Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Russian Metal Week, Day 3: Чёрный кофе - Переступи порог (1987)

Today we'll move away from Ariya and its ex-bandmates and get familiarized with something a little bit more original.

Чёрный кофе - Переступи порог (Chorniy Kofe / Black Coffee - Step Over The Threshold)

Dmitriy Varshavskiy - vocals, guitar
Sergey Kudishin - guitar
Igor Kupriyanov - bass, vocals
Sergey Cherniakov - drums

1. "Переступи порог" (Step Over The Threshold)
2. "Владимирская Русь" (Vladimir's Rus')
3. "Жизни рассвет" (The Dawn Of Life)
4. "Я ищу..." (I'm Looking For...)
5. "Мой дом" (My Home)
6. "Звёздный водоём" (The Ocean Of Stars)
7. "Пылает за окном звезда" (A Star Is Burning At My Window)
8. "Незнакомец" (Stranger)
9. "Чёрный кофе" (Black Coffee)
10. "Зимний портрет" (Winter Portrait)
11. "Листья" (Leaves)
12. "Звуки космоса" (Sounds Of Space)

Black Coffee and Ariya haven't yet settled down the question of who was the first Soviet metal band. At least, their music is different enough for me not to care about who is! While Ariya was mostly experimenting with NWOBHM and classic rock, Black Coffee, led by charismatic singing guitarist Dmitriy Varshavskiy, were a bit more 'progressive' and original in their music and lyrics, ending up being the first Russian white metal band. 'Step Over The Threshold' is their first album in a line of classic metal platters. It is not as fast and furious as Master, but if you're looking for something different, melodic and technical, Black Coffee is a decent choice. It can be best described as a cross between early Queensryche (riffing, drum tempos) and AC/DC (rock-n-roll melodies and high-pitched vocals). And on a side note, of all the albums of this week, I happen to own two on vinyl, and this is the first of them.

'Step Over The Threshold' is a fine example of the stylistic fusion going on, as this is a mid-paced number with lots of solos and, what will become prominent throughout the record - poetic lyrics. They are totally unlike Ariya, Master or the bands yet to come (probably, excluding The Black Obelisk, whom I'll cover tomorrow). The topics themselves are traditional, though - metalheads, bad love, science fiction, but also there's a song about black coffee! It may sound silly, but remember that Annihilator had 'Kraf Dinner', Vengeance Rising had 'Mulligan Stew', and don't get me even started on Tankard... but I digress. 'Step Over The Threshold' may seem a weird song with all its constant soloing and Varshavskiy's voice, but yet it's a good representation of the album's style. From now on, it is mostly constructed in a pattern: a headbanging song - a ballad - then another headbanging song - then another ballad. Just to prove it, 'Vladimir's Rus'' is a slow and doomy piece, with haunting riffs and hypnotic pacing. Overall, one of the best songs on the album, as well as one of the band's concert favorites. Then there's 'The Dawn Of Life', which contrary to the title, is a fast-paced and energizing piece. Again, as with all the non-ballads here, Varshavskiy's vocals sound really weird, but even weirder are the lyrics - 'The dawn of life will return, looking at my window in the morning with its tender silver light. My road is waiting for me'? Sounds pretty Dream Theater'ish to me! Anyways, if you don't dislike the vocals, this song is pretty original, like the whole album is for the most part.

Then there goes 'I'm Looking For...', probably my most favorite song on the record. It's another ballad with great lyrics and dramatic chorus. Again, the musicians show their excellent skills and synchronicity, as well as a number of nice solos here and there. 'I'm looking for the meaning of life restlessly, I want to know what my way is, and I will find the answer!' No really, even for 1987 this was very original for a metal band to have deep personal songs, at the time maybe only Metallica and yet-to-come Dream Theater dared to do so. After that, we're treated to 'My Home', a heavy rock-n-rolling piece where the Queensryche similarities become obvious. 'The Ocean Of Stars' starts off with acoustic intro, but by the end it's shifted to high gear, making it the fastest song here. Back in the day, Dmitriy Varshavskiy was considered to be one of the Russian guitar heroes, along with Sergey Mavrin and Valeriy Gaina, and such songs do show why.

The whole album itself is not about speed, heaviness or even rock-for-the-rock, it's all in technical musicianship, dramatic lyrics and melodic approach. But this is not purely a progressive metal album, counting how the songs are unusually sort for such genre. Anyways, after 'The Ocean Of Stars' is concluded, the rest of the disc is all headbanging numbers, such as 'Stranger'. another mix of early Queensryche, rock-and-roll and bluesy riffs. The same can be said about 'Black Coffee', but these songs are nothing but identical, as the latter is more fun and moving, and also may be the simplest song on the record, without too many background solos, right like it was on 'Stranger'. The lyrics are pretty cool, too, even referencing the fortunetelling qualities of this drink. All in all, it's a great closer song, as I like albums that end on fun(ny) notes. Yes, this is where the original vinyl version ends, but the CD reissue has its share of bonus tracks, the first of which is 'Winter Portrait'. Here is where AC/DC influences are stronger, as the guitarists do their best to outplay the Young brothers, and it's the closest point where Varshavskiy comes to sounding like Bon Scott. Then we have 'Leaves', a nice power ballad about... well, just a falling leaf. I was always wondering why only the true black metal bands sing about nature, but not the ones who go with more 'humane' genres. Actually, this whole album lyrically is unlike everything else, and I'd like to think that it was intentional. After all, everybody around was singing about war, Satan and war against Satan, so it's good to see something refreshing, especially as the poetry is so talented. And the last song here is 'Sounds Of Space', a fantastic (both in terms of lyrical theme and overall quality) piece, while not as fun as 'Black Coffee', but also a decent closer, this time for real.

So here we have, one of the most original albums of this week, and probably of the Russian metal genre itself. If you want to hear something a little different, more like 'thinker's metal', and you love early Queensryche, make yourself a cup of black coffee, pop 'Step Over The Threshold' into your CD or MP3 player and give it a listen. And if you know Russian or have the lyrics translated decently, you'll get double the enjoyment!

My Rating: 8 / 10 (great album, but for thinkers only)