DARKESTRAH — Sary Oy (review)

DARKESTRAH — Sary Oy album cover Album · 2004 · Pagan Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
While black metal has found its beginnings as primarily a European musical expression, it really didn’t take long at all after the initial second wave explosion of the 90s to drift far and wide like a cloud of radioactive dust after an initial impact to blanket the entire globe. Bands like Kekal from Indonesia, Inquisition from Colombia, Shub Niggurath from Mexico, Taarma from Afghanistan and Deiphago from the Philippines have all experienced varying degrees of success on the world’s stage but perhaps one of the most unusual of black metal bands to emerge was DARKESTRAH which came into existence in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, a nation even in the 21st century still remains off most people’s radar.

DARKESTRAH, a portmanteau of dark and orchestra, was formed in 1999 by drummer Asbath in the capital city of Bishkek and released two demos “Pagan Black Act” and “Through the Ashes of the Shamanic Flames” before catching the attention of the German lane Curse of KvN Sadistic in 2003. The band would relocate to Leipzig, Germany and released its first album SARY OY in 2004 to critical acclaim in the underground world of black metal for its innovative mix of kvlt black metal sounds with the traditional folk music of Kyrgyzstan which implements the unique sounds of instruments such as the kyl-kyjak, a two-stringed upright bow instrument, the komuz which is an ancient fretless stringed instrument like the flute, the temir-komuz better known as a jew harp. In addition to the black metal raspy vocals set below the caustic din, the folky segments exhibit the sygyt which is a form of Central Asian throat singing.

Most similar to Romania’s Negura Bunget for its homegrown ethnic flavors seeping into the fabric of black metal, DARKESTRAH sounds like no other because the Central Asian folk sounds are in a world of their own and are quite effective in conjunct with the black metal bombast. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of DARKESTRAH is how the band adds highly complex progressive elements which include unorthodox time signature shifts, lengthy sprawling compositions that go through a series of changes as the three tracks narrate the concept of an ancient Kyrgyz tale about three sisters of nature. It’s also notable that lead vocalist Kriegtalith is female although in extreme metal gender specific vocal styles are indistinguishable. With only three tracks that make up a full album’s worth, DARKESTRAH crafts its compositions like classical scores with various movements.

The first two tacks hover around the 11 minute mark. “Part I - Sary Oy” emulates the wind swept Central Asian lands and introduces the Pagan themes with homegrown instruments that slowly evoke the atmospheric elements and the spirit of the land before the black metal erupts into full fury. While the mix is impressive the one weakness of the album becomes clear from the getgo and that is the rather amateurish mixing job of the keyboards and other elements. While not horrific, it’s clear that this band was still learning how to craft an epic sounding album. The second track “Part II - Jashii Oy” is the odd song of the bunch as it introduces a rather frenetic time signature rich guitar sequence that reminds me a bit of John Frusciante’s guitar parts in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ hit “Snow” only this has a keyboard taking the spotlight. The track drifts on in a groovy electronic mode for six minutes before hitting its stride in metal turf. This second track is entirely instrumental.

The most epic track is the closing “Part III - Kysil Oy” which at nearly 26 minutes swallows up 2/3 of the entire album’s run. This track is also the most progressive as it drifts in and out of varying motifs that begins with the ambient sounds of howling winds accompanied by traditional Kyrgyz instruments but then around three minutes the black metal guitars kick in only is a drifting sort of sustained chord sorta way until it ramps up into a fast tempo fury accompanied by some keyboards that unfortunately sound a bit cheesy due to the mixing inadequacies however this sequence also delivers some of the most progressive constructs of the whole album with labyrinthine proggy workouts at breakneck speed. A piano sequence remnant of the previous track briefly kicks in at nine minutes or so before around ten minutes all the bombast drops out and it becomes an ambient track for several minutes. The rest of the running time sounds more like a church organ rich ritual along with a more demented version of Philip Glass around the “Glassworks” and “Koyaanisqatsi” era.

SARY OY has been a decisive album for sure as it will not appeal to black metal purists for its lengthy excursions completely out of the metal realms however for those interested in amazingly original experimental and progressive music then DARKESTRAH delivers all the goods on this one. The only pitfall with this debut album is the production and mixing job which are not horrible by an means but there are moments, most notably the keyboard oriented ones that things just don’t sound as tight knit as they should. If you base your musical happiness on production then this will most likely disappoint but if you can forgive the inexperience and focus on the music itself then this one is completely satisfying on many levels. Steeped in Western classical undercurrents and decorated with ethnic flavors and black metal bombast, SARY OY is quite the satisfying experience of experimental Pagan black metal emerging from one of the most off the radar regions of the planet. Blackened folklore metal rarely sounds this sophisticated and DARKESTRAH found a way to stand out from the very start.
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