Album Review: Olhava – “Ladoga”

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Olhava

Black Metal is something most people aren’t aware of because of its more underground status within music. You wouldn’t find this genre on any radio station, as it tends to have rough production with reverberated high pitched screams. 

Although Black Metal is known for being dark, one of its variants Atmospheric Black Metal — doesn’t fit that description. The foundation of Atmospheric Black Metal is built on the guitars and keyboards working together while the vocals scream about nature to create the atmospheric effect. 

While Black Metal has roots in European countries and the United States, it piqued my interest when I heard about Olhava, a band hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia.

Andrey Novozhilov is the artistic force behind this band. He isn’t a newcomer to the scene but has been around a few years earlier as a part of the Post-Black Metal unit, Trna. Even though Olhava is 4 years old, the project has been quite busy in 2020, dropping two full-length albums this year alone. The newest of the two albums released this year is titled, “Ladoga.”

The opening track, “Ageless River I” is the first of five ambient tracks between the main four metal songs throughout the album. The soundscape this intro presents perfectly sets the tone of the release, as you can start to imagine yourself wandering around in nature. Once you think the immersive nature of this track is going to leave, the breakneck speeds of “Smoldering Woodland” sets the album in motion. What’s interesting is that the ambient sounds heard in “Ageless River I” is still present, but with the additions of the other instruments. This creates an even more layered creation of endless beauty. When the vocals finally make their entrance, they come in as harsh Black Metal screams. They are also put slightly in the back of the mix, which allows the screams to add more detail and are primarily used to maintain your interest.

Once “Ageless River II” has finished it’s a short yet sweet proposition, the track “Trembling Night” starts us on another journey. The 17-minute runtime of this track is unappealing to the mind when thinking about it, but the slower more mid-tempo pacing makes things more relaxed. The more prominent use of vocals brings more attention to the listener, which is highlighted by the atmosphere due to a lot of repetition. The song starts to ascend at the 6-minute mark, which holds the song in the air until it eventually dissolves back to its ambient roots. Shortly after, “Ageless River III” slowly puts the listener back on Earth to catch their breath. 

The following track, “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” is my personal favorite track on the album, beginning with a simple yet effective groove thanks to the drums before taking off into the clouds at the two-minute mark. The midpoint is when the song pauses, leading to more held out cymbal hits. This pause allows the bass guitar to shine and carry the song on its back, especially with its more held out bass notes and overall simple approach. The song finally comes back together to achieve what is most likely the fastest part on the record. Everything is going at 100 mph but your thoughts can easily run along with the tempo. The homestretch of this track is one of the most cathartic performances I’ve heard this year, it always reminds me of feelings like regret and longing every time I hear it.

The drumbeat used to welcome the title track, “Ladoga” is something I have a soft spot for. This drumbeat is used commonly in Black Metal by bands like Darkthrone or Burzum, but this more mid-tempo version of it always makes it more trudging than the names mentioned. By the three-minute mark, we get some great note changes that gives the song a more inspirational and nostalgic feeling. The drums then reach a halt, leaving us with the lead from before as well as those gorgeous keyboards. Soon afterward, the song then begins a build-up followed by a simple snare drum rhythm, while the vocals soar over top. The guitars return and the speed and intensity return with them, but this part holds a different impact. This is the final peak of the album, and it wants you to remember everything it told you before parting ways. We end this 71 plus minute masterpiece with “Ageless River V” which eventually fades to nothing, just like how we started.