Aherusia - Nostos ~ An Answer (?)

Aherusia Nostos ~ An Answer (?) cover
Nostos ~ An Answer (?)
Independent Release
I was never, much of a fan of Aherusia’s first couple of albums, considering them to be a neat, if not a little more artistic, version of Rotting Christ, a band I was never too big on, with the exception of a couple of albums, due to their poor English enunciation. This however totally changed around, when the former released their third album, “Prometheus”, an ambitious concept album, which decides to modernize and give its own interpretation to the Promethean myth. I thought it to be one of the most epic pieces of music ever in contemporary music, as a whole, perfectly blending poetic lyrics in Koine Greek and rock, a form that is not Greek, but the band managed to distort enough and fit well with traditional elements in a potent amalgam.
I am not aware how the band could easily top that, but mainman George Voreas has announced a plan to make the next proper album another concept, dedicated to Dionysus Bacchus. In the meantime Aherusia return with their 4th album, “Nostos ~ An Answer (?)” that acts as a stopgap between those two releases; it’s another concept that sets eleven traditional songs (rearranged to fit the band’s style) and poems that are given original orchestrations, irrational in character, into a journey throughout Hellas, which seeks to bind them all with a common thread of meaning. The concept of emigration and feeling homesick are prominent in all those songs. But what exactly home is – can vary greatly and it’s not always a geographical sense… some people seek their homeland, other love, some value freedom, more than life itself…
The first song Αράπη Σούστα/Sarac’s Dance” despite being an instrumental is a bit of a war-dance, which recounts an incident from the Island of Chios, where once a noble Saracen prince, seduced by the beauty of a local woman, tries to win her affections. Unbeknownst to him, she’s the betrothed to the local warchief and what ensues is a literal “dance of death” at the local fair. It’s a majestic, hard hitting take on the traditional, that is very faithful to the original form of this epic dance, albeit, far heavier.
Τσάμπασιν/Tsampasin” is a Pontiac song/dance with lyrics that lament the razing to the ground of the eponymous township, prior to the genocide of the Pontic people by the Ottomans some time ago. It’s heavy as it is subject matter and it pays tribute to the sad loss of life and natura.
Αγρίμια/Wild Beasts” is a well-known Rizitiko song of Crete, a polyphonic chant that glorifies those who rebelled against the Venetian rule of Crete and chose to live free in the steep mountains waging a primitive type of guerrilla warfare. The real Chainides. While the vocal melody is traditional the melody that goes with it, is attributed to the band.
Έρι Πάλι/Eri Pali” is a syrtos/kalamatianos dance from the islet of Psara, praising the warring efforts/piracy against the Ottomans, especially around the city/port of Antalya (modern day Southern Turkey.) It segues into “Ικαριώτικος Παλαιός/ Old Icarian Dance”, which comes from the eponymous island and is immensely popular all around Greece, but especially in the Aegean territories. In the first part the traditional melody is augmented by the band’s own ornamentation while the Icariot dance is performed in the traditional way, albeit heavier.
Ανάθεμα τον Αίτιο/Curse the Cur” is a fine example of Carsilama Dance from the island of Lesvos, where the band’s rearrangement of the traditional melody and the additions they have come up with result in an amazing blend. The song’s inherent lyricism, where a man begs that his lady doesn’t pay heed of vicious rumors that try to tear them apart is hugely exemplified by the heavy rhythm and soulful singing making it a real gem.
Keeping with the subject of separation from loved one’s the even heavier ThracianΑντΆμαν Παλικάρι/Fare thee well, laddie, oh” is given a wholly original but also very fitting musical score. It’s the lament of a local, who during the reign of the Ottoman empire decides to leave and enlist himself as a mercenary in some European Army, only to be discontent by his station and unable to forget his childhood’s sweetheart that he left behind.
Παιδιά της Σαμαρίνας/Samarina’s Sons” is a very well-known Tsamikos dance, (from Grevena of Macedonia) where the hero, who’s gone from Samarina to aid against the siege of Messolongion fatally wounded implores his friends to lie to his family and betrothed about his demise, telling them instead that he abandoned them. A really tragic story… it segues into the even more tragically epic, but also immensely heroic Έχε Γεια/Farewell Life” from Soulion of Heppirus, the song that commemorates the mass suicide of around sixty women along with their infants, who when ambushed by a regiment of Ali Pasha, during the Souliote War in December of 1803, chose to fall to the deep chasm and to their deaths than surrender. The story goes that they did so, dancing and singing… I honestly felt tear eyed, not only because of the subject matter, but also by how honest and anguished the delivery is. Both those songs adapt the base melodies, but add multiple layers of orchestration.
Last but not least, Μια Λυγερή Τραγούδαγε/A willowy Lass was Singing” from Constantinople, which is set to music by the band, is a bizarre almost doomy, semi spoke chant (the music could have come from “Prometheus”). In the song a young woman is lamenting that her betrothed, left her and found new love in foreign lands… the song’s so sad that the sea itself freezes over as does pretty much everything else… a young traveler on a ship implores her to change her tune, so he can reach the port, but her heartbreak keeps her from doing so. Her song turns into a hellish curse towards her betrothed, upon whom she wishes a fate worse than dying. What becomes of the journeyman is anyone’s guess.
The album examines popular tropes and treads familiar territory, but the way in which it does approach them is that of a sad, yet proud and powerful elegy and not that of a sorrowful lament. People are driven from their birthplaces for a myriad of reasons. Some cut all ties and never look back, while others chose to keep their ethnic identity, as a reference point for their existence, a compass to guide them into the unknown, a means to help them face a brave new world of infinite possibilities that is opening in front of them with a sense of belonging. That same “blessing” can also be a burden, as the longing of return fills their souls, far too often with nostalgia.
While cover albums are rarely this good, this one adds original arrangements next to the traditional melodies, in a really refreshing and challenging way, making it sound vital and interesting. It almost feels as these songs were waiting for such a treatment since their inception and despite the production being a little less pristine than the one of “Prometheus”, it does very little to mar the end result. In fact, the somewhat less refined mix, actually works better for some of them. The excellent woodcut cover artwork is once more a work of Fotis Varthis (Aherusia, Voic) and I guess he’s peerless at what he does, comparable only with masters of the form.
Who’s coming back? Which one? How strong can love be? The answers lie within…