Stuzha – Butugichag

Perfect timing for this, what with all of the cold creeping in and killing everything.  Today the temperature dropped low enough to freeze puddles, and the pleasant sound of fracturing earth was welcome, but still, it's not cold enough.  We need cold that anything living dreads, cold you can feel in your bone marrow.  Stop all iron production, make us anemic and freeze our eyelids shut so we may pass into the frozen beyond.  Where would such a lovely environment exist?  Of course, you know exactly the locations, you've heard about them, and yes we're going to get to Russia.  I (editor) have lived through real Russian cold, -40 cold, and it feels just like that, in fact going over a bridge crossing an icy river it must have been at least -60 for one fateful wrong turn, seriously, and I'm pretty sure my corneas are still scarred from it.  But one good effect of such horrifying frost is it leads to the enjoyment of suffering, part of the Russian blood, which in turn leads to thoughtful rumination on how awful the world is, and if, at the same time, you have a penchant for creating depressing sounds, well it all comes together nicely.  The Russian underground has been making some serious strides this past decade, perhaps due to this, with several excellent labels releasing a steady stream of some awesome work.  Two we'd like to mention are Ksenia Records and Infinite Fog Productions, for the fact that they were both behind the release of Stuzha.

  

This is something of a challenge because of personal background.  Having lived in Russia twice, knowing the language, and, out of complete coincidence in this case, even the GULag via research for my dissertation. Suffice to say this guy is pretty versed in the culture and prison camps.  The reason it matters is that Butugichag is built on the theme of Soviet prison camps, the name itself from a camp known for being unlisted and only recently studied, where prisoners often had to mine uranium without proper equipment.  Most died in only a few months, if they even made it that far.  The camp itself was part of the infamous Kolyma region, where it can get so cold at times if you go out unprotected and breathe you can actually freeze your lungs and die almost instantly.  Without getting too much further into it, you can do that on your own, the difficulty we're getting at here is that, with such a personal experience of the ideas and cultural background, Stuzha's work could be viewed with either too much expectation, or too much acceptance, missing potential faults.  Both are dangerous to proper considerations of his work, but let's see how this goes...

 

Stuzha seems to have been born in the GULag.  As a transliteration of the Russian, it means cold in the sense of absolutely bitter cold, the kind that can kill in a few minutes.  Most camps of the GULag were the far East of Russia, in some of the coldest, most inhospitable regions of the world, so fitting name, and fitting project title of Butugichag.  Stuzha is, to be simple, dark ambient, but what he's done here is no small feat, especially if you consider the potential journalistic risks being taken by writing this, as mentioned earlier.  Luckily, like most things we do, the presentation was left for after listening.  Stuzha has, quite simply, completely encapsulated the experience of the barren, frozen wastes of the remaining camps, with only fragments of human existence left such as empty shells of administrative centers, open mines with broken doors, and stonework foundations like undecayed skeletons of buildings.  The men who once lived, and died there, are now gone, and this album is in many ways a testament to the forgotten.  Butugichag is four lengthy tracks much like a journey through the region for which it's been named.  The listener finds themselves dreadfully cold, surrounded by the harsh reality of nature, and man's persistent inhumanity and stupidity.  Your feet drag on the ground, over stones, perhaps fragments of bone, or what remain of them, turned so brittle by the cold you could easily confuse them for brittle earth.  Looking at the package itself after listening gives another layer of experience altogether, because Stuzha has included historical photos of the actual camp's territory, and provides information in both Russian and English, including the track list.  With the amount of experience I have with the GULag, Butugichag is an experience from another world you'd never want to enter, and what Stuzha has done is provide the experience of the suffering of millions. Absolutely cold, excellent work.

 

Stuzha Official Facebook

Written by Stanley Stepanic

Stuzha: Butugichag
Infinite Fog Productions, Ksenza Records
4.7 / 5