Drudkh and our mythical origin
Drudkh | Krov u nashykh krynytsyakh (Blood in our wells) | | 2006
“When achieving a supreme State is truly an art (an art, no less, that is the most sublime and divine among all of man’s arts), the man […] who achieves said State is not a politician: he is a primordial artist; the closest proximity that man can accomplish with divinity. With God himself.”
– Ernesto Giménez Caballero, Arte y Estado, 1935.
El genio nacional – segunda parte
A review by Degtyarov
Like you, I am a rational human being. I try to keep myself informed, I do not just believe any random crap people tell me, and I do not avoid ladders or black cats. It seems that most members of modern societies have the basic brain capacity required to not run away in terror of their own shadows, or believe that demons will come and kill them at night. Unfortunately, it also seems this self-awareness is starting to stumble towards the abyss of hyperrealism, where the omnipresent stench of cynicism shatters mercilessly all things mystic, mythical and dreamlike. “All things of value are defenceless”, Dutch poet Lucebert proclaimed. And he could not have been more correct. Humans are today perceived as animals who act instinctively, and whose being is seen as separate from the nurturing force of cultural influences, as if the Volksgeist is slowly being reverted to Tiergeist. Myth and historical reality are no longer interwoven, with every last detail being analysed under the piercing striplight of modern historiography until only the dust of ambiguity remains. Granted, scientific progress has brought us much good, and in a way, humanity has more potential than it ever possessed before. But still, I often find myself contemplating whether we have maybe taken a wrong turn somewhere, and I long back to a time when imagination shaped our worldview, when people could still believe in magical creatures and realms without being instantly patronised by some autistic teeny bopper in a fedora living his militant atheism phase.
Alas, what has passed, has passed. It is foolish to want to delete recent history like it never happened and return to simpler times. However, when we look at the world today, and when we look at millions of people escaping to video games and fantasy novels; countless women seeking in fuzzy self-help books and magazines the romanticism and positivism that have all but died in our modern world; when we bear witness as a depressed American society plunges itself into an endless stream of superhero movies for a last bit of hope, then we cannot arrive at another conclusion than this generation being in need of more spiritual consciousness. Whether we want to accept it or not, such a notion is required for a balanced worldview, as it helps us cultivate and contextualise a wide array of affairs.
One such affair is art. In spite of the hazy, esoteric twaddle of a small band of self-congratulatory art elitists, normal man rejects the excesses of modern, abstract art. Often he will not admit to this, in fear of being accused of ‘not getting it’ , but when a cleaner at an Italian gallery mistakes a modern art piece for rubbish and subsequently throws it in the designated bin, art has arrived at a point where it can no longer justify its own existence, as it is unable to establish a connection with the only ‘species’ of this planet capable of appreciating art in the first place. Art, too, needs a spiritual dimension in order to establish a more profound connection with humanity. Otherwise it is transient, ugly and nihilistic, and we are left in our high-brow art galleries staring at urinals and scrap heaps.
A successful artistic creation should always hint towards eternity. The reason we are so enchanted by a beautiful paintings crafted hundreds of years ago is that we can still somehow relate to what is being expressed in the image. Still, this does not mean that what we see in the painting has to be the same as what was seen or felt by the people who were around during its conception. The way in which an artistic piece touches us may change over time, but what never changes is that sense of relevance; that thought in the back of our heads that this masterpiece was crafted just for us, or that it conveys a message for our time. Take Ferdinand Bordewijk, for instance, the obscure Dutch author quoted by the present publication on multiple occasions. His novella Blokken offered a discerning yet subtle analysis of the flaws of communism’s end game, describing with mathematical objectivity a world in which total equality has been realised to a point where any trace of individuality is identified as a threat to public order. With this work first having been published in 1931, there is no way Bordewijk could have foreseen what the world would look like some 80 years later, but the text, in all its archaic beauty, magnificently lays bare the emptiness and rootlessness of contemporary liberalist dogma, which is built on the brittle pillar that is the evangelisation of equality. Bordewijk’s description of men and women wearing the same clothes, obscuring as much as possible any physical aspect that may reveal their biological differences, resonates in a recent fad such as gender neutrality, and other such modernist phenomena which propose the rapid crucifixion of all those impertinent enough to conceive the outrageous thought of identifying physical differences in people. In basic terms, whenever you try to describe your black co-worker without mentioning his skin colour, I think of Bordewijk and lament what a scared bunch of girls’ blouses we have all become.
Fast forward to the present day, where newspapers and those socially engaged friends on your Facebook friend list (you know who they are) obsess over Banksy murals, taboo-breaking theatre and sexually explicit paintings. Surrounded by an exceptionally misplaced aura of enlightenment, these champions of morality merely treat art, or attempts thereto, as a means of pursuing such vague ideals as making a better world, ‘sparking a dialogue’, or fighting pain and ‘injustice’ (whatever that may constitute), with their rad poetry slam, quasi powerful imagery and confrontational statements communicated through street art. The smug look on their faces when they subscribe to these hip forms of artistic expression is tragic when you realise that, in essence, someone like Banksy is the artistic embodiment of the perfect marketing ploy: take something that a wide audience can relate to and repackage it in such a way that it is easy to absorb, yet seems like this edgy new idea that no-one had formulated before. In concrete terms, it will suffice to point out a sad case of injustice somewhere in the world, convey this message by means of a single, easily digestible image, and behold how all the self-aware drones gobble up this slimey mess of self-righteous nothingness. This concept is so successful because understanding and agreeing with such an idea makes you part of a select crowd that takes a stand against injustice, inequality, war and poverty – naturally, by sharing said image on your Facebook wall – as opposed to all these sinister, suit-wearing war-mongers who feed on children and rejoice as famine strikes in Africa, of course. But what remains of this supposed art when the wheel of time omits the societal context and we are left with just the picture of, say, a transgender cowboy eating an Indian’s ass out? It is not art – it is a hollow statement, or rather a product marketed to gullible, flannel shirt-wearing pseudo-elitists who are too lazy to read a book, and instead try to exhibit their horn-rimmed intellectualism by means of 20-minute TED talks, Pussy Riot videos and numerous incarnations of cringe-worthy New Age bullshit.
“Without the elixir of eternity, art is transient, ugly and nihilistic.”
In music, a similar dynamic can be observed. The very concept of something as basic as a summer hit indicates the limited tenability of pop music. It is connected to the here and now with the aid of earthly means: trends, marketing, image, mood. This one-dimensionality bereaves an overwhelming majority of popular music of its relevance in a matter of months. Sure, there are many who still listen to these songs after a couple of years, but this serves no other goal than longing back to that amazing summer or that period in your life when you thought you could take on the world. The music is a mere vehicle to relive that history for a brief moment, an effect similar to when you catch a whiff of a vaguely familiar aroma that takes you back to the first few years of your life. However, this nostalgia is never actually transcended in such a way that the music can be detached from its historical context while maintaining its relevance.
It was this observation that finally made me understand why Drudkh‘s Krov u nashykh krynytsyakh (Blood in our wells) clicks so well with me. Now, Blood in our wells is Drudkh‘s most popular album to date, so in a sense my appreciation of it is nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I have always sensed that there was something about this work that made it more than just excellently composed and well-produced music. From the first listen, the album has evoked images of lonely steppes, vast marshes, endless rye fields and the type of desolate rural figures that one commonly encounters in the stunning work of Ivan Shishkin. These visions help transport the listener to another realm, far away from all the everyday madness that pollutes our lives. This is a recurring theme in Drudkh‘s work – indeed, their EP title Anti-Urban was not selected at random – though in most of the band’s discography, it has manifested itself in the form of the more commonplace panegyrics to nature that one tends to encounter in pagan-flavoured metal. Their 2005 album Lebedynyy shlyakh (The Swan Road), however, introduced a brief shift towards a more concrete nationalistic exploration of this theme. With lyrics lifted from Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko – a pivotal figure in the country’s national identity – the music is thematically constructed around the struggle of the Ukrainian people for independence and survival. The rhythm of the percussion on the song “Dolja” (“Fate”) echoes the hooves of Cossacks’ horses galloping to war over lonesome steppes, while the lead guitar on “Zagrava 1768-go” (“Glare of 1768”) summons the image of flames consuming a sacked city. In short, The Swan Road, through its almost militaristic cadence, enriches the somewhat vague romanticist melancholy of Drudkh‘s first two albums with a more tangible historical layer, conjuring lifelike images derived from their home soil’s long, difficult and mournful past. This, in turn, gives the album a cinematic feel, an angle that would rapidly be developed further and culminate in their subsequent effort, Blood in our wells.
Through its deep and clear production, as well as the album’s post-rock influences – its presence still subtle in this phase of the band’s existence – Blood in our wells proves an instantly appealing, even accessible release. In their coverage of the album, several reviewers even picked up on the cinematic angle, if only through its literal manifestation in the form of fragments from the film Mamay (2003) that comprise the intro and usher in each subsequent song. The album’s other references, most prominently their decision to dedicate respectively the final song and the album in its entirety to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and Stepan Bandera  received a fair amount of attention, though often in the form of attempts to push the band into the ‘NS’ corner, an especially tragic example of misinformation when you realise the album’s very title was lifted from a poet who was murdered by the Nazis.
“Deeply engraved in the compositions is the will of the artist to narrate moments of history that all point into the same direction and unite in the firmament of national spirit.”
When taking a look at what has been written about the album over the past eight years, it is disappointing – though not entirely unexpected – that, in the end, the elements that Blood in our wells is composed of are mostly considered shards; arbitrary loose bits that just happened to en counter each other on one album at the grace of Lady Fortune. It should nonetheless be obvious to anyone who takes a step back, that the very success of this creation lies in its wholeness; the fact that each part lies firmly embedded in the cement that holds this album together. In referencing the cinematic feel of Blood in our wells solely through the sound fragments of Mamay, one demonstrates a lack of understanding why this element manifests itself with such prominence on this album in the first place; the ambitions of this approach reach beyond clever references to a motion picture in order to establish a general theme or mood. Deeply engraved in the compositions is the will of the artist to narrate moments of history that all point into the same direction and unite in the firmament of national spirit.
In using the works of various Ukrainian poets as lyrics, Drudkh already demonstrates its artistic pursuit of eternity. Lifting these poems, some of which are over a century old, the band places them in a present-day context so perfectly that they could well have been written yesterday. The best example of this is provided by the song “Koly plomin’ peretvoryuyet’sya na popil” (“When the flame turns to ashes”). Based on Oleksandr Oles’s 1908 poem, the song tells of the struggle of the nation for its right to exist, and the dangers of being dragged away forever by the unpredictable currents of history should it let its guard down, as it gloats for too long on the flush of victories past :
“My nation! You are an eagle, that has been wounded at night,
And you are a knight, who has been captured!
Oh my eagle, my winged giant,
Oh my knight, who has been punished for his sleep!
So what is an eagle, if his convocation
Does not dart off from the earth into the blue of serene day?
And what kind of knight are you, with the smile of a servant,
Without proud thoughts, without honour, without a name?”
One merely needs to open his ears in order to hear these historical words resound in the haze of the impending downfall that today lurks ominously at the frontiers of the independent Ukrainian nation. Capturing the conflict within Ukraine’s soul a century after being written, this acquisition of new-found meaning testifies of the lasting value of Oles’s words of warning. Moreover, it makes evident Drudkh‘s ability to create an art that is indeed eternal, as it delivers a message that is applicable to a specific moment in history, all the while communicating a purpose that transcends all temporal connotations.
“All I could see was the smile of a servant
rupturing the stateliness of that once proud knight.”
The album’s compositions, too, are characterised by this historical dualism. Though the atmosphere is established using modern techniques and instrumentation, it draws upon centuries of melancholy, the tragic residue of perpetual suffering, interspersed with countless instances of heroic struggle against all odds. This results in drawn-out compositions with sorrowful chord progressions, frequently enriched with a hint of melodrama courtesy of the synthesizer mimicking despondent string sections. The sentimental impact of Drudkh‘s modus operandi on this album is once again evidenced most strongly by the aforementioned track “When the flame turns to ashes”, as well as the final song before the outro, “Vichnist'” (“Eternity”). Even after the vocals stop halfway in both of these songs, the music remains every bit as outspoken and expressive during the five minutes that the music continues to tell the tale of Ukraine’s dark history, present and future instrumentally.
Upon witnessing the tragic events unfold in Ukraine over the past months, fragments of Blood in our wells took possession of my mind, subconsciously, but therefore no less real. When protesters declared their readiness to sell their souls to the federalist nation-abolishers of the European Union, all I could see was the smile of a servant rupturing the stateliness of that once proud knight, who now stood there forlorn of honour. When the events in Kiev took a life of their own and inadvertently summoned the wrath of Russia, I stood by and watched as the wounded eagle, that in better times proudly soared through that serene blue sky, crashed into the earth, where it encountered a bear that felt threatened by its presence. And then I realised this art is here to stay, with it having liberated itself from the coils of Chronos. “Suddenly, life has new meaning”, a distant voice whispers.
In addition to the works of such excellent black metal craftsmen as Peste Noire, Kawir, Nokturnal Mortum and Akitsa, Drudkh, through Blood in our wells, showed me the ways of our contemporary masters, demonstrating that the notion that the Norwegian scene of the early nineties was the genre’s high-water mark is waiting for a long overdue nail in the coffin. It is sad that it took a dark page in history to make me comprehend and appreciate to the fullest extent the particular beauty of Blood in our wells – a testimony to the age-old conception that the best art is born through suffering – but it confirms all the more that true art has no expiration date.
While on the high that a successful piece tends to impose on its beholders, it is difficult to recall the pervasive banality that attempts to blunt our senses on a daily basis. To put it in more hackneyed terms, the pseudo-artistic blasphemy of single-colour paintings, expositions thriving on sexual deviance, women shooting Easter eggs out of their snatches and putting spaghettios back in…  they all stand further away from the human soul once the latter has been touched by true genius. I shall henceforth perceive wonderful music as one of the few effective cures against the tumorous outgrowths of the Western art crisis. The spiritual enrichment offered by this music is a rare commodity indeed a mong the abundance of artistic impostors that plague our cultures. Their egocentric falsehoods squander what might be the most valuable thing that mankind possesses, its intricacy, delicacy and marvel, unmatched in the universe, being the ultimate homage to our mythical origin. You see, the quote towering above this article is not at all gratuitous…
The fact that our reading of Blood in our wells was scarcely picked up on by Drudkh‘s international audience is only logical given the album’s emergence from a culture whose history is characterised by constant struggle. The contrast could not be greater as the Western-European kid stumbles along, to whom freedom is at best this vaguely outlined ideal that people apparently died for in some distant past, and at worst the moral obligation to write a name on a ballot every four years in the vain hope that it has any effect whatsoever. As the fate of not only a nation, but perhaps the entire course of our collective human history is being decided on the other side of my beloved continent, all I see around me is people blaming their own weakness on so-called ‘systems of oppression’, or obsessing over gender roles in video game stories; the umpteenth example that comfort does indeed generate complacency. It is only through a sense of Fremdnostalgie that I managed to catch a glimpse of the realm that Drudkh‘s art aspires to. The odds that I will ever enter that realm myself are against me. At least until the day that my nation finds that its wells also colour red. But, do not worry about us, my Ukrainian brothers. In the end, we will all go down, together.
And, who knows, perhaps one day, from the ashes we shall rise anew.
“In eternity, where the stream of light is running,
Rotate slowly the wheels of time”
Кров у наших криницях
1. Навь (2:25)
2. Борозни богів (8:56)
3. Коли пломінь перетворюється на попіл (10:36)
4. Самітність (12:22)
5. Вічність (10:38)
6. Українська Повстанська Армія (5:02)
Total time: 50:03
 I will hereby gladly make an exception to my reluctance of quoting comedians, and paraphrase a hyperbole of Micha Wertheim that exposes the smog of pretence that surrounds the artistic world: “When I was having lunch in the restaurant in the modern art museum in The Hague, the sandwich I had turned out to be utterly disgusting. Still, I was afraid to say anything about it, because I was afraid I did not ‘get’ the sandwich.”
 Both of whom, in light of the recent developments in Ukraine, have wrongfully been presented as ‘Nazi collaborators’ by the historical inadequates that dominate the laughable press apparatus.
 These are the original Ukrainian fragments:
“Народе мій! І ти – орел, вночі підтятий,
І чом не лицар ти, захоплений в полон?!
О орле мій, мій велетню крилатий,
О лицар мій, покараний за сон!..
І що орел, коли його орлина зграя
Не рве з землі в блакить ясного дня,
І що за лицар ти з усмішкою льокая,
Без гордих дум, без честі і ім’я?!”
 I do apologise for the vulgarity, but unfortunately, none of these examples were made up.
Taken from Black Ivory Tower magazine #1, July 2014.
Thanks to N. for corrections.
Vae Victis – Our review of Drudkh‘s new album A furrow cut short.
“Don’t Enter!” – Drudkh – Three short reviews on classic Drudkh albums.
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