I have to admit that I was never really a big fan of black metal. The combination of low production quality, disharmonious instrumentation, atonal shrieking, and absurd corpse-paint all made me think of it as some sort of a joke. But as a friend of mine took the time to talk to me and explain it to me I found myself taking a modicum of interest. I found that I could at the very least respect the genre based on the principles for which it stood. Unfortunately however, having respect for something does not always translate into finding delight in it.
Years later, in 2009 or so, I was searching for music with symphonic/melodic elements. In my search I came across a very unique-sounding band from Novosibirsk, Russia. That band’s name is WelicoRuss and I became instantly enthralled by their intriguing blend of black metal, pagan metal, and symphonic metal. While many hardcore fans of black metal will surely be quick to point out that WelicoRuss strays quite far from the tropes and traditions of the genre, many more will appreciate the new ground that has been broken because of it.
Alexey Boganov founded the band in 2002 and has since crafted a truly epic sound that draws from Russia’s rich folklore and from a deep connection to nature. The band has also recently announced that they will have new material out by this fall, beginning with a single entitled “Карна.” Until then, I want to share with you my own personal experience with their 2009 EP entitled “Апейрон.”
~Track 1, “Апейрон”~
I found myself hiking towards the summit of Mount Narodnaya in Russia’s Ural Mountain range. It was winter and the icy wasteland pelted me with heavy, dry snow and made it difficult to make progress. Bypassing the lush forests at the bottom was no issue, but when we were hit by an unexpected blizzard halfway to the summit I quickly realized that we had come ill-prepared. In mere moments I found myself separated from the rest of my team.
Now my only hope of staying alive was to try and reach the next checkpoint. Besides, I needed to keep my body moving in order to stay warm. With gritted teeth I made it as far as I could but exhaustion eventually set in and I was unable to get traction any longer. I succumbed to despair, prepared to die in this place. The snow covered me as as I closed my eyes and allowed all my senses to abandon me.
It was then that I felt movement. I soon realized that a pair of hands was working to uncover me. I looked up as my vision cleared and I saw a man hovering over me, accompanied by several other shadowy figures who spoke amongst themselves. The man lifted me to my feet, his touch strangely warm and invigorating, like a jolt of electricity snapping me back into my body with newfound clarity. He first introduced me to the others and then told me his name was Alexey. I was told that I must accompany them from now on and so I did.
~Track 2, “К дальним Мирам”~
None of us spoke, but we instead communicated with gestures and expressions. There was something mystical about these men that made me feel powerful. “What had I gotten myself into?” I wondered. For several tireless hours we carefully crossed over the beautiful landscape. We had set up a system of lifelines so that when nightfall shrouded us in its embrace there would be no risk of me falling behind.
We eventually reached the summit and stopped to set up camp for the night. Alexey built a fire that seemed to glow in hues I had never seen nor felt before. His men shared food and drink with me but still we did not speak. It was then that I became aware of an eerie howling directly to the East. The others in the group seemed to have heard it first however and they wasted no time in arming themselves. The man called Dmitriy wielded a flaming branch from the fire that illuminated the area while Alexey and Max produced pickaxes. Ilia in turn came prepared with a set of long, narrow knives with which he appeared to be extremely agile while the other Alex produced a large and powerful-looking hammer.
What followed was surreal and terrifying. Three large beasts encircled our camp. Their fur was as white as snow and they resembled the arctic foxes native to the area, but they were more than ten times the size. These abominations moved with an unnatural gait and their jaws seemed to unhinge when they snarled. Nonetheless, my companions fought valiantly and within mere moments they had defeated the beasts. Alexey was wounded in the battle, but he seemed unfazed. We had regained our safety for the time being.
~Track 3, “Blud Flower”~
I don’t know how I managed to do it after what I had just witnessed, but I quickly fell into a deep sleep where I dreamt that I was in a summery and distant land. I dreamt of the sun caressing my face and of lakes warm enough to swim in. I dreamt of my beloved and the gentleness of her laughter. In my slumber I had found peace.
I awoke the next morning refreshed as we started our descent back towards the base. It was a clear and beautiful day today and we made plenty of progress before we set up camp once more just miles from our destination. Once again we had food and drink, but we did not speak. The moon shone brightly in the clear night sky and I fell asleep in silence to dream once more.
~Track 4, “Слава Руси”~
I was suddenly jolted awake by Alexey in the early morning hours. Instinct and fear drove me to a full sprint as I could sense that those damn creatures were back and now there were many more of them. As we hastily abandoned our campsite, I swore I could feel their awful mouths snapping at my ankles. We ran as far as we could at which point I realized that we had actually made it all the way back to a clearing in the very same forest that I had passed by on my way up the mountain. The snow was lighter here and the rivers were unfrozen. However, we soon found ourselves surrounded. Would we perish at the very threshold of our goal?
Alexey then handed me a dagger and me told to fight until I was killed; it was all or nothing now. I felt an immense power coursing through my body not unlike nitroglycerin. …And then I exploded. I rushed the beast that stood before me, killing it with a single blow. I turned just in time to see another that had lunged at me and managed to slay it before it could devour me. A third, then a fourth, then a fifth; none could withstand my onslaught.
Before I knew what had happened, I came back to my senses and looked over to my comrades. I was surprised and relieved to see that we were all okay. The dawn had come as we stood there triumphant and the birds seemed to sing all throughout the forest, giving us their praise. Alexey then thrust his fist in the air and cried “Hail Russia!” and we all did the same. “Hail Russia! Glory to Russia!” we chanted, for our journey together had unified us as brothers.
~Track 5, “Слава Руси (Classical Version)”~
Years had since passed. I had since found a place living in Novosibirsk, Russia near to where my comrades are. Alexey, the others, and I had decided to get together because a few friends of ours wanted us to to retell our story of what had occurred so many years ago. We all laughed, joked, and spoke about our experience together as the warmth of vodka filled our bodies.
They spoke of my bravery and told me that I had made Mother Russia proud, which delighted me. However, I had since found out that my original team was killed by the very same beasts that we had fought that night, so the light mood was tempered by a somberness deep within my heart. I swore they would not be forgotten.
~Track 6, “Славянская Сила (Elias Remix)”~
Later on that night, Ilia had become very intoxicated and started doing this odd interpretive dance. He wanted us all to join too so we indulged him for a short time before going to sit back down. He was always such an odd fellow, and even though we all respected him as our comrade, we decided that would be the last time we’d let him get that drunk. It was embarrassing.
~Track 7, “Соцветие Вселенной”~
It is months later now and springtime has arrived. We have made the decision to go back to that place where we had met all those years ago. I am better prepared this time and besides, now I will have my comrades alongside me. The dewy flowers are blossoming around us as we begin our ascent once more, opening up to us as if to reveal the secrets of the entire Universe itself. Whatever comes next, I know now that I will be ready!