Windswept represents yet another outlet for the prolific mind behind some of the most renowned acts to have emerged from Ukraine over the last fifteen years (Hate Forest, Drudkh, Blood of Kingu) – one Roman Saenko – to engage in a further expression of the style of cold, epic black metal for which is he is so renowned.
Those familiar with Saenko’s work will be immediately at ease with Windswept as ‘Black Horizon is the Gates of Blizzard’ scythes from the speakers – that trademark ear for subtle, compelling melody is as evident as ever amongst the scree of guitars whilst the barbaric vocals and furious percussion add a definite sense of fury to the proceedings. ‘The Great Cold Steppe’ is heavily reminiscent of some of the more recent Drudkh material – specifically the split with Hades Almighty – and given that Windswept consists of 75% of the line-up of Drudkh, that can hardly come as much of a surprise.
The differentiator for Windswept is the bold proclamation that this record is very much the product of improvisation – indeed, the accompanying press notes state that the record was written and recorded entirely over the course of three days without rehearsals. Taking this at face value, it’s an impressive achievement that such an absorbing and coherent record has emerged, though given the pedigree of the protagonists involved, we shouldn’t be too surprised. Indeed, in many ways, ‘The Great Cold Steppe’ simply serves to underline the talent of Saenko and his colleagues.
So, this is certainly solid and stirring stuff – do not of course expect any significant surprises across the album’s concise thirty-three minute running length and instead, strap yourself in for a frosty gallop across cold and hostile landscapes that are nonetheless replete with an ambience of melancholic yearning. It’s what these guys do best after all and that skill for evocative musicality is perfectly evident in the impassioned drive of ‘Shining, So Sleeps Infinite Ancient Steppe’ and ‘Blinding and Bottomless Abyss is Howling’. And indeed, a strong case could be made for the closing track ‘A Spiteful Wind Buries All the Lonely Whispers’ for being one of the best things these individuals have put their names to in years.
If you’ve been left a little cold (pun very much intended) by the more direct nature of Drudkh’s work on their more recent split or you just have an appetite for some wintry fury, ‘The Great Cold Steppe’ may well sate your cravings. Tasty.
(8/10 Frank Allain)