TRNA - Istok

05 Sep 2021 - Knut

Blackgaze | Candlelight Records | Release date: 03 Sep 2021

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Russian Blackgaze specialists TRNA are back with another masterpiece. The flawless discography of this band is impeccable and with Istok we get another gem for everybody who loves Post-Rock, Black Metal and everything in between. So we decided to do a little different kind of review and had our TRNA-lovers Knut and Thorsten team up for this in depth-analysis of the record!

Thorsten So TRNA is back with a new album called Istok and as usual with the St Petersburg collective revolving around TRNA, Olhava, Pwyll, Somn, Blankenberg or whichever band you want to name – there is very often the problem of defining which genre it is for this new record. I would call this Blackgaze, it’s got a lot of Shoegaze in the sound, a lot of Post Rock, but you still have huge Black Metal influences. Now, is it Blackgaze? Is it Post Metal or Post Rock? Is it Atmospheric Black Metal? It doesn’t matter at all because of the quality of the music which is once again outstanding. Knut, what is your overall impression of a new record

Knut I do agree with everything you said there, but the first thing I noticed even before I listened to it, is that each song is considerably shorter than on the other albums. Although the album clocks in at a bit over hour, as their others do, they have more tracks. I was a bit unsure if this meant they would not be able to develop their songs as much as before. But that concern went away after one listen. It’s just so amazing, and there is something in this production that makes it more clear-cut, it lets the drums and bass take a more distinct place in the massive soundscape. It is as hypnotic and immense as before, and the melodies that emerge from their wall of sound are passionate and easily recognizable as TRNA melodies, created by the reverb riffs from the guitar. This is kind of a signature for them, so when the first track starts the bass almost sings in the background; you can hear a nice groove from the bass. And after the quiet parts, the build-up is led by the drums in a very energetic way. This is quite a new thing for them, I think I have never heard it so clear from them, so distinct and it is so well done.

Thorsten But the first track is also the title track, ”Istok” and they did a wonderful video for it as well showing a lot of beautiful black and white pictures. What they still haven’t explained clearly is where the name comes from. I do not know if it’s important for the story of a record, but it builds a very interesting bridge to the second track which is ”Echoes of the Past” and that track begins like blast beating through your eardrums and it’s almost like a reminiscence to old classic Scandinavian type of Black Metal, it’s a whirlwind of drums and it’s very, very dense.

Knut Yes, it’s very dense and extremely tight at the beginning. It yanks you towards it, and I can see the reference to old Black Metal with the blast drums clearly, but then the drums and the bass open up the hypnotic soundscape and the guitar with the melodic motif that’s going to lead us through the song. In the quiet parts, the bass is very soft and leads to the bass drumming. When the crescendoes they are known for builds up again, the bass is leading the melody under the heavy clear riffs from the main guitar. I think it’s a perfect performance for the track.

Next we get to the third track called “Shining“. It surprised me with two things: Now, first it shows a surprisingly light-footed approach at the beginning. In fact, I was thinking about another song not related to the genre at all, “Walking on Sunshine“. This track here is almost more danceable than headbang-material. One view of this track is that it shows the versatility of the band, developing its music in new potential areas. The second surprise, of course, is that it is the first time they use vocals on a TRNA album and they fit in very well. And for me, there’s also a third thing: It´s when the quiet parts venture into the Post Rock soundscape and at the same time they keep their recognizable sound. As the instrumental versions shows, it’s good without the vocals, but the versatile vocal melodies add a very good value to this song.

Thorsten You just mentioned “Shining“ , the collaboration with Gaerea from Portugal, and it’s interesting because when I heard they were doing a track with Gaerea I thought “okay this will blast every metal song of the last 20 years away!” because Gaerea are also not known for performing light and wavey things. So I totally agree, it is not “Walking on Sunshine“ but it’s very wavey, it’s very light and it’s a total surprise. TRNA has never done lyrics, this is the first, and I also think it will not become a staple that they do on every record, but they show that they are able to do this and that once again defines their position as one of the forerunners of this whole thing. They can do wonderful Blackgaze songs and they can perform this wavey Post Rocky stuff with vocals. And when you then think of them even putting the instrumental of “Shining on the record, it becomes even better.

Knut It does that, when I first listened to the instrumental track I kind of missed the vocals there, but at the same time it is a good TRNA track, and if we did not know they had the vocals, we wouldn’t miss it. But listening to the instrumental, you can hear all the nuances of TRNA as a band, and that is what they are known for – all the nuances that you don’t notice so well in the vocal version.

ThorstenWe still have a few tracks to go through and the fourth track ”Burning Bridges, Shattered Dreams”. What is your impression of burning bridges?

Knut First of all, the title got my imagination running because it can mean so much. What does it mean to you? I have always thought that TRNA have good titles on their tracks fitting their music, but this one is one of the best titles.

They have this nice sombre bass melody in the beginning, and before the storming, riffing crescendo they turn into dissonant parts. That makes it quite exciting because they use dissonance as a part of the melody and it’s like they are holding back the melody before the melodic hurricane comes back. On Bandcamp they present their music as a hurricane of emotions, and track four, after the dissonant parts, brings back this very passionate hurricane of music.

ThorstenThe next track is “Hearts Turn to Stone. Also, a very programmatic title, but in a very different way.

Knut I think it has an extreme start with the blast drums and almost no melody, it is just fast driven riffs from the start and then it suddenly loosens up where a grooving bass takes the lead before the melodic reverb riffs, that they are known for, take over again. Whenever I listen to this music, I feel like they and the listeners are storming towards something. I don’t know what it might be, it might be the hearts turning to stone they are storming to.

Thorsten Yeah. Then track six is basically the last real new track because track seven is the instrumental version of “Shining“. So track six is called “Rebirth“ and it’s a bit unusual because it has, to me at least, a very Post Punkish intro. It’s impressive how easily they change to blast beats, it’s simply effortlessly and then all of a sudden, the track slows down and down and down again. So, to me it’s a resemblance of the voyage of a river towards, through and from a dam. It comes from its origins and then it slowly drives towards a dam and all along it’s like very nice and joyful and then it’s going through the dam and it’s all of a sudden like this whirlwind of blast beats and it’s like being forced through a tiny little tube, or a tiny little hole. And then, after the dam it slowly has to regain elegance and like this mesmerizing quality that it had at the beginning.

Knut Yes, I think it we can describe it as Post Punk – that’s quite a good description and it’s impressive how they change the music all the time. And here, they also have this grooving bass I come back to all the time, which leads to the hurricane of riffs with the emotional melody. In the quiet parts, it’s as if they are contemplating over the music before the flood of riffs are back. Here they’re quite strong, and your metaphor of the river and dam is a very good verbal description of the music on this track.

Thorsten So this is the first time that they are not an Elusive Sound – what do you think about that?

Knut I really don’t know, but the reason is that Elusive Sound is closing down. But TRNA are now on a large traditional metal label and maybe they will get more attraction than they already have, leading to new audiences. And maybe the label can help them get more tours. They should do some more tours when the pandemic is over. I am one of the lucky ones who have seen them live three times, and I hope many more will get that experience.

Thorsten But something that they definitely will not have is this highly imaginative, exuberant packaging, right? Because that is basically what Elusive Sound was known for.

Knut I agree on that, but as you know I’m only doing digital.

Thorsten So for the digital listeners there is no difference. However we should come to what might be like the final judgment for this record: I think whether you want to call it – Post-Punk, Post-Rock, Blackgaze, whatever – TRNA once again prove that every genre is unusable and unimportant as long as the quality of the music is as high as with Istok, out now on Candlelight Records.

Knut Yes, I fully agree, and the production, mixing and mastering is once again exquisite.