Sjene Nad Balkanom
Review by Vladimir on January 15, 2024.
Back in Winter of last year, one of the most highly anticipated releases in the Balkans was Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje, the first full-length album of the Croatian black metal band Prognan. In the meanwhile, they did release a compilation album Sve Je Tiho Na Istočnom Frontu on May 24th, 2023, containing rerecorded tracks from their Jama EP and Follow The Blind demo, including some unused works from Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje. Not long after that, the band announced that their second full-length album Sjene Nad Balkanom will be released on January 24th, 2024, serving as a direct continuation of their previous album. With a successful run of their first full-length and strong reputation, it is time to take a look at their second full-length album and see what impending doom stirs in the Shadows over Balkans.
Once again, Prognan took on the musical approach from the predecessor Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje with heavy tremolo picking guitar riffs, blast beats and double-bass drumming and harsh guttural vocals, backed up with orchestrations consisted of trumpets, violins, cellos, choirs and even occasional pianos. The guitar work on this album seems to be more melodic than last time with a more intricate songwriting, and the songs are also heavier, more intense and more aggressive than ever, with a total destruction happening from one song to another. Interestingly enough, the film score elements in their music seem to have taken a very intense approach this time that contributes a lot to the songs by giving them character, with the interesting moments showing on the third track 'Tri Nacije' which has that jolly piano dominated R&B music with bar fight in the background, all the while black metal music is still being played. Another example where the album musically departs from the overall established formula are 'Za One Koji Su Hrabri Samo Kada Ginu' and 'Mrtva Vremena', both tracks which are outstanding for their own display of tragedy and melancholy. The sixth track 'Za One Koji Su Hrabri Samo Kada Ginu' is a somber acoustic song with clean singing vocals, violins and bar crowd cheering in the background, with glasses breaking on the floor and the singer crying at the end, whereas the eight track 'Mrtva Vremena' is a cello oriented song with clean singing vocals and backing vocals, ending with sounds of a woman screaming and crows cawing. Once the album reaches its closure with the final track 'Početak Kraja', not only does it end on a high note, but it also leaves the story open for the continuation, which will definitely lead to the third album that will deal with the events that follow. Lyrically, the album is a direct continuation of the debut Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje and talks about the gloomy period of the Balkan states between 1934 and 1941, covering all the crucial events in that timelapse which lead to the German occupation in WW2.
What really sets this album apart from its predecessor is that it truly feels like a one big cinematic journey with all the sound effects, dialogs and overall storytelling through music, giving you that vibe that you are reliving the scenes from a film scope which matches other wartime movies such as "The Pianist" and "Schindler’s List". The album truly has a lot going on with all the themes and ideas that were expressed in the entire musical output from Prognan, which takes you on this gloomy journey that will make you feel as if you have witnessed all these events yourself with the heavy emotional rollercoaster and feeling of incomprehensible downward spiral from start to finish. What contributes a lot to this album is the general lengthiness of the songs, which for the most part are pretty long and the band uses this opportunity wisely in order to have each song tell its story and express its feelings. I’d say that the biggest highlight apart from the songwriting and the complexity of their arrangements is the album’s capability of hitting you in the feels with such a strong punch, both from a musical and storytelling perspective. I have to say, it certainly is not an easy album to listen to, especially if you are someone who is familiar with Balkan history or occasionally does his research to find interesting bits and historic facts, or perhaps if you are someone whose elders passed their stories from one generation to another or still knows elders who lived to tell the story from their point of view. Production wise, Sjene Nad Balkanom does not differ that much from the predecessor Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje, however it does do an excellent job at giving you plenty to hear this time with acoustics, classical music elements and orchestrations, even in the tracks that leave out the black metal aspect of their music.
Sjene Nad Balkanom is definitely a worthy and mighty sequel that outmatched Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje with its overall execution, marking a one powerful continuation that managed to express even more emotions and not break away the magic that Prognan built from the ashes up. Comparison-wise, it is a better album, it is much more complex and well-thought in terms of the songwriting, with a large strength in numbers that state very loudly that “more is more”. Fans who really liked the previous album will surely love this one, and perhaps feel the same way as I did, and will definitely be more excited with what comes next. In my humble opinion, a band which is so dedicated, focused and strong-willed as Prognan, I think that being primarily a studio project is just not enough for me, because after their triumphant return with their first full-length from last year and with their second-full length on the rise, I am convinced that Prognan’s excellence should be seen live on concert with an orchestra, possibly in national theaters or youth centers, and I believe that decision would sell like hot cakes.
Rating: 9.2 out of 10688