On the Long-Awaited Tchornobog, There Is Triumph in Death
A German priest by the name of Helmold, while traveling among the pagan Slavic peoples of Central Europe, noted a peculiar custom. As the Chronica Slavorum attests, the Slavic peoples would utter curses into a bowl at their feasts as an act of tribute to the malevolent black god Chernobog, noting with deference the important roles of death and destruction in the frail reality of the human experience. Nearly a millennium later, visionary musician Markov Soroka has revived the legacy of the black god, not as a facile tribute to death and sickness and gore as is the case with so much vapid metal posing as serious art, but as a mirror, reflecting the fragility within the genre itself. And in each of us, if my own response to Tchornobog is to be believed. Yet, within that weakness, as within the speaking of the curse, there is a surprising, and beautiful, strength.
On a purely superficial level, Tchornobog, the debut, self-titled release from the one-man project Tchornobog, is one hell of an extreme metal album. Across four gargantuan tracks, Soroka deftly blends massive riffs with haunting melodies in a densely layered, pitch-black melange as menacing and powerful as the frightening vision of the Chernobog conjured by Walt Disney in the original Fantasia. Labyrinthine chords coil and strangulate on “The Vomiting Tchornobog (Slithering Gods of Cognitive Dissonance)” in a fashion more frightening than anything conjured by Abyssal on Antikatastaseis. Upward arching leads and furious blasts raise the tension and drama in “Hallucinatory Black Breath of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation).” Those same pounding drums reverberate with a martial cadence in “Non Existence’s Warmth (Infinite Natality Psychosis)” sufficient to make any militant metalhead take note, and the truly sinister outro of “Here, at the Disposition of Time (Inverting a Solar Giant)” is pure destruction in its intoxicating brutality.
Yet, even upon first examination, Soroka’s true intent is evident, if not fully apparent; the surprising catchiness of the work allures, beguiles, beckoning you to peel back the layers and to look deeper. The recursive main riffs repel and attract in their cyclical motifs, pulling you deeper and deeper beneath the sedimentary layers of trem and kick and reverb and growl. Bizarrely melodic peaks loom up amid the black gulfs carved by the riffs. Clean guitar lines gently weep within the ponderous craters left by the drum barrage. Emotional tempo changes abruptly rattle and reveal a shockingly frank vulnerability. There is emptiness and desolation between onslaughts, offering survivors respite, peace. Amid the album’s admitted heaviness is a stark humility, an insistence to keep digging. Exhume, exhume! Exorcise the evil, Soroka seems to be bidding you as he paints a lush picture of suffering with shimmering, almost-post metal leads, saxophone lines, and spoken-word transitions. Stare straight into the unblinking eye of the world’s hate and see what it reveals.
“The purpose of the project is to assume the body as an empathetic creature to understand both the Self and the attempts to find meaning in the world,” Soroka claims. His words ring true. It is impossible to look deeper into the Tchornobog without looking deeper inside. The black god compels it.
“Est autem Slavorum mirabilis error; nam in conviviis et compotacionibus suis pateram circumferunt, in quam conferunt, non dicam consecracionis, sed execracionis verba sub nomine deorum, boni scilicet atque mali, omnem prosperam fortunam a bono deo, adversam a malo dirigi profitentes. Unde etiam malum deum lingua sua Diabol sive Zcerneboch, id est nigrum deum, appellant.” – Helmold, Chronica Slavorum.
When art looks back at you with that cyclopean eye, it can be deeply unsettling. Two weeks ago, I called my grandfather and told him I loved him for the last time. Between his sputtering breaths and rasping gasps for air, he told me he loved me. When I hung up the phone, I sat there paralyzed for what felt an eternity. Eventually I found myself at home, listening to Tchornobog while I cursed the cruelty and ugliness of death, our common heritage. “Non-Existence’s Embrace” called out to me amid my tears and black thoughts, its plaintive saxophone lines and empty spaces offering no mere empty epithet but simple recognition. As the death metal gave way to doom metal gave way to a sublime air of ambiance, I wasn’t asked to stand boldly against death or evil. I wasn’t asked for anything. I was invited to simply feel. And in that feeling, surrender.
It’s impossible for me to give an objective measure of Soroka’s technical skill on Tchornobog, and to do so would feel as perverse as the old black god himself. But therein lies the album’s power. As intricately mystifying and delicately crafted as anything you’ll hear within metal this year, Tchornobog shines not for its prowess but for its subversion. Tchornobog drinks deep of death metal’s collective bowl of curses, spitting back out a bizarre inversion full of shining introspection, unexpected instrumentation, and, most importantly feeling. But it goes a step further still and offers you that bowl.
In a genre, a world of meaningless cruelty and empty hate, Tchornobog offers honesty and introspection, allowing you to surrender as fully as you can while you look inside and beneath.