Thursday, August 16, 2012

Russian Metal Week, Day 4: Чёрный обелиск - 86-88 (1995)

It's time to go a bit heavier, don't you think? From Moscow, I present...

Чёрный обелиск - 86-88 (Chorniy Obelisk / The Black Obelisk - 86-88)



Line-up:
Anatoliy Krupnov - bass, vocals
Yuriy Alekseev - guitar
Dmitriy Borisenkov - guitar, backing vocals, keyboards
Vladimir Ermakov - drums



Tracklist:
1. "Апокалипсис" (Apocalypse)
2. "Абадонна" (Abaddonna)
3. "Сплин" (Spleen)
4. "Женщина в черном" (Lady In Black)
5. "Фантастическая гравюра" (Fantastic Engraving)
6. "Троянский конь" (Trojan Horse)
7. "Полночь" (Midnight)
8. "Литании Сатане (концерт)" (Litany For Satan) (Bonus)
9. "Серый святой" (1991) (Saint In Grey) (Bonus)
10. "Аве Цезарь" (1991) (Ave Caesar) (Bonus)

The Black Obelisk was yet another Russian underground metal band, lead by singing bassist Anatoliy Krupnov, who sadly passed away in 1997, leaving a proud metal legacy behind. Though the band itself is still alive today, this time with guitarist Dmitriy Borisenkov at the helm. During their heyday they were famous for their live shows, including fake skeletons, colorful laser effects and fireworks. Their music was just perfectly fitting the image: slow, doomy Black Sabbat'ish songs, often and suddenly taking a turn to agonizing blazing thrash - all in all, while listening to '86-88', you can't help but think of early Type O Negative. Add some haunting dark lyrics written by Krupnov or taken from the works of Charles Baudelaire (sic!), and you'll get one of the most interesting heavy metal bands from behind the Iron Curtain.

This album was recorded and released in 1995, being a compilation of their early songs, originally released on the 'Apocalypse' (Апокалипсис) and 'The Flowers Of Evil' (Цветы зла) magnetoalbums, conceptually something similar to Testament's 'First Strike Still Deadly'.

Our opener here is 'Apocalypse', a dark mid-paced song, just perfectly representing what we're about to hear. It's slow and dark, with lots of special effects. While a decent song and all, it's not among the strongest of the album, but it sure perfectly acts as an opener, setting the tone and mood for things to come. 'Abaddonna' is another thing, it's The Black Obelisk at their finest. Much like Black Coffee's 'The Stellar Ocean', it starts off as a ballad, then speeds up until the 'Abattoir fast' tempo. Borisenkov is shredding his guitar, Krupnov is singing his lungs out, that's great! Of all the Russian metal vocalists, Krupnov would be number 1,5 or 2 to me (spoiler: V. Kipelov is #1) - I especially like the 'intelligent' notes in his voice, as he is not trying to be brutal for the sake of brutality. He's badass, but wise.

Though this is an incredible album, I think that 'Spleen' is the least best song here. It does have any interesting tech-thrashy moments, but for the most part it's pretty boring and not really memorable. What a shame, considering its lyrics and the fact that it's placed just between two awesome pieces. Speaking of those, 'Lady In Black' is entirely another cup of tea. This one can remind you of bands like Toxic or Realm, as it sounds just like something off 'Think This' or 'Suiciety' respectively. And if you remember how catchy those albums were, here we have the same thing, with tech-thrash inserts between Motorhead-style verses. It's a hit! 'Fantastic Engravement' is pretty similar in tone, only a bit faster, changing tempo near the middle of the song.

That's where you start to think what a talented songwriter Anatoliy Krupnov was. Sure, he did what they call 'invented the bicycle' with speed-thrash, but, my God! Before Annihilator! Shortly after Megadeth! Long before Type O Negative and Sacred Reich's 'The American Way' (as we remember, its concept was to attempt playing slow and doomy brand of thrash)! I have no idea why the Obelisk had never made it big to become a sensation outside the USSR. It's so rare when a band comes so close to early Megadeth without ripping them off. Just to prove it, 'Trojan Horse'. This is the fastest song here, though still mid-paced. Just listen to this guitar lead, those keyboards in the background... This is a nice heat-up before the album's epic closure. Just when the main feature ends, we get the most freaking awesome song on the entire record. Neither a ballad, nor a headbanging piece, 'Midnight' would make this album awesome even if all the other songs were total crap. That intro, those lyrics, this tempo! It's one of the greatest metal songs ever written by Russian musicians, period. I won't say anything more, just listen to it, my God what an incredible song.

After what you just thought to be the best song ever, there are some bonus tracks. 'A Saint In Grey' is a fun Motorhead-type tune, but given the production quality, we can even call it Venom-type. 'Ave Caesar' is another interesting song with strong rock-n-roll vibe and interesting recitative in the first verse - can we call it the first Russian rap metal song? Just kidding; after the 'rapping' part, this one becomes a fast thrasher anyway, reminiscent of early OverKill. The third bonus track is an older version of 'Midnight', recorded in 1991. Just as the 1995 version, this one kills! But due to a bit lower recording quality, this sounds even more dirty and menacing. Personally I prefer the 1991 version over the re-recording, just because of how raw it is, which is more appropriate for such a dark song. 'This is MID-NIGHT!'.

To close it all, there is a live version of 'Litany For Satan'. Not sure it's how Krupnov intended it to be, but it sounds a hell lot like something Carnivore would put out on their first album. Counting a lot of Type O Negative similarities before and the fact that Krupnov is a bassist-vocalist, it all is clear now - he was Russian Peter Steele! And just like Mr Steele, he is not with us anymore, which makes any piece of music he has ever recorded twice as valuable. Including this album, especially since it's the band's roots re-recorded and polished for all us to enjoy.

But by now you may be wondering - where is the traditional reference to the next day's band? It all makes me think now. Thrash metal? Memorable stage shows? Dark occult lyrics? Constant influences and references to Venom? Looks like I know whom to introduce now - a band that had it all exaggerated to the point of hilarity (but not on the album I'm going to talk about), even more underground and devoid of anything remotely intelligent; but if The Black Obelisk are like Megadeth, someone would have to be Slayer. Tomorrow is Korroziya Metalla!

My Rating: 9 / 10 (inventing a bicycle got them ahead of their time)