Label: Art As Catharsis Records
Svengali is not an album for those who like their music to rely on the subtle or hidden. This seventeen minute of blackened crust from Siberian Hell Sounds is a furious fist to the face, a raging whirlwind of violence that takes absolutely no prisoners. There are no grand pretensions here, no need to spend hours listening until each songs ‘clicks’ and it makes sense; this EP is negativity given form, expressed in the most direct way possible. Unrelentingly bleak, it is a fine example of just how powerful blackened crust can be.
Svengali is a concept album, one that Siberian Hell Sounds spent two years ‘channeling’. If so, those must have been some soul-crushing years, as the end result is nothing if not punishing. Razor-sharp riffs combine with bone-pounding d-beat drumming in a manner that is archetypal of so much blackened crust, but what makes Svengali stand out from the pack is that intensity and negativity put across in the music. It’s the kind of sound and feeling that simply cannot be faked, sounding every bit as vital and urgent as the likes of Young And In The Way at their best.
And yet, for all the violence and destruction the band conjure, there are moments of effective song-craft, where Siberian Hell Sounds demonstrate that simply blasting away is not always the most effective way to incite devastation. “Seed (II)” is a prime example of this, with the (relatively) slower section around the one minute marking creating a tension and anxiety that is every bit as unsettling as the more direct moments, and makes the return to a full-speed onslaught all the more effective for the sense of contrast it creates.
This utter carnage created is both the strength and weakness of Svengali. As undeniably punishing and bleak as it is, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed at times by the almost ceaseless intensity – it’s not really a record for repeated plays in a short space of time. But what it is, is almost everything that blackened crust should aspire to be. Credit should also be given to the production, which is powerful and clear enough for some of the subtleties in Svengali to come through, without ever feeling like it’s sacrificing any of the darkness that is so vital to music as nihilistic as this. And this is all without considering the conceptual nature of the record, the precise nature of which is never made explicit. It invites the listener to explore and make their own conclusions, which is an approach I very much welcome. It’s further evidence that, despite the fact that Svengali‘s violence is likely to be the thing you most likely remember about it, there’s an intelligence behind it all, which is definitely something that this sub-genre could do with more of.