DrudkhAn interesting coming together of two acts that are rapidly approaching legendary status within black metal circles, albeit for somewhat different reasons. Drudkh are the enigmatic Ukrainian outfit who never play live, never carry out interviews and have since seen fit to release a steady stream of acclaimed atmospheric albums year-on-year throughout their 15 year existence (10 at the last count) – their self-imposed obscurity and consistent quality of their records rendering them one of the most revered bands within the underground.

Hades Almighty (formerly Hades) meanwhile are perhaps most famous for their band leader Jorn Inge Tunsberg being ‘there’ during the infamous years of the black metal ‘inner circle’ in Norway in the early 1990s and was himself convicted of church burning. The band have put out a handful of records in the last couple of decades but if we’re honest, it’s by association with others and controversy that the band have gained the most renown. This split therefore represents a chance for them to stand tall.

But Drudkh are up first and there’s no doubt that opener ‘Golden Horse’ will take a chunk of their fanbase by surprise. The Ukrainians have an uncanny ability to weave pastoral, autumnal soundscapes across their black metal template with acoustic guitars, slower drum patterns and melodic ‘epic’ riffs being the bedrock of their most celebrated works. Therefore, to be confronted with the frenzied blastbeats and hoarse, commanding vocals that explode out of the gates of this first track will be a shock to many a system.

The drumming here is relentless – furious, tight and busy, it’s possibly the most aggressive thing Drudkh have committed to tape. And you know what? It works. Drudkh’s last full-length ‘A Furrow Cut Short’ was good – great, even – but as with a few of their more recent albums, there was a sense of self-repetition, of sticking to tried-and-trusted formulae. ‘Golden Horse’ rips up the rule book somewhat and attempts to do showcase another side to the band. Happily, Roman Saenko and Thurios’ knack for penning a decent riff remains undimmed and the guitars overlaying the percussive fury are as worthwhile as ever.

‘Fiery Serpent’ follows in a slightly less frenetic fashion but still, there is an undercurrent of directness, of a desire to step out of a well-ploughed furrow (no pun intended!) of their own making. It culminates in a sinuous, climatic riff that signs off these two songs appropriately. A short but successful experiment.

Hades‘Hades Almighty’ follow with a brace of more diverse soundscapes. Where Drudkh’s recordings on this release are dry as a bone, ‘Pyre Era, Black!’ is a reverb-soaked, brooding affair showcasing a variety of styles across its three songs. Predominantly dealing in a mid-paced, very Nordic sound, Hades Almighty bring to mind a number of classic atmospheres – early Helheim, Blood Fire Death-era Bathory and there’s even a touch of Manes’ classic debut that seeps through at points.

It’s a diverse and intriguing listen for sure with some truly effective moments – the sinister synth motif that closes the title track is inspired whilst the roared vocal refrain in ‘Funeral Storm’ as another insistent highlight. ‘Bound’ closes the piece and showcases that Hades Almighty have a number of potent weapons in their sonic arsenal, deploying acoustic guitars, clean vocals and a sense of sinister bombast with aplomb, bringing to mind the rousing tones of Borknagar’s classic debut.

Two legends. Two very different approaches. One intriguing release. Definitely worth checking out.

(8/10 Frank Allain)