We also do the occasional article now as well dont-ch-ya-know!
I’m not going to bother trying to rehash, summarize, or otherwise tell you about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and everything else surrounding it. There’s been too much that’s happened, and it’s been everywhere, so I’m gonna operate on the assumption that you have at least a vague notion of what’s happened. So with that out of the way, Slava Ukraini and welcome to the party!
I’m not a soldier or a rich man, and I don’t have any spare anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons I can send Ukraine’s way. What I do have is the ability to write about music, so, today, we’re gonna shine a spotlight on some my personal picks of the best punk and metal Ukraine has to offer. I know it’s not exactly helpful in the pragmatic or “useful” sense, but I’m doing what I can. Plus, there’s some really dope Ukrainian folk music elements in some of the songs, so that’s pretty cool. Anyway, without further ado, let’s get into it - in no particular order, 12 of the best Ukrainian punk and metal songs.
This bad boy opens with some light flute and choir bars, and then it just rips into blast beats and screams, like, I don’t think they’re actually saying anything at all for the first ten seconds, just screaming, and it’s great. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but it’s heavy, gloomy, and almost oppressive. It’s like really old school medieval court music and metal had a baby. Holy Blood is billed as a Christian folk metal band from Kyiv, and they’ve been rocking since the last Millenium. It’s a lot of fun to listen to, almost theatrical, like you’re listening to a particularly brutal play, which is fitting, since this track’s nearly six minutes long.
These guys waste no time, blasting keyboard riffs right out of the gate, power metal Kyiv style, and this one’s an epic ballad. It’s got everything you need - hard and heavy guitars, dramatic and belted vocals, frenetic and fiery keyboards, rapid-fire drums full of double bass pedal, a bassline I can barely hear, and guitar solos played entirely in the upper half of the register. Honestly though, it’s just a fun song, like, forget about the fact that one of the dude’s in the band is straight out of a 90s Menudo glamor shot and just have fun with this track, and you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.
All right, so, despite my one semester of Russian over ten years ago, I can’t actually read Cyrillic, but I do know that this band’s name is <Borsch, and I think that’s terrific. Besides the name though, they actually lay down some pretty sick tracks, and two of them were founding members of famed Ukrainian rock/neo-ethnic rock group Vopli Vidopliassova (or VV), formed in ‘86 and still rocking (though with different members). This song isn’t a musical revolution or anything; it’s not an intricate piece of music, but it is a quality punk song, fast, raw, and with undertones of rebellion. It’s a bit heavier than most old school punk, which makes sense, as most of VV’s early albums were played in drop C tuning, and the result is a blend of elements from hardcore, punk, and metal, and it absolutely works.
Formed in 2001, Фліт bills themselves as “intelligent punk-rock,” and, while I can’t understand their lyrics, I absolutely do hear similarities to American punks of legend, Bad Religion, and that should be taken as high praise. This track has the guitar carrying much of the melody, but the bass absolutely rips underneath, twining with the vocals to create something more than the sum of its parts. Seriously, the more I listen to this song, the more impressed I am with the bass player, but the whole song is a bop, gets your foot tapping and your head bobbing.
Founded in Kyiv in 2005, Raventale is a black/doom metal band, as evidenced by the minute and fifty nine second opening buildup of this song…which is also eight and a half minutes long, but don’t let that scare you away! Buy the ticket, take the ride, and, if you get an eight minute ride, that’s good value, damnit. Full of double bass, either organs or very high pitched choral backing vocals, growling and guttural guitars, and both perfect metal screams and really cool, menacing, droning lines that almost sound like throat singing. It’s a long one, but it’s dramatic, entertaining, and heavy as hell.
I Miss My Death is nuts, like, just friggin’ nuts; they’re ridiculous, and I love them for it. They’re filed under Symphonic Doom Metal, and they say they illustrate the beauty of the world through a mystical prism, and I can’t say I disagree. Their music is an absolutely delightful mashup of dark, brooding, guttural growls and soaring, operatic, symphonic soprano. Like, it shouldn’t work, but it does, it works oh so well, and the song builds to a beautiful climax, with both vocalists just belting it out, and- man, you should really just listen to it.
It’s these guys again, Ukrainian Bad Religion back to rock you! They’re one of two bands that made the list twice, and that’s partially because it’s kind of hard to find a lot of the music, especially when you can’t easily type Cyrillic characters, but it’s also because I really like this band’s music. It’s punk you can dance to, which, in my opinion, is some of the best punk, and the bass, again, runs rampant through this track. I don’t mean to do the guitar and drums dirty, because they’re both pulling their weight (more than, they both rip), but I just can’t get over the bass. I still can’t understand the lyrics, but I know I like the song.
Stryvigor is a Ukrainian “Atmospheric Black Metal” band, and this song is certainly rich in atmosphere, and that atmosphere is black, brutal, and oppressive. Apparently, their lyrics are mostly about nature, forests, and landscapes, which I think is super neat, and what’s cooler than black metal songs about the woods? The instruments combine in beautiful melodies, with the drums absolutely barreling along underneath it all (their drummer really likes his cymbals), and the vocals flow brilliantly. Again, no clue what they’re saying, but I’m picturing something like Fangorn Forest, but with these guys on a big ol’ obsidian stage, just blasting it out, and that’s good enough for me.
From what I’ve read about them, symphonic black metal band Natural Spirit has quite the history, going back to 1999, with thirteen different members at different points, having played with the likes of Behemoth and Napalm Death, but we’re not here for a history lesson. This track opens with female vocals floating over keyboards, driving guitars, and pounding drums, and it progresses into something that sounds like the soundtrack for a demonic summoning, and I mean that in the coolest way possible. The keyboard sounds more like classic piano than you get with most metal too, and, as a piano player, I think it sounds fantastic and adds another classical, theatrical element to the music.
I wasn’t sure what to think for the first thirty or so seconds of this track; it feels like it could go about eight different ways, and then it kicks in, and they just go off. It opens with clear, piercing, and powerful female vocals, and then it just keeps driving, hammering away, with throaty growls kicking it up a notch, and it just whips back and forth the rest of the song. It’s not just the vocals though, the instruments blitz under the vocals, piecing the song together like the world’s most brutal jigsaw puzzle. I thought, initially, that the instruments were sort of taking a break during the female vocal breaks, but they’re not; they just change the setting of the blitz from hammer to shred. Infinite Tales have just buckets of talent, and this song feels like you could break it into eight parts and make a brand new song based on any one of them. The song’s just that good.
Opening with a riff straight out of the the 70s, Odesa power metal rockers Реанимация (Life Support) set you up for five minutes of ominous, atmospheric, and brooding music. The song takes the time to shine a light on each instrument, the bass trotting a quick line, guitars singing out their best power solo, and the drums pumping the whole thing along. If you asked me what power metal from the other side of the Iron Curtain would sound like, this is it, especially the chorus, with its chant-like, booming vocals.
And we come full circle! Right back to Holy Blood, and they haven’t gotten any less hardcore in the ten or so songs since we started. Just like the first track on the list, they open it up with some bell tolls and flute, just to get you in the mood, and then they let rip with wailing guitars, swift and sweaty drum fills, and vicious, visceral vocals (you like that alliteration? Oh yeah). This track’s 43 seconds longer than Jerusalem, so you get 43 extra seconds of brutality, and that’s a good thing. I know I said “in no particular order,” but I definitely put this one last on purpose because who wouldn’t want to close out a list like this with a track named Ukraine?! In fact, that’s the only part of the lyrics I can actually make out, not that I really care because this song batters your eardrums in a good way. It’s gloom, it’s doom, it’s boom, it’ll make you fume; it’s Ukraine by Holy Blood, and it’ll get you going.
Cooper here, editor and resident grumpy old man, and I hope Mike doesn't mind me hijacking his article here, but I wanted to add my own pick to the list. We can't do a list like this and not mention Jinjer.
Jinjer is a band that only landed on my radar within the last year or so, and is a band my friends have repeatedly recommended to me, and I can't quite place them in a particular genre, but maybe that's their charm. Their sound is tight, creative, heavy and progressive all at the same time and singer Tatiana Shmailyuk is particularly impressive switching between sultry clean vocals and growls effortlessly. I'd say listening to a Jinjer album is definitely an experience and whilst I've only listened to their most recent offering Wallflowers in it's entirety, as has been repeatedly recommended to me I'm going to sit down and give their previous albums the attention they deserve.