July 18, 2013

Jucifer - The Russian Album

Review by Andy Osborn.

Cover photo by Edgar Livengood

The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most brutal assaults during World War II. For five months the Soviets held off Nazi battalions while they lost over a million lives and witnessed the decimation of one of their home. But they ultimately prevailed and helped turned the tide of the War with what would become one of the greatest triumphs in military history. With За Bолгой для нас земли нет, Jucifer tells the tale of this struggle through the eyes of the metropolis and its people.

This is a clear-cut concept album and as the Cyrillic title shows it’s not created for easy consumption. The band want to tell this tale in their own way, and they want to do it without compromise. This means starting with a spoken word intro entirely in Russian which will challenge even the most ardent fans, but as you wind your way through this dense maze keep in mind that everything has its place and you will be rewarded for your patience. From the opening note of the first proper song, Jucifer make clear their intention to overwhelm your senses. Amber Valentine’s otherworldly-tuned guitar rumbles through your ear canals and into your very being as the riff grows into its stoned self. At 9 minutes long and glacial in pace, “Song of the Waking City” makes it tempting to take out the bong, but that would be unwise at this point. A clear mind is essential for what’s to come.

Photo by Jaime Garcia Perez

Jucifer have become known as one of the most effective multi-genre anomalies in the business, and they spend the next hour breaking every barrier that ever existed between the most crushing of metal underworlds. Doom, stoner, sludge, grind and punk are peppered throughout what’s become known as The Russian Album, sometimes with entire songs dedicated to their worship and sometimes with just a riff or rhythmic thought thrown their way. Although I’ve never had the chance to witness them live, Jucifer's show is known for its eardrum bursting capabilities and the production here captures that perfectly. Nothing is slick or polished, just tweaked to the pinnacle of heaviness while the duo squeeze every last possible decibel out of their minimal equipment. Dangerously high is the only volume at which this album can be fully appreciated; if your ears aren't hurting or your windows aren't shaking, the majestic onslaught is not being fully experienced.

Total war has now descended upon you as shots are fired from all sides and the lyrics progress into further detail of the bloody onslaught. Just like in battle there is hardly any rest, no respite for the weary. By the time you have wandered into the vast wasteland that is the aptly named “Siberia” most will have made up their minds as to continue or not on this punishing trek, but persevering forward will be rewarded. These seven minutes of drone make some of the most cataclysmic and devastating recordings imaginable, and act as an icy wall standing guard over the album’s second half. Across the wintry desert, distortion continues to pummel and destroy as the tale of one of the world’s most infamous battles draws to a close. But as I neared the end a sense of desperation became present as I realized just how much weight this album carries. There is still so much to comprehend and absorb it may be years before anyone fully understands or realizes what Jucifer have done here. Multiple listens have still hardly begun to scratch the surface, but the sense of standing in the shadow of something unparalleled is obvious.

Photo by Jaime Garcia Perez

The husband and wife team rarely miss the mark on this 80 minute monstrosity of an album, but at points the overt complexities do get a bit frustrating. The Russian Album closes as it opened, with a spoken Russian passage ending the tale. While not unsurprising, the following six minutes of what sounds like someone walking around with a microphone in their pocket certainly are. An unceremonious end to the journey to be sure, but not one that stands in contrast to this maddeningly complicated work.

I can’t imagine anything much more challenging music than a Russian history concept piece showered in disgustingly dirty sludge, but Jucifer have created something special with every ounce of their energy and passion. The fact that it’s this elaborate and confounding is a testament to their dedication and strength, qualities shared by the soldiers who fought to save their beloved city.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

  1. According to Google Translate (get your grains of salt ready), the title means "beyond the Volga there is no land for us". Perhaps that ties into the concept.

    Interestingly, the Cyrillic title appears to be misspelled on the Metal Archives. This might stem from the fact that it's spelled a couple different ways on the Bandcamp page.

  2. that quote is actually a fairly accurate translation: from my readings, that quote is by this Russian sniper http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasily_Zaytsev

  3. this has become my favorite metal album. After experiencing their live performance, I'm convinced they are the best metal band.