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Nytt Land - Oğal [Cold Spring Records - 2018]

Esoteric Russian traditional music group Nytt Land released "Oğal", their 4th album, this year on Cold Spring.In their promo pics, Nytt Land wear something like a cross between black metal attire and that of 'freak folk' artists who aim to look like relics from the 1800's.  They look completely ridiculous to me, hamming it up with mirror contacts, 'mysterious' and intimidating facial expressions, necklaces made of teeth, heavy tattoos and disheveled white dress shirts, presented in heavily color treated images made to look dim and desolate.  Perhaps I'm getting older, but this sort of thing doesn't convince me in the slightest.  All that's missing is the blood spatters on their clothes.

Their actual music is neither metal nor dark folk, but certainly takes some of the atmosphere from each.  In sound, it is perhaps most comparable to Dead Can Dance, with prominent use of tribal drumming and chanted vocals in exotic scales and languages.  Unlike DCD, Nytt Land is focused on the traditions of a single region, that of their native Syberia.  It is certainly not as cheesy as their image might suggest (just one step away from Dimmu Borgir), but it doesn't have the diversity, sweet melodicism and musicality of Dead Can Dance either.

For all the supposed roughness of their image, the album is actually quite polished in its execution.  The layered and dynamic sound design is one of the best things about the album.  The timbres of the strings and drums are clear and bold, recorded cleanly so that the rough hewn, imperfect harmonic structures of these traditional instruments can be felt.

The band's instrumental constructions have a patient subtlety about them.  Focusing my attention upon the expanding and contracting layers, I'm struck by the band's excellent sense of ebb and flow.  Many of the best moments of the album are its climactic sections, in which the drum beat quickens to double time, and the intensity of the strings and vocals swells up.  The album is well paced, breezing by at 54 minutes.

Dark ambient currents mingle between the more defined, drum and vocal focused pieces.  As such, that which is meant to conjure up images of ancient times is actually partially electronic in its construction.  Although it is skillfully done, I'm left feeling like this results in a general feeling of inauthenticity.  The constant electronic drift has too contrasted a voice from the rawness of the instruments which the band plays.

The throaty male vocals have a gutteral rasp which nears throat singing, but isn't quite.  He doesn't often sustain drones with his voice, leaving this role to be filled by stringed instruments.  To my ears he is trying too hard for the chest beating 'warrior' grunt, and reminds me of his promo pics.  The female vocalist, Natalia, has a more melodic voice, with a greater range to her style, and directly recalls Lisa Gerrard of DCD in many ways.  She is the highlight of the album.

Clearly intended to be trance inducing, the music found here is somehow too active to be truly hypnotic.  Though the band has created the sounds they have strived to create in a skillful fashion, and presented a completed product, I am somehow unconvinced by their attitude, and find that no piece on the album is particularly memorable.  Perhaps this album is not meant for me, and better enjoyed by those who sincerely believe in the occult, or fancy themselves witches.  That said, I have been more successfully convinced by similar albums in the past, notably the throat singing music of Phurpa (also Russian).

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Josh Landry
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