Darkestrah - Sary Oy LP
Darkestrah - Sary Oy LP
Outside black, doom and drone metal, I'll sometimes listen to the folk and modern music of various cultures in different places around the world and in particular to the music of Central Asia which among other things features a type of singing called throat singing. Throat singing manipulates the harmonic resonances created when air passes through the vocal cords and out the lips and a singer is able to create up to 4 or 6 pitches at the one and the same time, and be their own accompanist by singing high and low tones at once. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) So you can imagine I was interested in the idea of black metal combined with elements of the music and folklore of Kyrgyzstan, the original home of the band under review, Darkestrah, which is located in Central Asia close to where the world champions of throat singing, the peoples of Tuva and western Mongolia, live. Throat singing seems to be a fairly widespread tradition in this part of the world, several ethnic groups including the Kyrgyz have some form of throat singing though the Tuvans and Mongols have developed it the most.
On the whole, Darkestrah's early album "Sary Oy", based I think on a Kyrgyz story about three sisters, is a likeable and accessible BM work that comes close to being a mainstream rock / pop record and with touches of Kyrgyz fok music and siinging that add exotic flavour to the music without being intrusive. I actually wish the music had been grimmer with more of the Kyrgyz native music throughout but probably at the time the album was being made, the band had just arrived in Germany where the musicians are now based and they needed to release something that didn't seem too way out and foreign in concept and style.
Each track on the album is named after a different sister in the story. The title piece starts off with a lengthy intro featuring a Kyrgyz stringed instrument but the bulk of the track is dominated by black metal alternative between being showers of noisy guitar and going tuneful with mid-paced rhythms and sparkling piano lines. This is very pleasant if not really edgy listening with a few fast passages to please the more BM-inclined among us. Vocals by Kriegtalith seem to be far back in the mix and though the CD sleeve credits list her contributions as "screams", she actually does very little screaming on this album - she's too busy half-singing / half-speaking the lyrics to do very much emoting!
Second track "Tashil Oy" is a bright and bouncy if repetitive pop piece with a riff being played by a succession of different solo instruments accompanied by programmed rhythms. There are about three passages of fast BM guitar, the middle one of which also features mouth harp closely mirroring the guitar melody. Much of the track, apart from those passages, is clean in tone. There's possibly throat singing of a deep low droning kind later on in this piece but if there is, it's not very up-front (indeed, none of the vocals is very up-front on this album) and could easily be mistaken for synth or bass guitar droning.
The final track "Kyzyl Oy" has a 3-minute passage coming three minutes into the piece of really grim BM guitar shudder and actual throat singing, continuing up until Kriegtalith starts to sing. You need to sit very close to the music so you can hear the throat singing otherwise it's very easy to miss or to think you're hearing strange aliens moaning in your head: there is a really ghostly drone and another sound that's very, very low, lower even than a downtuned bass guitar(!), and very inhuman, almost underground or reptilian - that's Oldhan doing his throat singing routine! Given that there are a lot of synth effects on this album and with the vocals set far back in the mix, it's hard for me to guess which is the actual throat singing stuff and which is keyboard-based ambient effects: there are swirly wind-blowing noises on a couple of tracks here and for all I know they may be voice-generated or keyboard-generated. Throat singing in Central Asia often involves mimicking the sounds of natural phenomena such as wind sounds.
I know I'm making a big thing out of a short 3-minute passage in a 25-minute track but the bulk of "Kyzyl Oy" is bombastic keyboard playing done for dramatic effect which I find incredibly boring on any kind of recording. The black metal music here is a distinctly junior party to the church organ pomp going on.
Part of me is a bit disappointed that there is not more grim BM and more of the Kyrgyz folk music stuff with less of the commercial-sounding music but I confess I had preconceived notions of what this record was going to be about: I had imagined a really primitive and raw production with sharp edges, hardly any atmospheric effects and maybe not very good songwriting; the singing would have been stronger in the mix. On paper the combination of BM and throat singing looks like a marriage made in Heaven (err ... well I think you know what I mean) and the idea of Tibetan monk style low droning set against a thin shower of BM guitar seemed pretty good before I got this album. Guess that'll teach me to have stereotyped ideas about something before I even hear it! On the bright side, the album makes a little known Asian culture and its music and folklore traditions more accessible and palatable to a Western audience in a way it can identify with.
The pagan aspect of Darkestrah's music stems from the pre-Islamic Kyrgyz cultural identification of humans as being very close to nature and the spirit world to the extent of believing that some humans (shamans) are able to breach the division between the natural world and the spirit world. This is perhaps the most Kyrgyz aspect of Darkestrah and something I hope the band is carrying through while members may come and go and the music itself changes. - Metal Archives
Shaytan Productions. Black Vinyl. 2016 Limited to 300. First Pressing on LP.