Available for free, ‘Legendary, demonic and invincible’ is the first broadside from Valak (AKA AK-11) a black metal musician inspired to sing in both English and Russian on this debut release. A six track EP, (for this recording is far too well balanced to be termed a demo), ‘Legendary, demonic and invincible’ (in Valak’s own words) “explores the carnage & destruction of great battles past & present, ancient European pagan mythology, existentialism & man’s dark & violent nature” via some gloriously icy riffs and sand-blasted vocals. If you’re a fan of Satanic Warmaster, Burzum or Darkthrone at their most brutal then this blackened assault on the senses will be instantly appealing, to fans of extreme metal.
Opening with ‘the cleansing stream’, like all the best black metal, the raging guitars form a solid, and all-but-impenetrable storm which, nevertheless, somehow coalesces into something approaching melody. The percussion, which is electronic, actually helps build the atmosphere thanks to its mechanistic and flawless repetition of the driving beat which adds to the spectral, icy feel of the music, and Valak’s multi-faceted voice towers over all, trading throat-ripping screams for guttural growls, he has a diverse range that perfectly fits the unforgiving nature of the music and the subject matter.
‘Vechnyi ogon’ (‘eternal flame’) is the stunning second track with the guitars raging over the increasingly agitated percussive assault, neatly intertwining and slithering through the complex layers of the song while Valak’s commanding voice grates over the top. The mix here, as it is across the EP, is well balanced with little bass in evidence, but the guitars eq’d just right to get the perfect balance between black metal’s requisite gritty, rawness and just enough colour bleeding through to give the sound power. ‘Slava Rossii’ is, for me, one of the highlights of this short disc thanks to its anthemic sound. Like early Emperor, AK-11 has the ability to conjure atmosphere and regal structures from the iciest, bleakest of riffs and the result is a set of memorable tunes which perfectly craft a feeling of days gone by, spent on the frozen tundra amidst a swirling storm of ice and sleet. For true effect try listening to this on headphones in the dark and allow the music to take you away to a darker place, the aggressive, synthetic percussion working like some infernal engine whilst Valak continues to bark his imperatives at you.
The title track is up next and it is a true monster, a vicious, full-frontal attack that sees the legions of the damned go over the top only to be mown down in a hail of lead and venom. Utterly brutal it is the harshest song thus far and yet the real skill is that despite the monstrous distortion, the hyper-speed percussion and Valak’s ever-impressive voice, it is both memorable and rich in complexity with numerous riffs fleshing out the sound and prompting a desire to listen to the whole thing over again. ‘Sniper’s glory (Satan guides my aim)’ opens with a brief, majestic keyboard passage before exploding into life as the titular sniper unleashes his cruel blow upon his victims. As harsh as the Stalingrad battleground and as unblinking in its gaze as a predator in search of prey, the guitars wind and gnaw their way around the skeletal percussive framework in an impressive display of black metal virtuosity and Valak succeeds in sounding ever-more inhuman as the album moves towards its close. Final track ‘Shest’ shest’ shest’ I Katyusha’ (named after the fearsome rockets that had such devastating impact upon the Nazi forces in WWII) takes in the subject of the Russian experience during WWII and introduces hitherto unexplored ethnic influences into the mix with startling effect. Intelligently interwoven into the guitar riffs themselves and not just introduced over the top via keyboard – it is clearly the result of Valak’s deep-rooted identification with his subject matter and if you were only to play one song from this demo then this should be it – as vicious as a fire-fight, as unforgiving as the advancing Russian army as they cleared their ravished homeland of Nazi invaders and as dark as the cruellest acts of violation and revenge that took place on German soil some months later – it is an emotive, diamond-sharp track that seethes with passion and imagination.
In the average year the music fan is bombarded with ‘must have’ releases by record labels, music magazines and sites and advertising. So many bands compete for attention in an overcrowded market (and one that is growing all the time thanks to the internet) that it is easy to overlook bands and artists releasing demos (even for free) simply because it takes time and effort to get to grips with them. The result is that many excellent artists slip through the cracks into oblivion, victims of the very proliferation tactics that should be bringing them to a wider audience. It would, however, be a grave error for any black metal fan to miss out on this particular release. The EP is available for free here and I urge you to head over now and check it out – AK-11 is a black metal legend in the making and the intelligence and power of this debut shines through in every song. A black-hearted wonder, this is an unmissable treat for fans of the genre.