For 46 years, the Ukraine remained firmly tucked away behind the Iron Curtain. It was a country afflicted with great turmoil and suffering, while it was subject to the grim and punishing Soviet arm that stretched out across Eastern Europe. From an outsider’s perspective, this gave the country a rather peculiar and mysterious allure, perhaps more so than any other Eastern Bloc country due to the deep, significant cultural ties it shared with its neighboring Russia. However, once the Iron Curtain started to crumble as a consequence of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, the Ukraine began to develop more significant ties with the West and was finally able to shed its Soviet shackles in 1991.
Geopolitical shifts might not play much of a role in the music that Drudkh release, but the mystery and depth that surround both their albums and their online persona are as impenetrable and seductive as the Iron Curtain that was once wrapped around the band’s homeland. However, the major difference in this analogy is that the regime-empowering concrete architecture, gilded Orthodox churches and authoritarian statecraft of major cities such as Kiev and Kharkiv (the city from which Drudkh hail), are worlds away from the moody gallantry and enchanting rural landscapes that the band conjures in its exquisite folk-tinted black metal.
This is a niche genre that Drudkh have had years to master. Indeed, Eternal Turn of the Wheel is their ninth album and sees no rapid departure from what they have released in the past. The band creates atmospheric music through sketching a canvas of rural recordings, adopting brush strokes that leave unsettling gusts of wind that swell behind a backdrop of acoustic guitars and birdsong before the band plunges its listeners into a dark and isolated woodland, propelled by crushing black metal.
What makes Eternal Turn of the Wheel so captivating is not so much the band’s furious blend of rural sampling combined with their consistent prowess as black metal musicians, but the enchanting manor in which they craft the tracks. Once the babbling brook fades to black at the end of “Eternal Circle,” the mighty stride of “Breath of Cold Black Soil” ignites the album’s tremendous stampede of rampant percussion and shredding guitars, which remain at the forefront of the listener’s mind even as “Farewell to Autumn’s Sorrowful Birds” comes to a close and we are left alone with the sound of footsteps crunching through soft and crispy snow to a beautiful crow call. The album’s centerpiece, “When Gods Leave Their Emerald Halls,” which clocks in at over nine minutes, is a bewildering midway point along the enshrouded and sorrowful journey that I find myself embarking on every time I listen to this album. It signifies a clearing, surrounded on all sides by the grip of dense and enrapturing woodland, as mysterious and strangely alluring as any Iron Curtain might be to the next curious explorer.