Altai-Sayan - S​ä​ngke​-​T​ū​rem Najt Mut​-​Mor​ä​h (Self-released)

Black metal (BM) has a longstanding appreciation for pagan culture. Since Venom demanded that we “Don’t Burn the Witch” and Quorthon indoctrinated gangly suburbanites into (often ahistorical) Viking-worship, the genre has shown a deep-rooted sympathy toward polytheistic mythologies and broader ways of life ravaged by Christian theocracy, industrial accumulation and imperialism. Altai-Sayan operate in this tradition, but unlike the new wave of authentic indigenous projects like Ushangvagush, Periodeater, or Kūka’ilimoku, they make the bold move of drawing inspiration from a living people, the Eurasian Khanty, of whom this anonymous project are not a part.

Not being Khanty myself, I cannot declare with authority that this project successfully avoids the typical pitfalls of unwelcome cultural appropriation, even if Altai-Sayan offer a disclaimer critical of the ‘google translate crap’ that abounds in the scene. Pending more information, I can however confirm that the band capitalize on BM’s ability to whisk away the listener to other lands. Balancing somewhat roughshod production with enchanting riffs and sophisticated, reedy synths, opener “Nal Parxa” sets the scene, its lush textures flowing alongside delicately intertwined twin guitar melodies. By abandoning low-end heft and focusing on more airy timbres, the band ditch the miserable cloisters of lo-fidelity BM for dramatic, windswept plains. The New Age ambience of “Interlude 1” teeters dangerously close to kitschy orientalism in its sampling of regional instrumentation, equine samples and throat-singing, but rather than being merely a gratuitous interlude, it functions well as a vibe-builder. Overall, S​ä​ngke​-​T​ū​rem Najt Mut​-​Mor​ä​h does not feel like just another lazy attempt to go Wikipedia hunting for a BM gimmick, like a high schooler rummaging for a bargain Halloween costume. Their painterly commitment to the environment of the steppe shines through, much like Obsequiae’s roving pastoralism. There is a calming ecstasy as “Nax Matangat” fades away into the 90s Warp IDM of the “Outro”, the grand illusion dissipating into tranquil air.