Hardcore and punk are well established in the underground music scene of Croatia, black metal not so much. This has many reasons, one of them being that Croatia was and still is a less prosperous nation than those where black metal originated. As I have read in a study, there is a connection between a country’s economic situation and the number and extremeness of metal bands in that country. In Croatia, so far, doing hardcore and punk is the more obvious choice, because anger at the establishment and bad life conditions are on everybody’s mind. However, things are changing. Not necessarily for the better. But where is the aggression of hardcore to turn to, once it realizes that no kind of political action will solve the state’s or the world’s biggest problems?
The Croatian band Bednja have an answer to that question. On their debut album Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas (We Left The Valleys Behind), released via Transcending Obscurity Records, they impressively fuse the aggression of hardcore with the hate of black metal. And while this combination is not new, Bednja do an exceptionally good job in merging these two emotions. It’s a logical direction, a development that makes perfectly sense. Why? Because unless it mysteriously dissolves or turns into the (somewhat naive) belief of the all-conquering power of a Positive Mental Attitude, the aggression of hardcore has nowhere else to turn to but to the hate and the nihilism of black metal.
Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas starts with the intro Iz Magle (From the Fog). To a background of thunder storm sounds, distorted guitar and galloping drums are added, followed by a shouted “Bednja!”. Bednja is a small, unremarkable town in the north of Croatia, the name of a river, and probably the place where some of the band members come from. Do not allow yourself to be deterred by the fact that band name, album title, song titles and lyrics of the six-track album are in Croatian, because it won’t hinder you in the slightest from enjoying Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas. The mixture of vocals and music is so powerful that the messages come across nevertheless.
While the intro offers a small taste of the band’s own version of blackened hardcore, the real fun starts with the second track Posljedni Krik (Final Scream). It features unfiltered rage and hatred in the form of raw, screamed vocals and merciless, machine-gun-assault-like drumming. The intensity and rawness of the feelings transmitted is really quite breath-taking, and the vocals contribute much to that effect. Two of the three band members sing, either together or in turns. When they sing together, they sound like a whole stadium full of soccer fans threatening to tear you apart. When they sing in turns, it sounds like someone screaming into the deep void and the void shouting back.
My favourite track on the whole album is the third one, Povratak Kralja (The Return Of The King). If you want to give one track a listen, make it this one. I’m pretty sure it will be one of the more memorable pieces of extreme music you have heard this year, and I’m confident that it will make you want to listen to the whole album. The track begins with rather serene post metal, one of the rare breaks the album offers, only to be followed by the most extreme batch of hate in the form of blast beats, tremolo picked guitars and deep, guttural screams. Bloody hell!
The album continues strong and as described above, but the intensity of Povratak Kralja is not reached again. The final track Doline Su Ostale Iza Nas has in its finish a bit of Croatian folk music featuring original string instruments. The album ends therefore on a somewhat sad and nostalgic note, well captured in the album’s cover. While the photograph of a half rotten bird, spread out on dry land, might look unremarkable at first glance, it is anything but. The primary colour is gray, and the grey falcon is to some extend a symbolic bird in and for the Balkans, featured in book titles (for example in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a book about the former Yugoslavia), and in one of the most famous pieces of music originating from the region, the opera Ero the Joker by Jakov Gotovac. The video to the track Povratak Kralja features the same bird, decomposing, maggot-infested. What that means is obvious: The strong and proud grey falcon is dead, rotting, and so is its land.
Original, intense, honest and brutal. You absolutely need to give this a listen.