The ex-Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia is an unlikely location for a black metal band to emerge, but Darkestrah have six albums to their name since their inception in 1999. Now back with the third EP of their career and first release since 2016’s Turan, the shamanic trio are here to remind us that the lines between post-metal and atmospheric black metal are harder to define, especially when Kyrgyz instruments are included in the mix.
Those new to the music of Darkestrah might view them as a similar entity to Romanian black metal legends, Negură Bunget. A dense atmospheric ambience is as important to the Kyrgyz trio as the dry distorted guitars that define them. Distant vocals unleashed in intermittent spurts of cathartic rage offer a way out of the impenetrable fog on opener, ‘Gift of Mud and Venom’, which is easily the most ambitious song on the EP at ten minutes in length. Listen how the blistering desert wind effects and native lute instruments summon the power of the shamanic gods before the guitars and drums take over – this is no ordinary metal band. Darkestrah are not afraid to utilise the western gothic elements in their music, either. The choral reset at 03:25 seconds will send a chill down your spine as you imagine a choir of solemn-faced baritones speaking the language of God in a European cathedral. It’s a springboard for one of many tempo changes, which is perhaps the signature of Darkestrah’s musical approach. You can hear the grinding bass guitar take its place in the mix among the blast beats and dissonant tremolo rhythms, but the trio never fail to surprise you with their abrupt changes of destination when you least expect them. We could benefit from crunchier guitars and louder drums, but the feverish ambience hits you like an invisible cold, waiting to get inside you with pernicious intent. This is unadulterated post-black metal.
Standout track, ‘The Warrior Poet’, operates in the borderlands between melody and dissonance that Neurosis and Cult of Luna call their own. This one has a slower tempo but turns sinister at the one-minute mark with a switch to darker minor chords. The paradox of Darkestrah is an intriguing one – their music inhabits a range of Oriental and European styles, but they never lock in on a conventional metal sound. You might expect harmonic minor passages and syncopated guitars, but they give us more of a post-rock landscape and rely on a doom metal approach to balance the slough of their tremolo pickings. One thing you cannot deny is their ability to create a sense of atmosphere beneath the amplified distortion.
Twenty-one minutes is about right for the length of an EP, but you might wonder if they end closing track, ‘Broken Wheel’, at the critical moment when it should be getting into its stirrups. This one starts with sombre violins and babbling water streams and relies on a chugging bass line to carry the menace. It holds out the promise of transitioning from the corporeal to the spiritual world with a climactic fury, but it dissipates instead of disaggregating into an aftermath of recovery.
Nonetheless, Darkestrah’s return is an important one for the avant-garde metal scene, and this EP is a welcome reminder that the trio have much to offer and still more to explore in their unique black metal cosmos.
Release Date: 01/12/2021
Record Label: Shaytan Productions
Standout track: The Warrior Poet
Suggested Further Listening: Negură Bunget – OM (2006), Duthaig – Harlech’s Sleep / Cyhyraeth (2020), Varmia – bal Lada (2021)