For more than two years, Belarusian musicians have been living under the conditions of overcoming. First COVID-related restrictions, then protests and repressions, now war. It’s not a good time for creative work, but the right time for speaking out.
Since February 24, a lot of well-known Belarusians have publicly declared their attitude to the war in Ukraine, and someone even managed to present fresh material. We offer you to listen to four noteworthy Belarusian releases that came out already this spring: a pleasant background music album by the Intelligency band (TikTok heroes), improvisational jazz from the avant-garde project Fantastychnyia Plyutsy, hard but exciting black metal from the young project Rheia and traditional Belarusian rock with signature style from Atesta.
The Intelligency band
The Intelligency band have gone through an interesting creative path, having practically not changed in nine years in terms of music, but nevertheless having gained a fairly large audience. At the end of April, the musicians released the second part of their album Technoblues Therapy, which is completely built on a clear and canonical scheme: a simple melody with loops; texts that have only phonetic value; a simple rhythm section for unpretentious dancing. In principle, this is the necessary minimum for a successful existence in pop music, and, having once made it to the top with their TikTok hit August, the band can afford to continue on this path. This mood and function music is made in such a way that the listener immediately recognizes the signature style of the Minsk guys. It's paradoxical, but, bearing in mind such "pop" components, it’s surprising that bands of this kind are lacking not only in Belarus, but even within Eastern Europe.
The main hit of this album is the optimistic track Beyond the Horizon: an abstract mantra that right now sounds very unambiguous and looks like an anti-war pop anthem with a rather optimistic refrain There is light on the horizon, and I am beyond the horizon. There are other good pieces in the album, for instance, Srany Liven (Fucking Rain Shower), an interesting duet with Palina Palaneichyk that sounds like a street song and a clumsy guitar performance (but in fact it’s a joke song). The album is simple and sincere. It can hardly repeat the success of the August single, but the tasks of the album seem to be completely different and they are formulated by the musicians themselves: "We write music, not bangers". This music is intended for providing the listeners with a pleasant background for their everyday activities.
The Fantastychnyia Plyutsy band
The Fantastychnyia Plyutsy band is a community of very talented and experienced avant-garde musicians, but it is formed mainly around the personality of Viktar Syamashka: a man of many talents who has long been engaged in the study of Belarusian culture and improvised music. If you want to learn more about Belarusian music, you should listen to Krakatuk, Viktar's program in which he collects real rarities and ‘diamonds’, and talks about them in a very interesting way. If you want to immerse yourself in the magical world of avant-garde and improvised music, you should follow Viktar’s numerous projects and collaborations.
Fantastychnyia Plyutsy is one of such projects. This is an avant-garde jazz band in which Syamashka plays the piano and the flute. The other participants of the project are the outstanding Belarusian accordion player Alyaksey Varsoba, the percussionist Pyotr Dambrouski, the singer Gosya Zagaeuskaya and the bassoon player Vital Appau. This is an amazing combination: the mix of instruments gives the musicians a huge space for experimentation and takes the listener on a difficult, but truly fantastic journey.
Once Syamashka said in an interview that Minsk is not a city that is very suitable for improvisation, because it’s very monumental, brutal and masculine. In this regard, the move to Poland benefited Syamashka: now, with various projects, he produces a lot of interesting experimental material. But it is the Fantastychnyia Plyutsy project that is clearly distinguishable from the rest, because it is a strong symbiosis, the accumulation of powerful creative energy - it is from such collaborations that the listener gets the most exciting result.
The metal stage in Belarus has always been very strong, and new names appeared quite regularly. The same applies to specific genres, and in this case we will talk about black metal, an absolutely orthodox subculture that is developing exclusively according to its own rules and canons. At the same time, it has so many branches and subgenres, that sometimes it changes beyond recognition: you can find interesting bands in the very depths of the underground, and even in trends close to pop culture (Deafheaven, for instance).
In Belarus, there were quite a lot of noteworthy black metal bands, for instance, the art black Infestum, the avant-garde Medievil and the merciless Mora Prokaza - in short, musicians of this kind to suit any taste, if you search well. At the very end of May, young guys from Minsk, who perform under the name Rheia, released an interesting mini-album In Search Of Despair. It’s a cheerful, atmospheric material according to all genre canons, but with a signature style. Sometimes it reminds of the best albums of Mgła, sometimes it sounds like the uncompromising shredding by Anaal Nathrakh: ascetic, evil and sometimes ruthless music not in the best cover (obviously, the weakest point of the release).
This is the band's first public album and immediately very promising within the genre: good sound, interesting approach to arrangements, high-quality presentation of material. Listening to In Search Of Despair will not make you bored, and you will not have a feeling that something similar has already been released in Norway or Sweden. We advise you to follow Rheia: the guys have good prospects.
Despite its four-year history, Atesta is in the status of a young rock band. Maybe this is because a young Belarusian rock band in our time is a rare phenomenon, and, compared to other projects familiar to the listener, Atesta is actually still a baby. Anyway this is already the second fully fledged album of the band (the first one was released a year ago), and in every sense it’s a step forward for the musicians.
Fatalna apošni is a technically and creatively more perfect album, in which the musicians did a good job in terms of sound and music-making approaches: their music pieces became more sophisticated and varied, the album has more interesting and non-standard developments, and, as a result, this album in the old days would have received a good press in Belarus from specialized media. Unfortunately, now this is only possible thanks to social networks, so some of you may not have noticed this release.
Stylistically Fatalna apošni is text-centered rock music with explosive and bright vocals à la Cranberries. It is the vocals that are the hallmark of Atesta: they solo, make these songs exciting and add beauty to a fairly standard instrumental accompaniment. From time to time one may get tired of the lack of variety of the artistic means, but what can you do: the rock band is young, they still need to find their way. The main thing is that, in this album, one can feel the background (the Atesta members have wide experience of performing on the long-suffering Belarusian rock stage) and impulse. If they manage to get through the information vacuum to the listener, they will be a success.