Originally written by K. Scott Ross.
In the early days of black metal, certain scene leaders believed that the only true black metal was the Satanic kind. Some artists and fans still maintain that the best black metal contains a healthy tribute to Ol’ Scratch. Ukrainian quartet Drudkh easily puts the lie to that, having one of the most powerfully successful track records in all of black metal without a devil’s tail in sight (yes, this critic is a fan of even the much-maligned Handful of Stars). Instead, they focus on a particular kind of national pride and heritage mixed with a forest-dwelling folk spirit to create some of the most memorable and melodic black metal without a hint of Dissection influence in sight.
Given Drudkh’s long-standing source of inspiration in national heritage, as well as their location in Kharkiv, it was inevitable that the recent political turmoil in Ukraine would colour the band’s music. And indeed it has. A Furrow Cut Short, the tenth full-length from the band, is full of seething anger; much more so than Eternal Turn of the Wheel or Handful of Stars, the last two albums from the band that focused much more on nature and mysticism. The songs on A Furrow Cut Short take lyrics from Ukrainian poetry written during wartimes. The five poems selected by the band do not seem to have been translated into English, and since this critic does not read Ukrainian, he was forced to rely on online translation tools to at least try to understand the theme of the poems. There’s a lot of violence, hardship, and destitution in these lyrics. But you don’t need to understand the words to hear the torture in songs like “Dishonour” or “Cursed Sons.”
Musically, the band does mostly what one would expect, but since one expects them to be quite good, that’s perfectly okay. Layers of tremolo guitars pick out melody lines like tapestries, while keyboards and bass fill up the spaces with texture and drums add movement while vocals add fire to the mix. It’s a particularly interesting juxtaposition in songs like “Dishonour II,” which takes a downtempo meander around the bend. The band varies the tempo and the key throughout the album, but they never quite reach the speeds of Microcosmos nor the minimalistic feeling of Handful of Stars (although the tempos might technically drop lower). These songs are built in layers, and even after listening to them ten or more times, the listener is still going to find depth to appreciate.
The mix of the instruments is quite dark, allowing the drums to float above it with a sharp snap. Vlad’s ride cymbal work is particularly impressive. It’s much more difficult to play complex lines like that than to just unleash full-ahead blasting. The band does that too, though, right from the get-go. A Furrow Cut Short forgoes the instrumental opening song that Drudkh usually provides to jump straight into yelling and blast beats on “Cursed Sons I.” This too speaks to the urgency of the record. Yes, it is nearly a full hour long, but the album never feels overplayed. Rather, Eternal Turn always felt excruciatingly short at thirty-six minutes. Drudkh is a band that knows how to play music for an hour; it’s hypnotic and engulfing. You get lost within the story, and don’t think about how long has passed.
With bands like Crom Dubh playing such a similar style of black metal (indeed, Heimweh even has a similar “I, II” song-naming pattern), is there still any need for more Drudkh music? This critic maintains that there is. They’ve been honing their craft for thirteen years now, and with A Furrow Cut Short they show that they’re still at the top of their game. Nobody else can just waltz in and steal that crown without a fight.