Zgard: Reclusion

Think about the trip this one took, it's kind of like the album art.  Coming from the cold wastes of the Ukraine, all the way to little old us.  Think how people communicated a hundred years ago, what will they do a hundred from now?  And why in the hell are we wasting your time with such reflections?  It's because in spite of all this knowledge and its ease of access, some people can't do anything right.  Take this right here, Zgard's Reclusion, which one reviewer out there, from a site we shall not name, called "Russian black metal."  Really?  Even when the dude himself says he's Ukrainian pagan metal?  Is it that hard to do a little search?  Are we that lazy because it's so easy now?  Now, after this travesty, the whole site we mentioned is under suspicions of journalistic fraud...  To set the record straight, Zgard is from the Ukraine, he sings in Ukrainian, and this is pagan metal.  It's a little unusual, too, because Solitude Productions and its sister label BadMoodMan Music (same link) is largely known for doom, plain and simple.  We did a thorough look at a number of their releases about two years ago, some of which were quite good.  So it's strange to see something so removed from that style, but it doesn't matter, because Zgard is so zgood that we had to do that, yeah, we had to, sorry.  Even though this is a bit older, it's kind of the perfect segway into the new year, what with all the snow and such.

 

Can't get any more pagan than the opening of Reclusion, which sweeps in with a wintery soundscape filled with archaic keyboards.  This is one of the hallmarks of Zgard's sound, it's almost garish, but there's something strangely lovable about it all.  Think Burzum, but not asinine, and that's basically exactly what it sounds like.  Zgard has a strange ability to use what to the ear is inferior equipment to its maximum potential.  The keyboards are very noticeable, they sit right up front and refuse to be sequestered to the back, ever.  It's a bit disquieting at first, but about midway through the second track something oddly charming about Reclusion sinks in, and it won't leave.  No matter the effort you put into forcing yourself to see it as deficient, he finds some way of creating complexity out of it.  Absolute mystery how this guy pulled this kind of sound off, mixing spacy, fantastical electronics with pagan chording.  It's possible no one will ever figure out how, either, because if they did they'd have to sound exactly like Zgard, or like Burum behind bars, which no one wants to remember.

 

So, okay, keyboards, weird, trippy, for some reason enjoyable, what about the rest?  Well, delightedly, Reclusion has that classic pagan sound.  The chords are expansive and epic, the bass generally clean, there are flutes, samples of walking through snow, even a damn balalaika in there, so the general effect of 'pagan' via folk instrumentation and structure is all there.  And, bonus, Zgard knows how to write.  We've had some flame wars with some folk metal bands in the past that we're kind of proud of, and the usual reason is a detachment from actual tradition and a lack of realistic substance.  Zgard overcomes that simply because the Ukraine actually has a pagan tradition he's drawing from.  At times it's like what Blood on Ice kinda shoulda sounded like, no offense to Bathory.  Great album, but other than defining the idea of pagan via so-called 'Viking metal', it's kind of heavy on the cheese.  Reclusion, great sound.  There are only two complaints easily remedied in the future but which caused us to drop the score a little: the production.  Generally, it's clear, but at times the intense layering of sounds, especially with the keyboards, can make some of the melodies hard to discern, and there are a few places where songs simply cut in and out with no introduction or proper resolution.  A very simple thing to correct, but the one item that really keeps it from being stellar.  That's likely a personal complaint coming from years of music production, because regardless Reclusion is an example of pagan metal done right, for a change.  Check out the track "Eternity" in particular.

 

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Written by Stanley Stepanic

Zgard: Reclusion
Solitude Productions/BadMoodMan Music
4 / 5