Label : Sound Age Productions
Review by Vard Aman
Rarog (the band) formed in 2004 in Moscow (although Shmel’ had been writing material for some time already), released their debut album “Az Boga Vedayu!” in 2006 and then went a little quiet for a while, mainly due to a series of line up changes (Shmel’ also played bass for Kalevala from 2007-2011). Now they’re back with 2 albums in quick succession, “Vzoidi Solntse” in 2011 and now this one, “Syny Sokola”; and they’re doing very well for themselves. Rarog play Slavic Folk/Pagan Metal – a unique subgenre of Folk/Pagan Metal that has gradually left its native lands and is now growing ever more popular in the Metal world abroad, thanks largely to its most iconic band, Arkona. For Rarog, comparisons with Arkona are inevitable but not entirely justified; they may both share the same musical roots, but both bands have their own unique distinctive sounds. Still, fans of Arkona are likely to enjoy Rarog too, and for those who have not yet been introduced to the subgenre of Slavic Folk/Pagan Metal, Rarog are as good an introduction to it as any. Rarog are also more versatile and progressive than many of the other bands in their subgenre, and this should make them more easily accessible to fans of other subgenres. Their musical style moves with ease from the typical Slavic folk progressions to a fast Pagan/Black Metal style with furious blast beats, to a slow melodic Doom Metal style without ever losing their distinctive sound. Like most Slavic Folk/Pagan Metal, Rarog makes use of several different traditional Slavic musical instruments to compliment their sound; and in Rarog’s case, a few non-traditional ones as well, like violins and cello.
Their lyrical topics cover ancient Slavic myths and legends, the history of the Slavs and Slavic Paganism before the Christian invasion in what was then Rus. Since 2010 Rarog has been fronted by Aleksandra Sidorova (also a member of Moscow’s Silver Voice choir), and it is her voice that gives Rarog its real edge – she is the beautiful Siren-like call of the Firebird (if I may mix up legends slightly). She is capable of many different vocal styles; the two that are most prevalent on this album are her Slavic folk style and her academic/operatic style. She excels at both; but what really makes Aleksandra an exceptional singer is the uniqueness of her voice and the emotion she is capable of generating. At times, her voice takes on an almost innocent childlike quality, at other times it is more plaintive, sometimes even desperately so – she can bring her voice to just about breaking yet stops just short, without ever losing her vocal control. It is haunting indeed. Few academic/operatic singers are capable of generating such emotion… or maybe it’s just that they don’t try, maybe they are concentrating so much on vocal control and projection that they end up forfeiting the emotion and become effectively singing machines. Aleksandra proves that an academic/operatic singer can have both total control and convey powerful emotion at the same time; and it is very, very effective! While I’m at it: if you want to hear how operatic vibrato can be used in such a way that it leaves the listener with gooseflesh and a lump in the throat (as opposed to making the cat go AWOL), listen to how Aleksandra uses it at around the 1:00 mark in “Serdechnaya”. Seriously, wow!
Male vocals, both clean and growls (and battle cries), are provided by Shmel’; and he is also very good at what he does. The production is clear, similar to the previous album, but the songwriting on “Сыны Сокола” is better and it is a more mature album overall – Rarog is a band that is continuing to improve. Highlights from the album there are aplenty: “Syn Sokola”, the first track is brutal and fast, with some beautiful violin melodies; “Ognenniy Mech” is a heavy Folk Metal song; “Rogneda” has a slow tempo in which Aleksandra’s versatility and range of styles comes to the fore; “Perunova Ren” is fast and furious, good to have in the heat of battle (with a slight breather in the middle); “Veschiy Sokol” has a climatic feel to it as does the final (Rarog) track “Serdtse Voevody”, which is a slow and powerful track where Shmel’ gets to show his own versatility as well. But out of all the highlights on this album the biggest one is the third track, “Serdechnaya” – easily one of my candidates for song of the decade so far. It is a slow and powerful song with amazing melodies and harmonies, and features one of the best and most unique singers around delivering a performance of note! The album ends with “Krov Nashih Vragov”, which is a Russian cover (in Russian) of “Blood of My Enemies” by Manowar.
Rarog make the song their own while staying true to the original. Lyrically, the gist of it is the same. Norsemen (Varyags) had a large influence on Rus up to the tenth century CE prior to the Christian invasion and occupied much of the Northern Rus states, so the Norse mythology that makes up the background to the lyrics of “Blood of My Enemies” is not really that out of place. How well the Varyags and the Eastern Slavs got along at the time (people being people) I do not know, that’s a question for some genuine historians (and not a CD reviewer), but one thing that is known well enough is that what came next for both Slavic and Nordic Paganism was not exactly pleasant. But the legends and the cultural knowledge have survived and Rarog (and others) are here to tell you about them; and if you do not understand what they’re singing about, no worries, just turn up the volume and admire the awesome power of the Firebird, and melt to its hauntingly beautiful call.
Rating – 90/100
- Сын Сокола [Syn Sokola – Son of the Falcon]
- Невидаль [Nevidal – Wonder / Far Far Away]
- Сердечная [Serdechnaya – Heartfelt]
- Пятый Снег [Pyatiy Sneg – The Fifth Snow]
- Огненный Меч [Ognenniy Mech – Burning Sword / Flaming Sword]
- Рогнеда [Rogneda]
- После Победы [Posle Pobedy – After the Victory]
- Перунова Рень [Perunova Ren]
- Вещий Сокол [Veschiy Sokol – Prophetic Falcon]
- Сердце Воеводы [Serdtse Voevody – The Heart of the Governors]
- Кровь Наших Врагов (Manowar cover) [Krov Nashih Vragov – Blood of Our Enemies]
- Aleksandra “Rys'” Sidorova – Vocals – Vocals
- Pavel Kuzmin – Guitars
- Aleksandr “Shmel'” Shvilev – Bass
- Vadim Semenov – Drums