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Varg Fjerne A Tornet (1995)
 

Branikald is a Russian Black Metal band that emerged around 1993, as a solo project of Kaldrad. Apparently, much like the French Black Legions, Branikald was part of a community called the Blazebirth Hall. His first proper album is titled Varg Fjerne A Tornet and was released in December 1995. This is not the most unique recording around, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for with feeling and atmosphere.

The songwriting owes a great deal to the Norwegian bands, which one might expect based on the title alone. The first three songs are quite lengthy, yet very minimalist, in the style of Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. A lot of bands have tried to implement a similar approach and many of them have failed to create anything worthwhile. However, Branikald was among the first to follow the path created by Fenriz and did very well in utilizing this sound. The first few songs consist of cold and mournful tremolo melodies that swirl around you like bitter winter winds. "Рассекая в кровь, разбивая в прах", in particular, is very sombre yet memorable. The two tracks that follow are a little darker in character, rather than sorrowful. The repetitious guitar riffs are accompanied by very basic and primitive drumming that includes very few unnecessary fills or anything to distract from the melodies. The vocals are deeper than those of Nocturno Culto, and almost sound reminiscent of some of the LLN bands. The title track stands out, lacking drums or vocals and feeling more like a Burzum instrumental. It is commendable that Kaldrad was able to create such lengthy songs that never seem to get boring, despite being so minimalist. He was also a lot more competent as a musician than Akhenaten, of Judas Iscariot, for example.

The production is perfectly suits the music on this album. It is very lo-fi, again similar to Transilvanian Hunger, drenched in a raw and obscure sound that adds to the cold and dark feeling conveyed by this material. Of course, the main focus is on the guitars, which have a somewhat sharp edge to them. The drums are audible, but still non-assuming due to the style. As for the vocals, they are a little high in the mix, but this works well as the harshness of his voice only aids in the creation of such a raw and abrasive vibe.

Russian Black Metal is not my area of expertise, so I cannot really comment on how this compares to other bands from their homeland. Either way, Varg Fjerne A Tornet is a very solid album and, original or not, is certainly worth checking out. Unlike so many other bands that have failed at this style, Branikald excelled at this cold and minimalist approach. Fans of early Darkthrone, Mütiilation and Moonblood should appreciate this.
 
(28 Aug. 2013)

 
 

Рдяндалир is the sophomore effort from Branikald. Released just one month after their first album, in January 1996, it already shows quite a departure from the band's established sound. While it still falls within the same realm, the style is very different. The album can be looked at as two separate halves, one much more successful and enjoyable than the other, perhaps. Overall, Branikald seemed to be going for a more atmospheric approach, this time around.

The first two song, "Микрокосм Духа" and "Дух Смысла", create an atmosphere that is rather introspective and gloomy, though not overly melancholic. It is almost the feeling of a somewhat resigned acceptance of a miserable existence that will never improve. Rather than the cries of the tormented, one can hear the sighs of the oppressed, knowing that all is wrong with the world but never having actually experienced anything better, so there is hardly anything to mourn other than ideas. Musically, one is reminded of Burzum and Strid, at times, though this is even less dynamic than the latter. The obvious Darkthrone-worship has given way to a strong influence from the work of Varg Vikernes. The compositions are lengthy and repetitious, as simple guitar melodies flow over almost nonexistent drums. The vocals are rather sparse, sounding somewhat distant and obscure, with the occasional clean cries thrown in. This is very dreary and minimalist.

The second half of the album is where some may get lost. "Безвременной Тьмой Ночной" is rather odd, as the pace picks up but the main melody is played with a clean guitar, lacking any distortion. This creates a really disjointed effect, as the drums and vocals do not fit at all. It sounds very awkward. Unfortunately, this continues on the final track, which consists only of this clean guitar and desperate clean vocals mixed in with the normal ones. It works a little better than the previous track, just because it lacks drums and thus doesn't sound as out of place.

The production is worse than on the last album. In this case, that is not a good thing. Lo-fi is fine, but this possesses flaws that are rather distracting. It sounds like it was recorded onto a warped cassette, almost. The cymbals are a little annoying and the volume seems to go up and down, for no reason. As well, the vocals are mixed at different levels on the various songs. They are buried a bit on the first track, while coming through pretty clearly on the next.

In the end, Рдяндалир can be seen as somewhat of an experimental release. This time, it seems to have failed. That is not to say that this is a bad album. For the period, it was already very unoriginal, though not nearly as much as it would be considered now. Fans of early Burzum and the LLN bands should definitely give this a listen. If you don't mind something a bit strange and inconsistent, this may be worth your time, though it is a definite step down from Varg Fjerne A Tornet.
 
(2 Sept. 2013) 

 
 

Released in the grim October of 1996, Kveldulv is the third full-length album from the Russian Black Metal band Branikald. In the months since the last album, Kaldrad was left alone and thus handled all the instruments on this recording. This is an improvement over the last album, though still maintaining a similar atmosphere. This is cold and hateful Black Metal, done well.

Musically, this has a bit more in common with Varg Fjerne A Tornet, rather than its immediate predecessor. Three of the four songs return to the minimalist Transilvanian Hunger style, consisting of cold tremolo melodies over fast-paced drums. The guitar riffs are rather bleak and sombre, and could have worked with slower drums just as well. As with early Darkthrone, there is not much variation in the riffs, and the effect is somewhat hypnotizing. Only near the end of the first track, after eight minutes, is there some real change as the drums fade away and the frigid guitars are left alone with the vocals, slowly losing steam and drifting off into the nothingness. The vocals are somewhat distant, yet filled with hate and misery and possessed by the dark. Though rather straightforward, the second song introduces a very haunting guitar melody halfway through that creates a very dreary feeling. It passes and never returns, but it will lurk in your mind during the late hours of the night when you are alone. The atmosphere of cold hatred increases with "Kalde Vinter of Ruin", and proves just how effective this style can be when handled by the right musician. Some of the melodies are fairly epic, almost reminiscent of early Moonblood. As for the last song, this is more of an atmospheric piece, just some clean guitars that go on for quite a while. It sounds very similar to the track that closed out the previous album. At least there are no vocals over it, this time. It could have been a bit shorter, but it isn't bad.

The production is very raw, with the guitars possessing a sharp sound that is cold and menacing. The vocals are buried a little, compared to earlier works, giving a really obscure feeling. The drums just drone away in the background, hardly noticed. The cold and dismal guitar melodies are the main focus. The sound is a little odd, seeming as if the songs were recorded in two different sessions. The third song is even more raw than the first two, though the drums are louder than they should be. The vocals are higher in the mix, too, though this enables them to sound even more hateful than before.

Kveldulv is highly recommended to anyone into cold, hateful and minimalist Black Metal. Naturally, this will be considered by some as a rip-off of Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. The difference between Branikald and the countless other bands that attempted this style is that Kaldrad actually excelled where so many failed. His sense of songwriting is very solid and he was able to take this sound and make something unique. While it is quite similar, no one would actually confuse this for the work of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto. Rather than just trying to imitate a certain sound, Kalrdad took that framework and made something of his own. This is one of the best Black Metal albums to come from Russia. Seek this out.
 
(9 Sept. 2013)

 
 

The fourth full-length album from Branikald, Winterkald, was released in 1997. Originally titled Av VinterKald, this L.P. was recorded the previous year, meaning that all of the first four efforts were created in a very short span of time. The music on here follows the same path as its immediate predecessor, Kveldulv, offering up six tracks of cold and minimalist Black Metal. On average, the songs are a little shorter, but there are more of them this time.

Musically, Winterkald does not stray from the style of the previous record. Still, Kaldrad is able to make something meaningful within this simple framework. The melodies seem rather basic at first, but there are subtle nuances that really add a lot of depth and character to the songs. As with the last release, the songs follow the familiar pattern of consisting of fast-picked tremolo riffs with drums that pound away in the distance, hardly perceptible, as the guitars lull you into a trance. The feeling is austere and cold, much as the title would suggest. The vocals are raw and hateful, often rather sparse, allowing the music to really paint a grim and desolate picture in the mind of the listener. In the case of "Сжигая за собой мосты", one is almost reminded of Moonblood, with some of the haunting melodies that flow in and out. There is a sense of urgency to some of them, accentuated by the heightened tension in the vocal delivery. Even within this minimalist style, the atmosphere is very dynamic and poignant. This is not really depressive, yet there are certain melodies that are incredibly sorrowful in the way that they reach right into you and tear at your heart. The more you listen to this, the more you feel carried away from this disgusting world and into some vast, endless forest covered with layers of snow and ice. The sounds here take you far beyond the mortal realm, into a desolate place bereft of the curse of humanity.

The production is rather similar to Kveldulv, being very raw and primitive. The guitars have a very cold feeling and dominate the sound. The drums sort of just pulse in the background, keeping time but not doing much to stand out, just loud enough to be heard but nothing more. The vocals seem to have a little more reverb than before, but not a lot, which helps with the obscure and hellish effect. All in all, the sound is perfect for this type of music.

Winterkald is a very enjoyable album for anyone into the same sort of minimalist Black Metal that was spawned by Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. The atmosphere is sombre and frigid and the songwriting is very strong, with each composition flowing into the next in a natural way. Everything here fits together and there are no inconsistencies, for once. This is highly recommended for fans of real Black Metal, not the commercial garbage that has usurped that label these days.
 
(10 Sept. 2013)

 
 

Жизнеотрицанью жизневероломство was released in 1998, the same year as Хмель Мизантропии. The sound is much the same, and anyone familiar with Branikald's albums up to this point would not be surprised. This L.P. features the same stripped-down, raw Black Metal that could be heard on its predecessors. While not as good as a release such as Kveldulv, or as inspired as the Forest albums that were being recorded around the same time, it is not bad.

The production is one of the weak points of the album. It is not so terrible, really, but has the feeling that it is missing something. The guitar tone is not sharp enough. This was an issue on Хмель Мизантропии, as well. Again, this recording has the feeling of being a tenth-generation dub, with a cloudiness that somewhat neuters the songs. This only really affects the instruments, though, as the vocals are still rather prominent in the mix. This has been the case with several of Branikald's albums, as it appears that Kaldrad did not fully appreciate the more subtle approach as found on Рдяндалир, for example. For some reason, this album also has a couple tracks that sound like they were recorded during a different session, with completely different production. The vocals are much more harsh and the guitar tone is more harsh. If not for the loud drums, this would be much more ideal than the sound of the rest of the album.

The songwriting is solid. Of course, if you are even remotely familiar with Branikald's music, then you will know to expect a very minimalist approach. The songs are composed of cold, sombre tremolo melodies that flow over monotonous drumming, while Kaldrad's hateful vocals spew forth in the forefront. The songs are very much in the style of old Darkthrone, though lengthier and more hypnotic, possessing a quality somewhat reminiscent to the faster melodies found on older Burzum albums.  Despite averaging around nine or ten minutes long, these songs never get boring. There are not a lot of dynamics to speak of, outside of rare moments where things die down and dismal guitar chords ring out into the darkness, such as the ending to "Духа Уста Опаляя". As with the last couple releases, the vocals have somewhat too much reverb, not nearly as suitable as the style utilized on the earlier albums, or on the Forest material. The riffs work well to create a dismal feeling, with several introspective melodies that rise up, from time to time. Some passages go on slightly longer than necessary, before getting on to the next interesting idea. "Страстью Cтремимым" stands out, being mid-paced and possessing an entirely different production than the preceding tracks. The vibe is much more harsh and miserable.

Жизнеотрицанью жизневероломство is another solid dose of raw and minimalist Black Metal that is recommended for anyone into the early material from Darkthrone and Burzum. Branikald is one of the few bands to really do justice to this style, keeping to the traditions while adding something as well. Though the vocals are a little irritating, the music is worth giving the time to get used to this peculiarity.
 
(26 Sept. 2013)

Хмель Мизантропии (1998)
 

Хмель Мизантропии was released in 1998, through Stellar Winter Records and available only on cassette. In the years since then, it has been reissued on tape and CD, making it a little more possible to come by. Despite the oddly colourful cover art, the music maintains the same style, though fails to live up to what came before. 

Musically, this effort follows the same style as before, though the songwriting does not seem as strong. All of the elements are there; the sound is dominated by tremolo melodies, though the feeling is just not as cold and desolate as before. It is almost as if the vocals are more the focus than the actual riffs, with even more reverb than before. The guitars and drums feel as if they are just acting as a backdrop for the hateful voice of Kaldrad. The songs are even shorter, with each one averaging roughly five minutes. That is not to say that there is still no room for development, but things feel more lifeless and without reason. "Лезвием Прямого Взгляда" has its moments, where subtle melodies rise through the fog to add some depth to the music, but the atmosphere is definitely missing something. The production also manages to sabotage things. "Кровью Охоты Дикой" features some more interesting riffs, reminiscent of Moonblood at times, but the guitars are lower in the mix on this one and the melodies struggle to be heard as the vocals just crush them into oblivion. "Ветрам Воронокрылым" is the longest track on here and, coincidentally, shows the most promise. The sound holds it back, but it still succeeds in creating a dark and sombre vibe. The main guitar melody is very dreary, while additional riffs of a colder nature work their way in. "...Твой Неприкаянный Голос..." follows along with this, and would have been a much better song to start the album off, though the poor mix drags it down. Branikald definitely sounded better when the vocals were obscure and distant, rather than drowning everything else out.

Branikald was often unique in utilizing a mixture of Russian and Norwegian lyrics and song titles. On Хмель Мизантропии, Kaldrad decided to also make use of German, which adds a somewhat more hateful feeling to the overall atmosphere. Perhaps this sort of harshness was also part of the reason for using Norwegian, earlier on. At any rate, it is a little strange to hear this coming from a Russian band. It has long been confusing as to why so many Slavic bands would have a fondness for the culture of the Third Reich, considering that their country was devastated by German forces and would likely not be looked upon too kindly if the war had the opposite result.

As for the production, there are some definite inconsistencies. At its best, this album suffers from a weak guitar tone that fails to create the same kind of frigid feeling as before. During the verses, one has a difficult time even following the melodies, at times. The title track is unlistenable, as the vocals are so high in the mix that they completely overpower the rest. To focus in on the riffs, one must turn the volume so high that the vocals end up causing pain. The final song also employs a different production from the rest of the album and sounds like utter trash.

Хмель Мизантропии could have been a decent record, but it has too many things working against it. While "Ветрам Воронокрылым" hearkens back to the past glories of Branikald, the rest of the songs fail to live up to the same standard. Two of the songs are complete throwaways, and one is an instrumental. Kaldrad was capable of much more than this, as he showed on the previous releases. In fact, that may be the most detrimental thing about this offering: he had already done so much better in the preceding years, something like this was just unacceptable.
 
(16 Sept. 2013)

 
 

Branikald is one of those bands that remained quite reliable for a long time. Despite some inconsistency in the quality, now and then, one really knew what to expect when confronted with another release. Released in April 1999, through Stellar Winter Records, Хладавзор is the seventh offering from this Russian Black Metal project.

Kaldrad certainly made some odd choices, at times, and the beginning to this album is no exception. The first song, "На Волнах Вдохновенья", is an instrumental that lasts for over fourteen minutes. Starting with a track like this is not such a problem, but the length is not justified by the songwriting. There is very little progression and it just meanders along with no purpose. Something like this might have worked as an ambient outro, but should not have been placed in front of everything else. Actually, this record features three instrumentals and three more conventional Black Metal songs. "...Где Ночи Край" also runs a bit long, clocking in at over nine minutes and consisting of the same plodding structure as the opener.

Of the actual Black Metal tracks, they are precisely what one would want and expect from Branikald. "Струн Натянутых Вдохновенья Сталь" picks up from where the previous album left off, being comprised of cold tremolo melodies and monotonous drumming, both in the vein of Fenriz's work on Transilvanian Hunger. The riffs are very repetitious and the songwriting is quite minimalist. The trance-like approach enables each subtle alteration to make a disproportionately large impact. The closing minutes are more draining, as the drums and vocals disappear, somewhat reminiscent of early works from Burzum. The vocals still retain the somewhat throatier sound that emerged in recent albums, with a more human quality. "Дикий Родич Парусов" offers no surprises, following a similar formula and maintaining a cold and dismal atmosphere through the sometimes distant guitar melodies. Though the influence of the aforementioned Darkthrone album is very strong, Branikald still fails to create any real darkness with this music. While cold and bleak, and despite utilizing a very similar approach, the melodies themselves just are not dark or menacing in any way.

The production is about the same as on most of the releases that preceded this. The guitar tone is cold and has a similar sort of distortion as on several of the early Norwegian releases. The focus is on the guitars, with the drumming in a completely supportive role in the background. The vocals are a bit high in the mix, but not in a problematic manner. There are a few rough spots, here or there, as if the master tape was a little worn out; nevertheless, the sound is exactly what the music needed and any mistake only adds to the overall feel.

All in all, Хладавзор is another decent album from Branikald and is certainly worth listening to. It is kind of predictable and lacks strong and memorable riffs, such as those from Varg Fjerne a Tornet or Winterkald, it still delivers more cold and minimalist Black Metal at a time when most bands had strayed very far from what this music was supposed to be.
 
(15 Jan. 2014)

 
 

Released in 2000, Струн Натянутых Вдохновенья Сталь is another album from Branikald's so-called dark period. Without even a label to support the band, Kaldrad would not be deterred and continued making music. While his better days may have been behind him, this is still a fairly solid effort.

The production lacks the cold sound of the earlier works, with the guitars taking on a somewhat warmer sound than before. The guitar tone possesses no rough edge, sounding kind of flat instead. It is still rather raw, though not quite to garage-demo quality. There are some rough spots, here and there, where the volume drops for a second or so.

The arrangement makes a little more sense, this time around, putting the instrumentals at the beginning and end of the album. After the intro track, "Жгучи Меда Глотки" offers up precisely what one would expect from a Branikald record, being ten minutes of minimalist Black Metal. The tremolo riffs and primitive drumming serve as a backdrop for Kaldrad's ever-hoarse vocals. While generally very straight-forward, he also has the tendency to sacrifice structure in favour or allowing the guitars to flow where they will and to add an atmospheric sense to the music. Those looking for something a bit more standard are likely to appreciate "Энергией Ansuz" and "Свастика", which features morose guitar melodies and a more aggressive approach to the percussion and vocals. The songs are very repetitive, with little variation throughout, but adhering to a strict path that allows for no deviations, in contrast to the first proper track on here. "Разитель Дух" is more mid-paced, still built upon fast-picked melodies but with slower drumming and sparse vocals. The atmosphere is a bit dreary, but not exactly melancholic. Somehow, as before, the riffs are solid but not as strong as they could be, thus the compositions feel that they are lacking something. 

Though never one-dimensional, Branikald was for a long time one of the most consistent bands in Black Metal. Very few musicians that were active in the scene in 1995 were still keeping true to this music even by 2000. Most of the bands that influenced Kaldrad had abandoned their styles for something else, but he proved very reliable if not terribly original. Oftentimes, that is more important and anyone that appreciates minimalist and under-produced Black Metal should certainly give Струн Натянутых Вдохновенья Сталь a listen.
 
(14 Feb. 2014)
















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