҃нскыхъ begins with ringing church bells that quickly dissipate into some experimental effected ringing of smaller bells. These sounds come together to bridge a gap into the important orthodox chanting of Apokrifna Realnost. The atmosphere is similar to vintage black-and-white Slavic movies like Andrej Rubljov by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is mysterious in tone and dark in that way that only similarly sacred-minded musicians can attain. The instruments change between songs, with the second track being more string-driven with clear vocals which are performed somewhere between of talking and singing. A subtly ritualistic approach to percussion helps to maintain the atmosphere, though differing sound variations can be found in every song. For example, ‘Beseda pri vhode v Ierusalime’ consists of only one string track and vocals. It is essentially a poem. Other songs are different in atmosphere too. You can hear a strong ambient approach in some tracks while more traditional song structures are at work in others.

Sometimes, На Рєкахъ Вавл҃нскыхъ sounds surreal thanks to these antique-sounding church bells. While listening to it, one can end up feeling like they’re submerged in a deep forest at twilight, wandering and searching for whatever they desire. Perhaps they’ll stumble across some ancient symbols in a graveyard, leading them into a Lovecraftian horror-quest. Maybe an answer to the meaning of life—or lack thereof—awaits at the end. Ultimately, each listener will find their own path, and perhaps even a few deeper answers in the short journey that is На Рєкахъ Вавл҃нскыхъ.