Thursday, 1 May 2014

Extreme Thursday: Darkestrah

Now the festivities of Ēostre are over, the bunny is back in his cage, and our little Spring break is done, it's time to get back to business. The business of bringing a little extremity to your Thursday

This week we have Darkestrah, a band who originate far from the usual glut of major metal producing nations. Instead they hail from the small nation of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, where they produce a variant of melodic black metal that they refer to as "Shamanic pagan black metal."

The band draw their influences from the pre-Islamic history of their nation, from way back in the early 7th century and before. Using traditional instruments as well as traditional themes they forge their own style. The vocal talents of the enigmatic Kriegtalith combine with throat singing (the art of singing multiple tones simultaneously) and ancient Kyrgyz instruments such as the kyl-kyjak (a two string fiddle) and the temir-komuz (a Kyrgyz jaw harp) makes for an interesting mix of Kyrgyz folk in the midst of the traditional blackened metal sound.

Formed in 1999 by drummer and percussionist Asbath, Darkestrah's early demos paved the way for their enduring and unique sound. After two demos, Pagan Black Act and Through The Ashes Of The Shamanic Flames, the band's themes and sound were fully formed and ready for their first full album.
Sary Oy was released in 2004 and is based on a Kyrgyz legend of three sisters who represent elements of nature. The three tracks, Sary Oy, Jashil Oy and Kysil Oy are named for each of the sisters. The album was well received and was hailed as a triumph worldwide.

On the back of the success of Sary Oy, Darkestrah released an EP, The Way To Paganism, and a full length, Embrace Of Memory, in 2005. Continuing the Kyrgyz folk and paganism themes, it presents a series of shorter tales and dark emotions rather than the concept style of Sary Oy.

Darkestrah's third full length arrived in 2007 in the form of Epos, a single 33 minute black metal track. The album is dedicated to the lake Issyk Kul, located in the Tian Shan mountain range in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It is the ten largest lake in the world, and is entirely enclosed by the mountain range. As such, it has been the source of myths and legends for hundreds or thousands of years, and it is these legends that have served as inspiration for Epos.

Issyk Kul was a stop-over on the famous Silk Road trading route, and some have claimed it was the source of the Black Death that ravaged Asia and Europe in the 14th century. Darkestrah's fourth album, The Great Silk Road released in 2008, continued the theme of Epos and expands it with myths and tales of merchants and travellers passing through Kyrgyzstan on that trade route, and the legends that grew around it.

Between their fourth and fifth full length albums, Darkestrah put out a short EP, Khagan, in 2011 about the history of Genghis Khan. From his origins as Temudgin, his transformation into Genghis Kan, and his bloodthirsty conquering of Asia and Russia, this three track EP captures the essence of the legend of Genghis Khan.

Darkestrah's most recent album, Манас, was released in 2013 and is the first album to be written entirely in Russian. It is based on Манас дастаны (or Manac Destanı), the traditional epic poem of the Kyrgyz people. It is the tale of Manas, the greatest leader and hero in Kyrgyz history, and his son and grandson.

The poem itself has been passed down orally for hundreds of years as the Kyrgyz people had no written language, so there are now many versions that changed largely on the whim of the teller, but the core of the tale remains. It is considered one of the greatest examples of epic poetry, and Darkestrah's translation into epic black metal is done with subtlety and respect.

Darkestrah bill themselves as the "most interesting shamanic pagan black metal band." I do not know of any other shamanic pagan black metal bands, so I'll have to take their word for it, but researching the history and mythology of Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz people has been fascinating. The question is, now that they've successfully translated the greatest epic poem in history into black metal form, what will Darkestrah do next? I for one am keen to find out.