History lessons and metal have gone hand in hand pretty much from the start, so much so that if you’re not fond of learning a thing or two about events from the past, then this might not be the genre for you. Yes, so many unaware folks pass off the metal crowd and its performers as mouth-breathing lunatics, but we know better. And we’re anything but unaware.
Iron Maiden have made enough war-torn songs about battles and sagas from various lands (hell, one of their biggest hits ever “The Trooper” should be enough to make you at least go to Wikipedia to research how Native Americans were treated by their usurpers), Primordial sing of the blood and woes of their native homeland Ireland, and while often mythological in nature, Amon Amarth long have treated us to tales about the Norse legends and Viking history. Not only are we recipients of some great, epic metal, but we get to learn a thing or two about something perhaps we didn’t know about before we put on a 45-minute album or four-minute song.
With all that said, nomadic sludgers Jucifer very well might take the entire historical cake when it comes to their ambitions. As of late, they’ve turned their interests toward the past and some of the world’s most vicious and unforgiving stories and places. In 2008, the band released its incredible “L’Autrichienne,” a concept record about Marie Antoinette (the title means “that Austrian woman,” which was her nickname) that guitarist/vocalist Amber Valentine felt compelled to write about after reading a book on the French Revolution. Now, they’re serving up “за волгой для нас земли нет,” a record about Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad and Tsaritsyn and the struggles, battles, and hardships that their people and troops have faced through the years. It’s a 77-minute epic that’s as volcanic as anything the band has ever released and certainly is one of their most ambitious projects to date. The record is chaotic and filthy, almost like you’re trudging through snowy fields and pits of heartache, and the Russian monologues weaved through the record gives the land a voice, quite literally. It’s a monster of a record, quite obviously, at 16 tracks, 77 minutes (twice the length of 2010’s “Throned in Blood”) but it flows masterfully and is an easy epic in which to lose yourself.
The record opens with “First Narration,” which is a monologue spoken by a Russian woman that references Stalingrad and goes on for about three minutes. You might not get a lot out of piece if you don’t know the language but it also is a really interesting way to set up a record about the people of Volgograd. Plus there’s something about her speaking voice that just draws you in. That leads to “Song of the Waking City,” an instrumental that finds the duo (Valentine is joined by drummer Edgar Livengood, quite obviously) slowly building the pace, piling on the doom, and collecting mud. Then “White Lies/Winter Is Coming” ignites with crushing, bruising pummeling, as Valentine finally lets loose her banshee wails. Livengood crushes his kit, Valentine’s guitar melts souls, and eventually more Russian voices mix in to continue their tale. “Fight Hard Live Free” is a filthy anthem that begs to be shouted back with authority and gets dressed by slurry guitars, pits of tar, and outright madness.
“Ni Shagu Nazad” is volcanic and fiery, with shouted vocals and absolute fury, and that leads into “Pavlov’s House,” that’s the shortest, meanest track on the record and boasts punk and hardcore roots. “Shame” is accusatory, static-fueled, and also feels like abrasive punk, with the back end getting absolutely drenched with noise. Then “Siberia” strikes, a song that bubbles with doom drone, like they’re waging war with Sunn 0))) on some scorched battlefield somewhere, and it’s massive and aggressive. “Wolf” is anything but easygoing and drops many a hammer, but they also let some prog influences blend into the background, showing a more colorful side to the band.
The dual “Evolution” tracks change the tempo and attitude again, with the first half sweltering and haunting, with Valentine delivering cleaner vocals, at which she always excels, and the song turns trippy and dreamy. The second half gets ugly and rough, with Valentine’s singing turning to blood-curdling screams, Livengood pounding away, and the band eventually slipping into classic heavy metal mode. “Barrier Troops” is fast and chaotic, with the vocals becoming inhuman shrieks that sound like the result of torture and the tempo crushing the ground beneath it. “The New Grave” is full of doom and gloom at first and then settles into a nasty shuffle, and this all leads toward, arguably, the best song on the record in “Queen of Antlers,” a smothering track that’s sludgy and menacing at times, dreamy at others, and with Valentine sounding her most authoritative. Noise moans and winds, the song twists and turns over its nearly eight minutes, and when it’s all over, it’s hard to catch your breath. Then the record, and our story, begins to wind down, but in a pretty heartbreaking manner. If you expect “Patriotic Song” to be uplifting and surging, you’d be wrong. It’s sad, with solemn piano dressed a mood piece where people scream, storms move in, gunfire rings out, voices call out, and drone swallows you whole. “End Narration” is mostly as you expect, with the same woman speaking, though once her dialog ends, you hear footsteps and atmosphere, letting you drink in the final moments of Volgograd.
For an ambitious band like Jucifer, this record raises the bar even for them. It’s an incredible accomplishment, a true work of art from a band whose back catalog is full of them, and one of the most affecting, emotional, crushing concept records in some time, where the language barrier never prevents the message and story from breaking through. Go out of your way to hear this thing, even if it’s your first visit with Jucifer. You’re bound to find yourself captured in this frigid, unforgiving world brought to life by the most explosive duo on Earth.
The album is available in a limited edition digipak and digitally now, and in October, a standard CD version and vinyl will be available.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.jucifer.net/
To buy the album, go here: http://shop.mutantsofthemonster.com/
And here: http://jucifer-official.bandcamp.com/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nomadic-Fortress/348516418565
And here: http://mutantsofthemonster.com/