All Belong to the Night
- The Nocturnal One/ Нічний
- Windmills/ Нічний
- November/ Листопад
- Till We Become the Haze/ Поки Зникнем у Млі
The year is 2022. Pop culture has decayed to the point where social media platforms set the narrative and by the sheer force of ubiquity, rule the day. On a recent popular television show, heavy metal devotees were portrayed and once again, nothing has changed. Despite all of its nuance, ‘metalheads’ are still the quaint, anachronistic, congenial oafs they were thought to be in the 1980’s. Social media then faithfully broadcasts the fad of the moment to everyone. And while all of that may be harmless, one would have to search long and hard for a genre of music that more seriously reckons the larger questions of the human condition than metal and all that falls beneath its banner. Sometimes these themes are encountered in broad strokes, the threads of stories teased and tugged from the weave of history as a whole. A bit rarer, but no less engaging, come glimpses through the lenses of nations, into the cultural realities of struggles far beyond what memes or profile filters can evince. Enter the work of Roman Saenko, the man behind the universe that is the band Drudkh. As productive as they are secretive, this entity emerged from Kharkiv, Ukraine in 2002, coalescing from earlier forms such as Blood of Kingu, Hate Forest, and Astrofaes to blend the trappings of black metal into a Slavonic tapestry of sound unique to them. Twenty years hence, already with a library of acclaimed work to their name, Drudkh is releasing their eleventh studio album entitled All Belong To The Night. They are doing this from a homeland flush with uncertainty, embroiled in a political tug-of-war with which its people are all too familiar. For Drudkh, immersion into regional struggle is nothing new. Saenko’s grasp on it forms the underpinnings of much of his work. And what’s more, he lives within its very crucible. There is no comfortable distance from which he can compose, and we can only guess what it is like to work from the inside of such a sphere of potential violence. The music of Drudkh has always done the talking, so much so that Saenko’s established boundaries around his art have never been breached. Like Darkthrone and Falkenbach, there are no live shows. Unlike Mgla, Gaerea, and Uada, there are not even figures behind masks for our imaginations to hinge upon. But there is a soul in the music of Drudkh. A longing spirit, akin to the original blueprint of black metal to whom anonymity was so fundamental. Corpse-painted people shrouded in gloom, bearing mythic monikers instead of their given names, helped to establish that otherness that made black metal so appealing to the few who were willing to follow it. Drudkh takes this several steps further, and the history from which they draw inspiration is far closer to our now than the medieval darkness of old. Of course, simple enjoyment of Drudkh’s music for its own sake is both permissible and possible, as a band who provides little insight beyond recorded output leaves non-Ukrainian fans little choice. Lyrics that are rarely printed or translated, song titles expressed in native tongue; beyond exceptions such as “Ukrainian Insurgent Army” (from 2005’s Blood In Our Wells) leave much to be guessed at for those who wish to go deeper. And unlike the aforementioned 80s’ metal fan trope, those who seek this music will at the very least wonder about what is going on beneath the surface. Many more will delve these depths. Inevitably, many will cast judgment upon Saenko’s vision. Many have, and from the cushy viewpoint of fans in the West, it is amusing to watch the keyboard class pivot from casting aspersions on Saenko’s Ukrainian nationalism to celebrating it, especially when the latter impulse appears to have been beckoned by their big-tech overlords. This is not to say that there isn’t a ton of genuine sympathy for the plight of Ukrainians. There is, but the journey undertaken with this album is not married to ‘the current thing.’ As on past works, what Saenko appears to be saying on All Belong To The Night eclipses the flimsiness of trends. For those willing to go deeper, Saenko once more brings to life the voices of Ukrainian past on “The Nocturnal One,” the new album’s opening epic and statement-maker. Based at least in part upon the work of Yakiv Savchenko, and his poem “The Victims Of The Nocturnal One,” this tempered piece hones in on feelings of despair and the encroaching darkness which beset Ukraine during his lifetime. Executed by the regime of Joseph Stalin in 1937, Savchenko’s poetry cannot help but resonate once again, coaxed into consciousness by the empire camped today upon Ukrainian soil. The names change, but the feeling of being beset does not. Featuring sedate midsections with proggy bass guitar, the listener is offered respite from the tortured screams and passion of ever-present vocalist Thurios. The song takes its time, unfurling in cold grandeur with plenty of sonic surprises layered into its breadth. The pursuit of understanding through myth is called into being on fifteen-minute endcap “Till We Become The Haze.” This is also based upon the work of Savchenko. Rolling along at midtempo, it too offers contemplative oases of inspirational tension-building. As most of the people who will consume this music do not sit poised at the edge of a war, it offers of course the cinematic atmosphere Drudkh is so good at evoking. Fans of competing disciplines of extreme music will find much that is appealing here, as the melding of black metal, prog, and traditional heavy metal offers the connoisseur a little bit of everything. In the meat of the album, “Windmills” departs with the conventional. It begins with a melancholic chant, painting monochrome hellscapes of displaced village folk, wandering from danger into danger. But is there not perseverance layered into these notes and phrases? Can we not detect a throb of defiance in the lush guitar tones and Thurios’ caustic growls? The pounding drums, courtesy of Vlad, remind us that Drudkh is at its heart from the realm of black metal, and this crescendo of pulse-raising speed comes laden with a melodic lead section that communicates beyond the limit of language something Saenko is offering to the world and his people – hope. “November” is the third movement in the album, and Drudkh marries their raging heart with sections of a doomy, yet whimsical nature, vaguely reminiscent of something My Dying Bride might do. As with the rest of the album, Drudkh is melding a plethora of moods and textures into their sound. As is their nature, they defy categorization, making art that is as timeless as the strife and romanticism of the Ukrainian people. All Belong To The Night belongs to everyone who fights invading forces, be they tangible or otherwise, because somewhere in all of our histories our ancestors had to unite before struggle and woe, and it is this which shapes us as people. Drudkh will therefore always resonate, long after the algorithms direct our collective attention elsewhere.