Sound: From the humble beginnings in the mid-'90s, Temnozor' have transformed from an experimental black metal/ambient project into one of the mainstays of the Russian folk and black metal scenes. Incorporating influences of second-wave black metal with an entirely new brand of songwriting, the music is often centered around traditional melodies, whether expressed by a distorted guitar over a layer of blastbeats, or through traditional folk instrumentation that decorates most of the songs. The resulting sound is an eclectic mix of metal, ambient and folk music, injecting some much-needed life and inspiration into a stale scene. The album in question is the first full-length release by the band, and is a great indicator of just how far the band has progressed since the point of it's release (when comparing to later albums). The music showcases the weirder ambient side of Temnozor's work, at times sounding more like an incantation of a pagan ritual than a music album. The songs generally carry a darker overall flavour than the material that was to follow it, save of course the incredibly upbeat "Maslenitsa".
Production on the album is very raw, the guitars digging into one's ears like razors, and you have to really look past the EQ deficiencies to get to the riffs, though, granted, they're well worth it when you do. The bass is also barely audible at times, and despite the great dynamics within the songs often gets lost among the other sound. In general, production here leaves much to be desired as far as these instruments are concerned. Drums raise the bar slightly, being recorded better and with greater clarity, and folk instruments, vocals and keyboards are almost impeccable. The latter three are very natural-sounding, and the keyboards actually reminded me of Skepticism in the way they were used. In other words, they are not overdone, are just-present in the mix, and substantial enough to provide the creepy, mournful and magical atmosphere.
The musicianship is one of the greatest aspects about Temnozor'. This is to improve significantly on later albums, but even here the quality is evident. The guitar lines are aggressive and furious without sacrificing melody, and there are plenty great riffs. Progressions between different parts sound original and inspired. It's not without the catchy moments either; take, for example, the aforementioned "Maslenitsa". Dynamics are wonderfully executed as well, the songs shifting between the gentle acoustic melodies, haunting ambient parts and the driving guitar riffs. The rhythm section could be better, but mostly it's substantial, and always complements the music at hand. Without reverting to the dreaded word "journey", listening to this record is definitely a unique experience. // 7
Lyrics: The lyrics mostly concern topics such as ancient sorcery, magical aspects of nature, and battle lore. They are probably my favourite part about this release. The writing is unusual, but incredibly poetic, and coupled with the music and vocal delivery is incredibly evocative. The tape version comes with just the Russian lyrics, some written in an older form of said language. The CD Sorcery of Fragments, which includes this album as well, includes the English translations. These may lack in atmosphere of their source counterparts, but most of the meanings are carried across, so that the text isn't lost.
The vocals are done in two ways: standard clean singing, and black metal-style shrieks. The latter remind me of something along the lines of Wintersun at times, and of Silencer and Nazgul (Italy) in others. The harsh vocals aren't my favourites here. Where the album really shines is the amazing cleans; they are incredibly powerful, rich, and full of emotion. Interestingly, one songs combines both styles in a call-response arrangement; clean vocals are used for all the spoken parts, and the BM vocals mirror every phrase. // 7
Overall Impression: An essential recording for many reasons. It's not only a snapshot of Temnozor' at a particular point in time, but is also a great set of songs to get one's hands on. The production was a bit of a let-down, but the tape contains some tracks that remain to this day some of the strongest in the band's career, namely "Did-Dub-Snop", "Glorification Of The Fallen Ones" and the title track, "Sorcery Is Strengthening The Black Glory Of Rus'". After this recording the band has changed their sound towards cleaner production, and fresher, crisper and richer instrument sounds. The line-up has also altered significantly since then. It is, therefore, a great document and stands not only as a testament to Russian metal scene, but also a challenge towards their counterparts elsewhere. Sorrowful, threatening, haunting, magical, scary and intriguing listening at its best. // 8