Ukrainian quintet, Ignea, are unique for discovering their sound and purpose as early as their 2017 debut, The Sign of Faith. Scream Blast Repeat enjoyed their 2020 follow-up, The Realms of Fire and Death, but we lamented that its duration of thirty-seven minutes leaves you wanting more. Led by charismatic vocalist, Helle Bogdanova, and guided by the song writing of Evgeny Zhytnyuk, the band signed to Napalm Records a year before Russia’s invasion of their homeland. The fact that we have an album to review and that they brought in Jinjer producer, Max Morton, to mix and master it says a lot about their determination to continue as normal and their contempt for an egregious tyrant by the name of Putin.
Escapism and discovery are the common themes of Dreams of Lands Unseen as seen through the eyes of twentieth-century Ukrainian explorer, Sofia Yablonska (1907-1971). Of course, the longing to escape the siege warfare imposed by the Russian bear next door is easy to accommodate within this concept on a metaphorical level. This is music for restless souls. You can think of it as Yablonska’s life in nine chapters, each one following her daring and dangerous expeditions around the globe in search of adventure. Fans of the last LP will note how the guitar tone has more might and weight on ‘Dunes’, yet the 4/4 drop-tuned groove lacks the imagination to match the menace. Bogdanova’s alternation between the roaring death metal princess and the magical tenor singer is predictable but effective. You’d be disappointed by this number if they didn’t end it in a cacophony of Arabic percussion, chugging guitars, and double-jointed bass notes filling the gaps. ‘Camera Obscura’ is much more thrilling in its interplay between keyboards and staccato guitar and drum accents before it settles into a bass-led verse. Here, you can hear the majesty of Therion’s symphonic metal. You’ll also appreciate the mystical doom posturing of Oceans of Slumber in the middle eight.
It’s unique for the keyboardist to be the main composer in a metal band, but Evgeny Zhytnyuk’s ear for melody and talent for arrangement cannot be denied. Listen to the chunky Machine Head riffs and enchanting neon synth patterns of ‘Далекі Обрії’. This is one of two songs – along with ‘To No One I Owe’ – that switches to the Ukrainian tongue for its venomous power and orchid beauty. If only the riffs were as impressive as the guitar distortion emanating from the amps. Six-stringer, Dmitry Vinnichenko, must feel underused at times, especially as his role is to play the parts created for him by Zhytnyuk. This could explain why the quality and crunch of the guitars improve at the half-way point on the likes of ‘Incurable Disease’ and the excellent, ‘Nomad’s Luck’. Bogdanova’s poetic lyrics stand out for their vivid sense of place. The former makes you pine for the ocean air and the scent of the harbour amidst a tech metal guitar line and a thumping drum beat. Triptykon’s Wagnerian metal undertones add muscle to the latter.
Ignea learned to achieve an equilibrium between intoxicating melodies and menacing death metal grooves on their first album, and they make it look just as easy on this LP. The one stab at prog metal on ‘Opiumist’ reminds you that this band have the music to back up the concept. It’s the only song that shuns a verse-chorus format by splitting into two parts – one a dreamy homage to China’s opium dens, the other a Soundgarden-meets-Vexed mash-up with blood-craving growls and a malevolent cameo from Wolfheart vocalist, Tuomas Saukkonen.
Though their masterpiece continues to elude them, Ignea show once more that they have the tools and the talent to realise their aim of carving out their own place at the heavier end of the symphonic metal spectrum. But for how much longer can we say that this band has potential? Sharper riffs and more unorthodox song structures will bring their rewards on future albums if Ignea can survive another five years living under the threat of a Russian occupation. Let’s hope the future is in their hands and not in the grubby mitts of the war-mongering nation on their doorstep.
Release Date: 28/04/2023
Record Label: Napalm Records
Standout tracks: Camera Obscura, Nomad’s Luck, Opiumist
Suggested Further Listening: Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart (2018), Arhat – Dead Life (2020), Hand of Kalliach – Samhainn (2021)