Review Summary: An unexpected depth charge of doom goodness.
KYPCK (or ‘Kursk’) is:
Erkki Seppänen - Vocals
Sami S. Lopakka - Guitar
J. T. Ylä-Rautio - Bass
Kai H. M. Hiilesmaa – Drums
What do you get when you have a band from Finland that sings (and is themed) in Russian, plays down-tempo, and is partial to a Soviet wartime atmosphere? You get some serious doom. No, it’s not a gimmick; it’s an image that fits the band perfectly, and adds even more character to an otherwise already powerful sound that is not only unique and inspired, but also fun. That’s right. Fun doom. Go figure.
The album kicks off with a rumbling, rising ambience complete with sonar pings, a clicking typewriter, and a sound like the churning of an underwater propeller. Kursk establishes a strong atmosphere immediately and never lets it slide. “Rozhdestvo v Murmanske” almost startles you as it bursts in with a strong, low-pitched riff that somehow grinds, grates, and flows all at the same time. The vocals could possibly throw you off at first, as Russian is a language you’ll likely feel very unfamiliar with, but around the 3:45 mark, it becomes clear that Russian is the perfect language, the only language in fact, for this album and the more you listen, the more you realize how amazingly well the vocals meld with the music. The drums create a simple but engaging beat that’s easy to follow, the symbols making wave like crashes that are mixed just right so as to accent the undulating motion of the riffs.
Kursk likes their sound, and they know how to keep it consistent; in other words, they use similar techniques on most of the tracks here, but change up enough individual elements of the instrumentation so that you never feel like you’re hearing the same thing you just heard. The overall feel is very familiar, but the sound is decidedly fresh throughout the album, taking the best portions of a strong and engrossing atmosphere while keeping you interested as to what the band has in store for you next. Again, the vocals add a good deal of body to these songs, and often control the rhythm or tempo (if only for a few isolated seconds) to the point where they might as well be another instrument. They are stimulating without being intrusive, and captivating without feeling forced. Erkki has an impressive array of intonations that, though subtle, are always fitting.
The guitar passages primarily alternate between a reverberating acoustic strum or plucking and a powerful slow-paced chug that screams doom. And yet, something about the riff patterns, and the way they meld seamlessly from the chorus, to the soft passage, to the bridge, back to chorus, and so on, speaks to something much more epic and (surprisingly) invigorating than most doom is normally capable of. That’s not to say that it loses its depressive feel. Quite the contrary; the slight up-tuning at certain points that comes and goes with you hardly noticing, coupled with those powerful vocals, creates a nearly overwhelming sense of desperation, but one that steers clear of over-exaggeration. Additionally, the band will often establish a basic soft guitar pattern, remove it, and then reintroduce it at different parts of the songs, layering it with the heavy riffing and the crashing symbols, creating a wonderfully encompassing spectrum of sound that, in truth, will make you want to move your whole body to the rhythm.
The thing to keep in mind is, because of the deliberate and often calculated nature of the flow of doom metal, it’s very easy to follow where the band is leading you. At the same time, they will often throw in an extra bar (for example, repeat the same short riff pattern 5 times instead of a usually predictable 4, something Opeth likes to do) or a slightly off-timed transition, just to keep you on your toes, but it never feels out of place. The bass, though usually not particularly discernable, adds a noticeable low-pitched hum to the heavy riffs and lends the album a much darker and overall depressing feel than it would have otherwise had, had the bass not been mixed in the way it is.
Despite the incredible quality of Cherno’s sound as a whole, the album is by no means perfect. The vocals, while pretty spectacular within the context of this album are, in and of themselves, nothing special, except on a few occasions, such as on Demon, or the chorus of 1917. The drum patterns are smart and simple, but are repeated a bit too often. That is not to say that every song has the same drum pattern, but the eerily similar rotation of symbol, snare, bass, symbol makes many appearances, and though the band manages to change the timings up enough to keep it from going completely stale, you can tell that they are very attached to a particular way of structuring the core of their songs, and this changes (slightly) on only a few tracks, namely “Chernaya Dyra” and “Ocherednye”. Demon is another minor exception, and is probably the most epic doom song I’ve ever heard, packed with splashing symbols, high-pitched layered melodies, and a main riff that gives you the feeling of tumbling down a flight of stairs in slow-motion.
Also, the (short) length of the tracks might leave some doom purists dissatisfied as each song shows up, hits you with something soft or something heavy, switches to the other, bridges, and so on, then leaves, and the next track comes in. Kursk keeps the atmosphere tight by sprinkling the album with various moments of ambience, creepy effects, rise and falls of sounds that are (with a few exceptions) unidentifiable as to what exactly they are, but nonetheless manage to conjure images of ravaged battlefields and cold, unforgiving seas. But the songs themselves have only their own self-contained atmosphere that doesn’t really carry over from one track to another. So if you can’t get into the cool sound effects Kursk uses to connect one song to the next, the album may end up feeling disjointed, or at least sparse, as far as a doomish atmosphere goes. A couple of tracks have some really catchy hooks and, as such, have ‘single’ written all over them. For me, this didn’t detract from the songs, but for some it may feel like they’re trying too hard to be a more accessible form of this type of metal, though perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
In conclusion, my gripes with this album are few, and practically irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Cherno is a fantastic debut for a number of reasons: riffs so heavy they could sink a ship, soft passages so entrancing they could lull you into a haze; fluid, well-sung vocals so perfectly fitting you’ll find yourself singing out the notes in Russian (or at least humming), drums that roll, rumble, and crash, simplistically but powerfully, just like good doom drumming should. Catchy riff patterns and accessible structuring that balances restraint and complexity, layered melodies that make you listen hard for that sound from the beginning of the song that you know is there and are delighted to hear blended so well, and a unique and engaging atmosphere that permeates the album from start to finish. After a couple of listens, you’d be surprised to discover just how much emotion indeed went into this effort. It’s an unexpected depth charge of doom goodness.
Awesomely heavy riffs
Superb acoustic breaks
Bass is backgrounded
Drum patterns can feel repetitive
Short songs (may break up the flow of the album for some)
Rozhdestvo v Murmanske
Demon (my personal fav)
Long Live Doom.