So, there you were, thinking that Eastern European Black Metal is just a load of one-man bedroom acts who own too many Burzum and Summoning albums, love to stand in the snow in animal furs and think that it’s their national prerogative to play a flute, regardless of skill. Well, you’d be right to an extent. For while Drudkh and Negura Bunget have made a name for themselves by actually branching out from their microscopic scenes and making good use of traditional instrumentation, you will always get acts like Zgard who are content to sticking to what they know. Thankfully, they happen to know a fair old bit, which is why Contemplation (Svarga) may well surprise you.
This sixty-two minute odyssey into Ukrainian forests may be one that listeners have taken before accompanied by the two big name artists mentioned above, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of pretty sights to be seen along the way as the aptly named ‘Through the Forest’ proves with its rushing tremolo guitars, soaring melodies, mystical keyboards and subtle choral vocals. There’s echoes of revered artists such as Kroda reverberating through the trees and you soon get the impression that mainman Yaromisl has plenty more to show you, which he does with the crowd pleasing jig-along that pops up during ‘Highlands’ and the quirky polka mischief that opens ‘Incarnation Memory.’
It wouldn’t be an Eastern European BM album without an instrumental piece however and we get just that with the haunting and thoughtful ‘Silence’, which knocks the socks off the latest effort from Herr Vikernes. Not forgetting of course the frequent wind and rain sound effects to remind you just how cold it is behind the old iron curtain and you have everything you need and nothing you wouldn’t expect. Clichéd? Perhaps, but it’s a cliché with plenty of mileage left in it and while the forest is still this beautiful, it’s one that’s worth taking a stroll into.