The answer is Yes and No: Practicing Death sometimes adds up to the sum of its many parts. At its strongest it’s a devastating listen; within individual tracks we have multiple twists and turns, grinding riffs at odds with clean picked passages, blasts, syncopated beats, sparse synths, echoing guitars and a crystal-clear production which takes us undoubtedly toward the unforgiving cold North. There’s an emotionless quality to the bulk of the material in the delivery and although there is a wide range of influences, at heart this is very much a metal record with a distinct absence of any uplifting quality in any great quantity. As the release is digital only, I would’ve liked to pour over the lyrics to get the full experience, which is a shame as I feel it is an integral part of Raljarn’s presentation.
“North Omen” opens proceedings and immediately brings me to one of the records major flaws - the varying quality of the vocal delivery. With four vocalists on board, I had the impression that perhaps there would be four distinctly different takes on the material, but they are all more alike if anything. Artem Sergeev aside, I found I had to consistently check the credits to verify which vocalist I was listening to. Resemblances by the by, there’s a couple of falters and in occasional places the approach lets the material down a bit. Sergeev provides sublime vocals on each of his tracks – equally capable and effective whether using clean or harsh tones, there is much more the feel of a journey on each of these in terms of crafting of the songs, culminating with “Metahuman” which is hands down the standout moment on the album. In fact, if any of the words here have inspired curiosity – this is the song to check out. It’s got the best of what Raljarn can offer in one fully realised package, the crescendo of the song is brilliant, opening up like something off Fear Factory’s excellent Genexus album, accompanied by a simplistic Type O-Negative style lead providing an extra hook. It’s completely crushing and leaves you wishing there were more moments like this on the album.
With Practicing Death’s zenith behind us, the rest of the record proves to be much more of a mixed bag, sometimes with diminishing returns. Galeb Shashkov returns to deliver a much more assured performance on “Posthuman”. “Whilst Darkhuman” and “DeadHuman”, although somewhat effective in places, start to retread to already covered ground, especially the latter. Dan’s guitar effect over the refrain of “DeadHuman” is ill-judged and borders on the gimmicky, taking us a million miles away from the arctic environment we previously occupied.
A final small piece of critique must be reserved for the drums: There is no drummer listed on the credits so (I stand to be corrected but) they sound programmed, whilst the tone and placement are right on the money and pack serious punch it does seem like the same patterns reappear across the record, leading to a (perhaps unfair) feeling of familiarity. Maybe this is part of Dan’s vision to have a kind of mechanical coldness from the rhythm section, but it causes the latter half of the record to lag somewhat.
Dan Mikalchenko is a fantastic musician and as I said at the beginning, Raljarn is intriguing: Sonically and conceptually he has an incredibly clear vision for the project and thus has delivered a record which must be judged by the high standards he himself has set. I urge you to keep Raljarn on your radar, Practicing Death is a very solid foundation but for now it is just that. Raljarn’s best is yet to come.