There’s something beautiful about stumbling onto an album. Though it’s merely a byproduct of passionate people busting chops to get the word out for bands they love, the romantic in me makes it feel like destiny. Whether it’s a blind recommendation from a friend who knows your tastes, a social media one-off share or like that comes across your screen at just the right time, or reading a post from your favorite blog (duh), it’s important to slow down every once in awhile and remember that for some artists, it’s a complete moonshot that their work reaches the right ears. Whoa! Right? So, if this is your first brush with Smuteční slavnost, know that word of this Czech five-piece stems from a perfectly-timed tweet about a Crushing Intolerance compilation (thanks, Kim Kelly). If it wasn’t for that perfect butterfly effect moment, you’d be reading something else right now.
If the pale pastel album art didn’t tip you off, Zahrada krkavců isn’t a torchlit dungeon crawl. From the get-go, opener “Moc sžírá vědomí” patiently comes into focus with hypnotic rings and chimes that bring to mind Thomas Newman’s meditative “Plastic Bag Theme.” Carried by an effervescent velocity, the track picks up a subtle yet tangible momentum only to be violently struck down by a dramatic pivot into a torrential tremolo that even mimics the cyclical nature of the intro. They shift cleanly between segments without getting minimalist or pared down. The band really comes to master this technique across Zahrada krkavců’s four tracks – all without digging too deeply into the playbooks of Alcest or Deafheaven. “Zákonitost střídá chtíč” showcases the band at their most post-whatever and gleaming, but the ideas of momentum and energy remain at the forefront. “Když procházíme světem” could daylight as a Sunbather B-side, having a solid grasp of black metal’s most fragile ends yet excluding the comparatively huge hooks.
Here, the ups and downs are no less dramatic and epic than their peers (even with a few brief stints into shoegaze-y territory) – but they’re leaner, more urgent, and more aggressive. Clean vocals would be too pensive and delicate wind downs too gradual for Smuteční slavnost’s well-oiled brand atmospheric black metal. They bring a rougher, rawer edge, and in doing so come off a bit more temperamental. Dense crescendos swell but feel compounding ad utterly draining. They aren’t designed for release. The tension they build is rarely relieved short of a song actually ending, giving the record a high-strung, anxious feel. Vocals avoid more palatable cleans or regimented barks, and instead push a blackened roar to its evocative limits. This dude always seems to have a little something extra left in the tank, adding a palpable emotional heft with lyrics to match (it’s definitely worth your time copy/pasting into Google Translate, no matter how imperfector broken that may be).
Smuteční slavnost’s Facebook bio makes it clear, “We are not interested in taking any part in your orthodox, evil, role-playing. We use black metal as a tool, not as an idol.” This rings true across Zahrada krkavců. There’s no fantasy to be found. No exaggeration. It doesn’t “want to dream.” It just gushes emotion and adds weight through keen compositions that drench and penetrate as they evolve. Everything they do seems to come down in sheets, from their most intense and wild to their calm and lucid, making for a dense feel without being overstimulating or suffocating. It’s a fine piece of post-black that shouldn’t be passed up. Consider this your stars-aligning moment, check it out for yourself.
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