GHOST SHIP: premier hard rock exponents CHORNY OBELISK at Izvestia Hall last year were SO last year. – Generation P: Edward Crabtree’s blog.
I thought it would be good to check
out a new venue for a change. Izvestia Hall is located in the former building
of the publishing and print plant of the first Soviet newspaper – Izvestia –
The publishers of this, after six
years since starting in 1918, needed a new headquarters for their flourishing concern.
In 1924 architects were invited to compete for the honour of being the designer
of such a new building. Urban planner Grigory Barkhin’s Constructivist number
won the day and it began to be built a short time thereafter. Izvestia itself
closed shop in 2011. The current building, now an all-purpose venue for all
manner of social events, has been restored to something like its former Modernist
glory by Ginsburg Architects headed by Alexey Ginsburg.
Such a renovated relic seems like fitting host for a band like CHORNY OBELISK. This act too has lost its original driving purpose: their charismatic lead singer and bassist, Anatoly Krupnov, died 25 years back at just 31, after forming the band in Moscow in 1986. The current assembly – a string and drum four piece combo lead by 54-year-old rock veteran Dmitry Borisenkov – represents a reboot undertaken in 1999 which continues to sail despite the loss of its captain, like some sort of ghost ship.
They are at least gifted with an evocative name – Black Obelisk (and extra points to them if this is a tribute to the German novelist Maria Remarque’s first novel) and overall have some thirteen studio albums in their name. Their main rivals on the same turf – Aria – are often called `the Russian Iron Maiden` and in the same way CHORNY OBELISK could be seen as (although it fails to do justice to the variety of their output) `the Russian Motorhead`.
This event was packaged as being a special 35-year anniversary. Just as, from this year Elizium’s and Lumen’s shows were anniversaries. (What does this tell us about the state of the contemporary Russian music scene?)
A crowd of about a thousand forty and
fifty somethings filed in from a snow-bound Sunday on December 19th
last year to have their QR codes and vaccine status scrutinized. They seemed to
be in groups of friends composed of husbands and wives and had not brought
their children. I saw few people below their age except for one or two blue
haired and dreadlocked students here to show their respects.
The entrance of the main attraction
was drumrolled by a lit backstage legend announcing their 35th year.
Then a telescopic rifle sight seeking a target circled on the screen against a
brick walled background. Bee Gees disco music played (I gather that this
was some kind of established in-joke). The masses meanwhile chanted `Chor – ny Ob-El
The band played onstage for around three hours and thrashed out quite a beef goulash of a sound for four people (albeit sometimes aided by pre-recorded keyboard additions). The fans, in high spirits, joined in with plenty of rhythmic clapping and `Hey-hey-hey`s.
Borisenkov, with a caul covering his
bald pate, was a genial host but seemed more the musician than any kind of ring
leading front man.
The bassist and backing vocalist,
Daniil Zakharenkov – resembling a piratical Robbie Coltrane -tried to
compensate by working hard to whip up a `rock and roll party` ambience by
gurning at the audience and so on.
The axe wielder – and original band member – Mikhail Svetlov – by contrast seemed a little bored. After pointing to some individuals in the crowd with mock-familiarity, he lapsed into dead-eyed mode, looking like an economics lecturer worrying about the state of his car.
This being a birthday bash, some
`unexpected` guests clambered onto the stage to help out. I recognised none of
these stars but can tell you that one of them was a white-haired plump guy in
all denim with a growly voice and another was a tall dark young man in some
sort of uniform-like get up who resembled a sinister leader of some kind of
The band did showcase quite a spectrum of song styles. Of course, there was state-of-the-art Eighties style Metal but we also got some speed core punk as well as the inevitable sing-a-long ballads. They even dusted down some iconic golden oldies such as `Ya Ostanous` (`I will Stay`) from 1994. When the audience started getting showered by glitter bombs I decided to take my leave.
It is hard not to feel that CHORNY OBELISK would have cut a more significant profile back in the mid-Eighties when Gorbachev had not been long in the Kremlin and they were offering something fresh and with a more characterful kingpin. They now appear to be going through the motions a bit even if they do still deliver some satisfying adrenaline friendly riffs.
I feel that Borisenkov’s standardized
vocal contribution provides no substitute for Kuprinov’s Kilminster-like roar.
Indeed, at times I felt myself wishing that I could switch off the singing the
better to bask in the rock instrumentals.
All that said, in comparison with Aria, the Obelisks are the edgier and more authentic of the two bands.