Burnt Offering may be a German based black metal band, but the musicians that make up their lineup have roots in Ukraine and their material has taken influence from quite a few of the groups that started off what would become Ukrainian black metal. Early on their sound was much rawer and went for a second wave meets the more triumphant approach of Ukrainian or Polish black metal, but sophomore effort Полярна Зоря (Polaris) shifts things towards longer tracks that emphasize equal amounts of atmosphere and grit alongside a much fuller sound. It’s a significant step forward for Burnt Offering and is sure to appeal to fans of the more triumphant and powerful sounding side of black metal.
Compared to both their demo and debut full length, Полярна Зоря (Polaris) goes for much longer tracks that provide plenty of twists and turns. The opening song kicks things off with a bang, immediately launching into much faster blasting that has that familiar shrillness to the guitar tone and riffs that have a more triumphant and powerful feel to them. It’s reminiscent of 90s black metal from both Ukraine and Poland, as the way the riffs build for the first portion of the song sound as though they’re sending you off to battle and this is achieved through some polished but still abrasive production values. Burnt Offering sounds appropriately huge without being too overproduced, and the flourishes of percussion even give off slight hints of Summoning at times. There are also some well-placed keyboards that primarily appear during the slower passages, but unlike Astrofaes or Khors they’re not as prominent in the mix and serve as an extra detail rather than a focal point. Where the opener moves between blasting, mid-tempo riffing, and slower atmospheric passages, “Conspiracy of Hungry Shadows” slows things down significantly in ways that lets the atmosphere build up methodically while “Blinded by the Rays of the Glacial Sun” brings back the speed and violence for more of a traditional second-wave attack. Despite the length of these three songs there’s a good deal of variation between the tempos as well as the abrasive and melodic side of the spectrum, which results in quite a few standout moments. Admittedly the one element I’m not as crazy about comes in the form of closer “On the Kingdom of the Dead (Mythologem)”, which transitions over to a seven-minute ambient piece and gives off a haunting, cosmic vibe. It’s not necessarily bad, but it lasts a bit longer than it needs to and feels misplaced at the end of the album given how intense the rest of the material is. Perhaps it could’ve worked as an interlude in between the longer songs, because as it stands it makes Полярна Зоря (Polaris) fade out too quietly rather than end with a blade to the throat as one might expect.
Burnt Offering has switched from Russian to Ukrainian for this album, but even though with that being the case their vocals have similar inflection and that familiar raspiness of German black metal. It’s an interesting combination that comes tearing through your speakers with a considerable amount of intensity and jagged edges. There’s a tortured feel to the performance that works to the band’s advantage and gives them some extra grit, but “Blinded by the Rays of the Glacial Sun” is where things deviate significantly. Here Burnt Offering throws in some cleaner chanting and singing that are a little rough around the edges, but it still fits with what the instrumentals are doing and makes this particular song stand out a bit more. Your mileage may vary with some of the raspy pitches, but if you’re a fan of older German and Ukranian black metal the performance here will grab your attention.
They may have started off on a more straightforward path but Burnt Offering’s transition over to longer and more varied songwriting is a success. The balance between the more aggressive blasting that has some shades of Hate Forest mixed with the atmospheric passages and triumphant riffing results in some strong moments that are capable of pulling you in for their entirety. Although the ambient closer may put a damper on some of the intensity and there is room for further development of the chanting/singing, this is still an album that has drawn me back and it’ll be exciting to watch how this band continues to improve their craft with time. Полярна Зоря (Polaris) is available from Naturmacht Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg