The visual aspects of Russia’s Gardarika felt almost like a pagan, folk or viking metal band, but on their second full length album, Chthonica, the band surprises me, instead presenting a proggy style of heavy/thrash metal to the listener.
Opening track Hive Mind quickly puts one in the right perspective, as the galloping riffs of Ivan hit the listener, and the catchiness in the music instantly gets one bobbing his head along with the band. The talent is immense over here, and each of the members in the band certainly display that throughout. Guitarist Ivan’s fretwork is impressive, and he displays his versatility, going from neoclassical-inspired shredding styles to more melodic and emotional soaring solos, especially on title track Chthonica. Bassist Serge is also outstanding on the album, with his bass presence being rather high throughout, and with plenty of moments on the album giving him time to display his chops like on Nevertheless where he displays his lead style of playing.
Throughout Chthonica, the band’s songwriting skills are also constantly displayed, fusing melody and catchiness with some slight progressive elements, with some rather complex passages that are littered throughout the album. There is also a nice balance of different styles and emotions on the album, and while the first two tracks present a galloping, neck-breaking experience, the band suddenly goes into ballad mode on The Night and Unbending Intent, with the strong emotions reminding me of ballads by power metal bands such as Sonata Arctica, especially in the progression of the track and the melodies on it. This 9-minute long track even brings in some rather operatic elements, creating a large sound that easily overwhelms the listener.
My only real gripe of the album is Alex’s vocals, and this honestly took me quite a number of listenings to get used to, though there are moments where the entire feel and sound of the band bring to mind legends such as Control Denied, and on the ballad he definitely manages to bring out the emotions.
As might be expected, Gardarika‘s main focus on Chthonica isn’t really on the heaviness of the music, but the soothing melodies of the songs on the album have definitely made this a rather enjoyable experience, though if one were to place more attention on the crafting of the song, one would easily realise that there is more than meets the eye on this deceivingly easy-listening album.