The latest EP from veteran pagan metal band Darkestrah is entitled Chong-Aryk, and it is their first lengthy release since 2016. These trve kvlt pagans hail from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and their newest EP comprises three tracks, each with a slightly different flavor but all under the same umbrella of being tribal and traditional shamanic instruments infused with grim raw black metal guitars. The first track “Gift of Mud and Venom” was released before as a single in 2020, the second track “The Warrior Poet” is an entirely new release, and the final track “Broken Wheel” is the band’s rendition/ reimagining of the song “Khartai Sarlag” by Mongolian Folk-Rock band Domog. Let’s take a deeper look at what each track has to offer.

The first track Gift of Mud and Venom has the most extremely bizarre sections of the whole outfit. It begins with a couple of minutes of the tribal instruments playing on their own before the fluid chord progressions of the growling guitars begin. The vocals have a good balance of being both shrieky and ethereal and while you can’t call them melodic vocals, they do follow the musical arrangement and the pitch of the other instruments pretty well. Near the 5-minute mark, the drummer plays faster and more chaotic blast beats and the vocalist then spawns soul-sucking powerful clean vocals. Being in a lower range, the clean vocals did not in any way hinder the ominous overtones that the instruments are striking us with. Shortly after that, a middle eastern beat is played along with a string instrument that pretty much sounds like an oud or a mandolin. The shaman/pagan sections are the band’s strongest suit up to this point, but the fact that they are oriental adds more flavor and richness to the texture of the composition. There were minor instances of synths or string instruments that the production could not, unfortunately, carry forward. The song ends with a strong drum outro and then fades into a string section that guides us home from the pagan mass we were just attending.

The second track “The Warrior Poet ” is a little bit shorter. Clocking in at 7 minutes, the song begins with a mid-tempo drum beat that stays for a few minutes before the main riff is changed and dark synths begin to appear. The vocals sound depressed and pissed off at the same time, which made me remember Darkthrone’s classic album Transylvanian Hunger and how that album tackled the depressive way of vocalizing black metal shrieks. Near the three-minute mark, we can hear (what I assume is) a Cello playing a haunting line which was the calm before the storm. Another transition occurs here and a super-fast blast beat section begins once again. It’s got to be one of the coolest drumming portions of any black metal record I’ve ever heard. There is a break after that with the strings and a melodic guitar followed by yet another transition to the song’s outro, which utilized all the previous elements. The synth paves the way for another depressing vocal section, and I have to appreciate the lung capacity and impeccable control of the lead vocalist.

The third and final track, Broken Wheel is a cover/reimagining of a Mongolian Folk-Rock song, which I have not had the pleasure of previously hearing. But the song begins in a pretty trance-inducing way, to say the least, the synths and guitars play a melodic line that repeats several times before it is changed up and toyed with a little bit. The vocals have a strong reverb pedal backing them up and enhancing their ethereal quality with the initial riff. This same riff plays the verses of the song and for the hook, a super fast blast beat section is played, and it’s probably the quickest beat this EP has to offer, but sadly the third time it is played the track just ends. There is a beautiful midsection where the traditional instruments take the place of the lead guitar and coat the drums once again with the feeling of a mass or sermon, which is kind of the band’s staple at this point in their lengthy career.

In conclusion, Chong-Aryk is a very strong pagan black metal composition and a great contender to be one of the band’s best records. Had it only been produced with more quality, the subtle details played by the traditional instruments and changes in the bass lines were difficult to hear, even with high-quality headphones. But other than that I had zero complaints concerning this EP. It’s safe to say this album will take you on a journey to an ancient tribe’s homeland and the guitars will satisfy your love for trve kvlt black metal as well as non-conventional and creative songwriting.