Agruss – Morok (Code666 Records, 26 April 2012)
There seems to be a growing trend in the American Black Metal scene that revolves around combining atmospheric post-black-metal sounds with a pro-nature, anti-technology attitude. This has been discussed ad nauseam all over the internet (perhaps best exemplified here), and frankly, I don’t give a shit. This may seem like an oversimplification, and you might say I’m being too broadly dismissive, but I say to hell with all of it. That whole movement comes across (to me) as a bunch of whiny neo-hippies saying yay to peace and love and flower power, with all the conviction and determination of that whole stupid “Occupy Wall Street… Until it Starts Getting Cold Outside” slumber party that was such a big deal last year, while it was the cause du jour.
Well, here’s a review of something totally different: a band who use black metal as the medium for expressing their rage against modern technology and the destruction of nature!
How is that different, you ask? Well for starters, the band Agruss is from the town of Rivne (Рівне), Ukraine, just a short distance away from one of that country’s nuclear power plants. Furthermore, that town is only about 400km away from the town of Chornobyl (Чорнобиль), or more commonly known by its Russian name Chernobyl (Чернобыль). As you are probably aware, that town — now almost completely abandoned — was very close to the site of another Ukranian nuclear power plant, until an explosion occurred there, releasing nuclear contaminants all over the surrounding area. That disaster occurred in 1986, on the 26th of April. (See what they did there?)
Black metal music is typically associated with icy cold conditions; whether that is based on the reaction by listeners to the general aesthetic of the sound, or it comes from a common subject matter of the songs, or perhaps even just a mental association stemming from the northern location of many of the better-known progenitors of the genre, or whether that location had influenced those early bands to use the particular subject matter and/or aesthetics that they did — all of that could be subject to debate, I suppose, but the fact remains that to most people, black metal is equated with a barren, frozen, wintry landscape. Agruss’ debut LP Morok is no exception, yet it evokes the idea of a somewhat different type of winter…
The word “morok” (mорок) essentially means “gloom” in Ukrainian, but the band offers the caveat that it’s actually “a multifaceted, deep notion present in Slavic languages and cannot be literally translated into other languages.” In this case, the album title does indeed go beyond the concept of mere gloominess, to represent the utterly desolate wasteland that is the aftermath of a nuclear disaster (whether accidental or not), caused by the fallout of black rain, and perhaps the resultant nuclear winter.
Says Agruss, “Morok is a joyless vision of the tragedy that is happening around us. Death is already there and we are standing on the brink of the Abyss.” Living in such close proximity to a constant reminder of mankind’s destructive potential has understandably left the band feeling very hateful and vindictive. They describe a harmonious symphony that occurs in nature, saying that just one element of that symphony has chosen to play his own part, resulting in a dissonance that has upset the otherwise perfect balance.
Fading in with the sound of a chilly breeze, the dulcet tones that open the first track, “Damnation,” set the landscape for the forthcoming tale. But as we soon discover, there is very little peace and tranquility to be found here. An explosion of drums and guitars carry the vocals — a blend of ethereal ghostly shrieks with subterranean barked growls — with everything soaked in enough reverb to convey the barrenness and emptiness of a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
For well over an hour, the pattern continues: occasional soft, mournful sounds and echoes rise out of the silence, only to be swallowed whole by the terrible emotion that comprises the band’s allegory for mankind. Whether it would be worse to be among those killed by a catastrophic disaster, or to be left alive, trying to survive in a land that is poisoned and dying — the venomous emanations of this record seem to express sufficient rage for both, in songs such as “Damnation” and “Punishment for All,” while simultaneously mourning the living and the dead, in some of the more atmospheric and sullen moments of songs like “Fire the Saviour from Plague” or “When the Angels Fall.”
The real centerpiece of the album, though, is the suite “Under the Snow” which makes up the final three tracks. Part I mainly consists of heavy-hitting doomy death metal riffs, with the vocalists howling with blind fury; Part II begins even more down-tempo, with even the drums accompanying the sludgey doom of the guitars, only to explode into a blastbeat session with screamed vocals even less intelligible than before, as well as the eerie inclusion of what sounds like the chiming of church bells. Finally, by Part III, everything has been ground down into patently post-metal territory: over the course of these final fifteen minutes, all that remains are some atmospheric sound effects behind a dreary repeated guitar motif, with the addition of some agonizing wails coming from such a distance that they might actually be from beyond the grave. The cautionary parable having reached its culmination, the vocals here seem to be representing the cries of the repentant after it’s already too late to do any good. Eventually, all else is silenced but the howling of the wind through a land of nothingness.
And after all that, the band has said this is intended as just the first part of a trilogy! You can pick up your copy of Morok from the Aural Music webstore, here.
Agruss: Facebook, Reverbnation, Tumblr, Youtube
Code666: website, Myspace