By Justin C. Dragunov, the self-described "Parisian Soviet-Instrumental-Post-Metal duo," released a concept album mostly by accident their last time around. Their EP 637 consisted only of songs that were 6 minutes and 37By Justin C.
Dragunov, the self-described "Parisian Soviet-Instrumental-Post-Metal duo," released a concept album mostly by accident their last time around. Their EP 637 consisted only of songs that were 6 minutes and 37 seconds long. They noticed the first few songs were all very close in length, and they ran with it. This time around, though, the band has gone a bit higher in concept. Korolev is a tour of Russia's aeronautic history, particularly some of its grimmer parts.
The album title itself comes from Sergei Korolev, the man who became the Chief Architect of the Soviet Union's space program, in spite of the fact that he had been imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced to death as a young man. And the album starts on a bleak note, with an opening song named after the crash coordinates of a Korean passenger airliner that was shot down by a Russian fighter in 1983 ("46°34'N 141°17'E"). From there, we get not one, but two dead cosmonauts in "Kosmonavt" and "24IV67," the latter of which is the somewhat-infamous incident of Vladimir Komarov, the cosmonaut who burned up on re-entry while allegedly cursing his superiors for sending him to die in a shoddily constructed space vehicle. (You can see the ghastly end results in the album art for Leucosis's Pulling Down the Sky.
Given the subject matter, you'd expect the music to be a bit on the melancholy side, and it often is, mixed in with equal parts anger and ominous atmosphere. "Kosmonavt" starts with some almost-gentle, chiming riffing, accompanied by radio transmissions from an obviously distressed source. You don't have to speak Russian to get the general gist, and the music builds in tension with the recordings while staying mournful at the same time. "24IV67" is probably the most disorienting song on the album, musically, featuring sound effects and more radio transmissions deep in the mix, accompanied by stabbing guitar chords. The song coalesces toward the end, but it ultimately comes to an abrupt ending, much like Komarov's space flight.
But it's not all dead cosmonauts and gloom. "Semïorka," named after a Russian ICBM that was ultimately repurposed for space flight, is a barn-burner of a tune with an excellent call-and-response riff that alternates in high and low registers. It evolves and mutates through the song, using the classic songwriting technique of stating a theme and then playing variations. "Bella i Strelka" refers to two Russian dogs who were sent into space and returned unharmed. The song is one of the more varied in construction on the album, including some bluesy bends that put me in mind of Soundgarden channeling Black Sabbath. Fast and slow parts mix, but without losing a sense of forward momentum. Although we know the dogs had a happy ending, the full range of mood is hard to pin down, which I think makes the song all the more compelling.
As on 637, Dragunov continues to play to their strengths on Korolev. They make a hell of a racket for just two people, but the compositions stay fresh, and appropriate portion control is observed--the whole album is only 34 minutes long, so there isn't a bit of extra fluff to be found here. It's surprising how much some instrumental metal songs suffer from a lack of screaming/growling, but that's not the case here. Sure, they could have added lyrics to make explicit the history I've described, but as I've said before, one of music's best qualities is the ability to express emotions that aren't so easily put into words. Dragunov dispenses with the words, but they tell a compelling story just the same.