Metal has become a worldwide creative force in the last two or three decades. Bands from quite literally every corner of the world have released material from almost every conceivable sub-genre known to man, and done so with confidence that their ideas will be taken seriously by fans and other acts from equally distant areas. With such a large composition of ideas, heavy music has become one of the most interesting, creative, and innovative fields in which to cultivate whatever the composer wishes to convey to the listeners. However, in an area that has, in essence, only recently begun its "middle-ages", much like Europe and western culture did hundreds of years ago, the predominantly Islamic Arabic and central Asian areas of the world would not seem like healthy breeding grounds for a genre of music based largely around the dismantlement of modern ideas and moral values. However, metal's influence has proved to be potent enough to inject its influence anywhere it wished. Darkestrah, who hail originally from Kyrgyzstan, but now are based in the European nation of Germany, prove that good music can come from anywhere and from anyone who has the passion to create.
Much like their eastern European counterparts to the west, Kyrgyzstani pagan black metal outfit Darkestrah take great pride in relaying the stories and histories of their pagan ancestry through long, atmospheric tracks of lore and legend, and their sophomore release, Embrace of Memory, does just that. While not totally bereft of the normal angst for modernized religion, Darkestrah tend to focus more on the pride they hold for their heritage rather than the turmoil of the modern world. Showing great capacity for competent atmospheric black metal and making none of the mistakes that can turn a meaningful intent into somewhat of a cheesy and unfocused mess, Darkestrah make a worthy addition to the ranks of well produced and well-intended pagan influenced black metal, even if it does become a bit predictable in a few places.
Darkestrah's ability to bring to fruition a well placed idea shines throughout Embrace of Memory, from the clean and fuzzy distortion on the guitar to the soft rain of atmosphere provided by the backgound placement of keyboard sounds, it is clear they had a bit of experience in crafting their brand of black metal before. The entire album is focused and intent on what it wishes to accomplish, a melancholy infused attack of pagan black metal goodness. Having just enough variation in and between each song to keep a keen listener interested throughout the entirety of its almost 50 minute length, Embrace of Memory shows great songwriting and performing ability. Each crisp melody is drawn out to the very brink of its potential, and then replaced. Songs can seem to draw on in some places, but these passages end quickly. The use of traditional Kyrgyzstani instruments here and there throughout the album give an even greater tinge of originality and a true boost to the dark central Asian atmosphere refreshing in only a sophomore effort.
The vocals, executed in the traditional black styled shriek, are executed to near perfection by frontwoman and vocalist Kriegtalith. Yes, you heard right, female vocalist. But don't let previous encounters with the likes of the troll from Wykked Wytch and the gimmicky cheesyness of bands like Astarte keep you at bay. Kriegtalith and Darkestrah have no intention of gaining listeners through the gimmicky presentation of females in extreme music. She is just another member of the band, albeit a very talented one, and fills her duty as helmswoman with flying colors. The drums, executed by a drummer in place of the drum machine used before, are adequate and, while a bit sketchy in a few places, fulfill their role with ease.
The only gripe that can be had about this solid display of pagan black metal is this: it has been done before. Don't let that overshadow the quality of the album, for it surely is worth many listens, but not enough originality was shown here to really push an album full of huge potential to greater heights. The key, however, is that there is an amazing amount of potential displayed which, hopefully, will be fully realized with this talented group of musicians. Darkestrah don't disappoint with a solid if uneventful concoction of well executed atmospheric black metal. Pick up Embrace of Memory whenever you have the chance, if melancholic pagan black metal is your thing, you will be very pleased with this purchase