Darkestrah is an epic black metal band with major Eastern European and sometimes Middle-Eastern folk influences. The band’s sound should sound familiar and pleasing to fans of the Finnish pagan metal outfit Moonsorrow, the Romanian progressive extreme metal band Negura Bunget or Ukrainian symphonic extreme metal band Nokturnal Mortum. What makes this band rather intriguing is that it hails from Kyrgyztan, but has now been relocated to Germany, and that the front singer is a woman. Usually, the band employs English vocals, but for their new conceptual output Manas (about a national hero from their home country), they chose to record in Russian. A performance in Kyrgyz would have been even more interesting, in my opinion.
The record itself is very atmospheric. Dark instrumental sections dominate this album, and employ mid-tempo or even slow passages instead of the usual blistering extreme metal moments. The band throws in some folk passages here and there as well. In the beginning, these parts sound a bit out of place, and don’t really fit in with the extreme metal rhythms but as the album goes on, the mixture starts to sound more homogeneous and natural. We get to hear traditional folk chants, throat singing, a jaw harp called a temir komuz, violins, and samples of nature sounds like falling rain or neighing horses. Tasteful but never overwhelming keyboard parts also appear every now and then to supplement the work. The diverse and always well-suited vocals vary from truly powerful blackened screams to hypnotizing clean parts. Singer Kriegtalith has a lot of talent, and it’s sad that we don’t hear her as much as usual on this rather instrumentally-oriented record.
In the end, this is the kind of record that requires some time and attention to grow on you. It has a very strong atmosphere and it’s impossible to take the songs out of their context to evaluate them one by one. The strong points here are the later, well-integrated folk sounds towards the end of the record, the versatile vocals, the bleak atmosphere, and the diversity of different approaches to the epic extreme metal genre. The negative items to mention include the clashing mixture of extreme metal and folk parts in the first song or two, the sometimes overlong instrumental passages, and the fact that the band doesn’t use its energizing speed and great vocalist enough here. Despite these flaws, I like this album from a band that I discovered by pure coincidence, and Manas has convinced me to listen to their work further.