Darkestrah - Khagan LP
Darkestrah - Khagan LP
Khagan was the first Darkestrah release I encountered, a band in turn I discovered through Encyclopaedia Metallum oddly enough. Suffice to say I'm glad I did so. This EP stands alone from a lot of other black metal records, both conceptually and musically. Khagan focuses on the life and achievements of Genghis Khan or Temudgin (albeit in a questionably romanticised way). This alone is noteworthy, given black metal's usually Eurocentric perspective, but isn't surprising given Darkestrah is supposedly from Kyrgyzstan. In terms of the music, Khagan is one of the heaviest black metal records that I at least have encountered. The guitars are a world away from the tinny whine that can be found on some other black metal records. Yet despite this, Darkestrah haven't sacrificed speed in the process. Khagan is incredibly fast paced, with many of the usual black metal musical techniques such as blast beat drumming and tremolo picking present (though with the latter its slightly hard to tell given that there is so much happening within this release). In particular the drumming, combined with the heavy guitars sound thunderous. You really do feel as though you are charging across the steppes of Central Asia, about to bear down upon some defenceless foe, although clichéd descriptions such as that don't do it justice. On top of that, the use of keyboards (which I honestly thought were real string instruments), Mongolian or Turkic throat singing and what I presume to be other Kyrgyz traditional instruments are used, further adding to this already incredible atmosphere and giving an almost orchestral feel to the record. Then there are the vocals, courtesy of Kriegtalith. Though not dissimilar to the usual black metal screams, or indeed to the vocals on other Darkestrah releases, the sheer power with which the vocals on Khagan are delivered is phenomenal, resulting in haunting shrieks that echo above the maelstrom of the instruments.
The first and the last tracks are the main focus of the EP, and whilst sharing the same aforementioned musical and conceptual characteristics, both have slightly different feels to them. The first track, Saga of Temudgin is characterised by an almost unparalleled aggression, particularly at the start of the song. As the song progresses, it sheds some of its merciless tone and slows down a little (still retaining the blast beats of course) to create a slightly more toned down yet equally immersive feel to the song. The last track, which shares its name with the EP on the other hand has a slightly mournful yet imposing feel to it, chiefly as a result of the keyboards. This is particularly prevalent at the start and the end of the track, though parts of the song veer away from this, mostly in the middle. You could be forgiven for thinking this was done to fill a space in the song, but after several listens it makes sense. The middle track, Onon River is an instrumental track and is incredibly short in comparison to the other two tracks. Here the guitars and the drums are absent altogether, replaced by traditional Kyrgyz instruments, topped off with throat singing that gives an incredibly serene yet slightly eerie feel to it. At first I felt like this track, although good, was unnecessary given Khagan's short length, but it makes perfect sense when the EP is listened to in its entirety, as Onon River provides a welcome break between the onslaught of Saga of Temudgin and the grandiose melancholy of Khagan.
My only real issue with Khagan is that it is only an EP. Given its relentless tone, unique concept and incredible atmosphere, this should really have been a full album. From what little I have heard of it, Darkestrah's next release Manas does seem to take many of its musical cues from Khagan, with the heavy guitars and all, so its possible that Khagan was a sort of precursor to that. Nevertheless I feel that Khagan could have been expanded upon. But this is only a minor criticism, and one that seems somewhat unfair given the obvious effort Darkestrah have put into this record. As it stands, Khagan is a masterpiece, and if you like folk or black metal with a twist (or even just folk or black metal generally) then I cannot recommend this enough. - Metal Archives
Osmose Productions. White LP. 2011