Russian/Ukrainian band Kauan survive cosmic assault, swell lineup for dramatic ‘Pirut’

Usually when I’m digging into the remaining late-year releases that need visited before it’s year-end blowout time, I don’t find a whole of things that really get my ears standing up straight. Not that is hasn’t happened before–Royal Thunder’s first EP and Chelsea Wolfe’s debut come to mind–but usually it’s a dry well. Luckily, this year is a different story.

I got an e-mail a few months ago about the band Kauan, a Russian/Ukrainian band that’s made its name on post-rock, ambient, European folk, and doomy collections and, until their latest album “Pirut,” has contained only two full-time members. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard a lot about the band before that initial press release announcing “Pirut,” so I worked backward and familiarized myself with their work so I’d have a better idea of how to absorb their new opus. I never figured it would take nearly until the end of the year to finally get my hands on “Pirut,” but now that I have, I’m adding this band to my regular winter rotation of music. By the way, the delay from announcement to music delivery largely had to do with a Feb. 15 meteor explosion in the atmosphere above Russia during the creative process and the having to deal with the aftermath. That explains this album’s picturesque cover art.

Kauan coverIt probably sounds cliched to associate a Russian band with wintry settings, but it’s their music that makes me feel that band’s latest album belongs in my ears when the winds are chilled and snow is crunching beneath our boots. They have an airy, atmospheric approach to their music, and you can practically feel the frozen winds whipping into you, leaving you scrambling for the confines of your home and perhaps a crackling fire. This eight-movement document (it’s broken up by tracks “I” through VIII” but is an interwoven, single piece) isn’t purely a metal album, though it definitely has those traits, and might remind newcomers of the path a band like Ulver has taken lately. It’s imaginative and dreamy in spots, sometimes altogether delicate, and when it needs doses of brutality, those land right where they’re required. It’s also easy to get lost in the body of this thing since it flows so well and there are no track breaks.

Initially, Anton Belov (vocals, guitars, keyboards) only counted the departed Lubov Mushnikova (violin) as a constant member, with other people adding colors here and there. But with the creation of “Pirut,” Belov assembled a full band around him that includes bassist Alex Vynogradoff, drummer Anton Skrynnik, keyboard player Alina Roberts, and viola player Anatoly Gavrilov, as well as other players for the live experience. Naturally, the music is more full bodied and involved than previous work, including their most recent record “Ku..” in 2011, and their union has resulted in arguably their finest albums to date and one that could find favor outside of the metal world. For example, if you’re into a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Explosions in the Sky (no joke intended), you might find you really like this.

The record opens with “I” and its strange noises, howls, and thick strings, before leading into a cleaner folk movement, where Belov’s vocals go clean, ripping through rolled R’s and letting his charisma show. Eventually the track gets uglier, with death-like growls and epic doom, before it bleeds into “II,” that also keeps the tempo high. Strings slither over metallic goop, and Belov’s hissed growls are mean and menacing, matching the music behind him. Sweeping doom melodies open up and drench the ground beneath it, and clean vocals croaked in Finnish lead to “III.” That piece has more strings marching over the land, with pianos trickling along with it, and a moody, elegant melody takes over and pulls the song forward. Some spacey synth work hovers over like a mysterious cloud, and lush, moving instrumentation, with vocals finally slipping in at the end, take us toward “IV.” That portion opens with a heavy helping of acoustic guitars, clean vocals, and an overall feeling of a roosty ballad. This is where the cold winds and snowy ambiance are at their heaviest, with the music swelling and soaring, staking its claim as the most emotionally boisterous section of the whole album.

“V” lets the tension subside, as pianos glide in, steady drumming carries the way, and proggy, cosmic keyboards give the piece an alien feel. Warm guitars parts droop in and melt over everything, while noises echo out and lead toward “VI,” that keeps their ship tilted toward a space rock feel and a trip into the stars. Synthesizers begin to whir heavily, with pianos following the path and the drumming offering both pacing and a sense of danger, and the song builds to a pounding climax with vicious growls and doom fury that reminds you this band can be as crushing as they are delicate. “VII” starts with more pulsating keys, a thick string section that delivers beauty and texture, and more brutality and heaving growls that eventually subside and give way to calm. Finally, the last segment “VIII” begins, tying in a familiar melody that rears its head on several sections of this album and that hints at a flood of light. But then the murk and darkness return, as does the doom hammering, emotional flourishes take over, and the song ends on a glorious high that fills your lungs with air, your mind you dreams, and your body with chilly winds that you can’t help but ride away on to some faraway land.

This new era for Kauan sounds like a promising one, and if “Pirut” is your starting point with this band, you’re in a pretty good spot. If you like what you hear, work your way back through their other four releases (find them on their Bandcamp) and get lost in their atmospheric world. This is a strong record that should go really well with the coming winter and provide a nice companion alongside a dark porter, the lights turned down, and a million warm blankets. How metal is that?.

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