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Released in 2011 to little or no recognition it seems (seriously, try to find a review of this one anywhere online) was the latest album by this Belarus one man band led by Wind (with a little help from Incarnatus from Pagan Hellfire on drums). While many would claim that the black metal world is more than over-saturated with one man bands, which is hard to argue against, every so often one comes along that more than justifies its existence. Personally, Folkvang is one such band and this album than aptly proves so.
Now while all the staples of one man bands are present (Burzum influence, jack-of-all-trades instrumentation, effect-laden vocals, etc) what sets this particular release apart from the rest of the flood is the overall presentation. Not exactly lo-fi but most certainly not crystal-clean production lends itself to clear presentation of all the instruments involved. The guitars have just the right amount of grit to their sound to give them the proper 'black metal sound' without sounding like the generic swarm-of-bees that plagues much of the genre. Sorrowful, yet strangely uplifting, riffs dominate the entire album backed up by simple, but effective, basslines that thankfully can be heard (why the bass continues to be the red-headed stepchild in black metal is beyond me...). The drums help augment what obviously is a guitar-driven album with the cymbal work deserving a special mention. Whether the drums are holding a steady beat or blasting away, the amount of crashing going on with the cymbals is relentless. Vocally, Wind employs a disgusted croak that comes across as more of a subdued rage than a pissed-off Popeye like Abbath from Immortal.
Another standout feature on this album is the use of acoustic guitars. Unlike many times when bands throw acoustics in to make them sound more well-rounded, their use here does not sound forced. They really help promote the sorrowful, sad atmosphere being portrayed throughout the disc. 'Introspective' would probably be a better way to describe use of them here. When they appear you can not help but sit back and let the mind wander and drift off to thoughts about life and where every little thing that happens fits into it. Emo descriptions aside, the beautiful melodies played on the acoustics are a perfect counterpoint to many of the blastbeat-ridden songs (see 'The Mountain Song' for a perfect example of their use).
Atmosphere deserves a special mention as well. What would a black metal album be without it, right? This album features one of the most sorrowful (not in the DSBM slit-your-wrists-and-blow-your-brains-out way; this is way too far above that) atmospheres I have ever come across. There truly is a forlorn sense of sadness emanating from the riffs, despite the general speed at which they are being played. Couple these with the absolutely stunning acoustic passages featured throughout and you are left with a lesson in atmosphere that 99.9% of other black metal bands should be banging on Wind's door to learn.
Foregoing the usual practice of printing lyrics (or worse yet, printing a lame corpse-paint photo with an equally lame pose) Six Stories Without Keys features hand drawn artwork to accompany each of the songs with a message from Wind telling his listeners to come up with their own interpretations of the lyrics based on the artwork. A neat little idea that shows the listener that quite a bit of thought and work went into the overall presentation of the album.
This is a stunning release that should be going down as a classic in the genre instead of going largely ignored. I'm giving it a 98 only because the last song ('King (The Sound of Thunder)') sounds slightly different then the rest of the album. Make no mistake, the song itself is just as good as every other one on the disc, it just has a different sound (unmastered, perhaps?).
Do yourself a favour and buy (not download...) this one. Do not be part of the crime that is being committed to this album by allowing it to continue to go ignored.