ZGARD: Place Of Power
Release year: 2021
Label: Schwarzdorn Production
I must admit that pagan black metal has never been a genre I’ve been particularly into. I do like some of the cornerstones of the genre, such as old albums by Moonsorrow, some Nokturnal Mortum and in tangential genres, most of what Falkenbach has done, but by and large, it’s not my cup of tea.
Incidentally, Falkenbach and Moonsorrow are the two bands namedropped in the promotional sheet. Might this have something to do with why I checked Ukrainian Zgard‘s newest album out when the download link hit my inbox? Might be, might be!
Of course, I have listened to a whole lot of pagan black metal albums, especially from eastern Europe. Seems like Spotify is full of them, and ever so often I will check one out to see if that world would finally open up to me. No such luck as of yet.
Zgard have a sound that will sound instantly familiar to fans of the genre, bearing a particular kinship to colleagues from eastern Europe. Not surprising, I guess, considering Zgard’s place of origin. In other words, the band base their sound on the somewhat more melodic and more accessible strains of 90’s black metal, lace it with some folk-y melodies and instruments here and there, and top it off with vocals that are a hoarse, even hysterical shriek. Seems like bands from the east have a penchant for the latter.
The result is, as said, pretty standard fare for the genre. Whilst there are buzzsawing guitars and speedy tempos aplenty, the overall sound is softened by the use of synths and folkier instruments, but also the overall production. The sound certainly isn’t particularly harsh or abrasive, rather going for density and clarity that chafing rawness. I suppose it suits the style of the band better.
Whilst none of the tracks as a whole stand out as particularly impressive or memorable, my overall feel of the album is that this is a pretty solid album in its style. Nothing groundbreaking, innovative or even spectacularly impressive, but thoroughly solid. Does it finally make me a fan of the genre as a whole? No.
Place Of Power is one of those albums that make up the vast majority of music in any genre: it’s not at the forefront, but neither is it lying scattered and abandoned by the wayside. No, it’s one of the regular grunts of the proverbial pagan black metal army, marching there as an equal with dozens, hundreds and thousands of equally good-but-not-very-distinct albums. I guess what I’m saying is that the album is a bit dime a dozen.
Still, I daresay if you happen to pick this up as a fan of the genre or subgenre, you won’t be disappointed. There’s certainly enough in terms of solid songwriting, capable arrangements and musicianship here to make this an adequate album despite its shortcomings in uniqueness.