Ksilema – Ksilema

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Label: Ruined Smile Records

Sometimes, a record can come along and remind you of exactly why a genre or sub-style felt so important in your youth. The self-titled record by Ksilema is one such release. Hailing from Belarus, they play very loud and chaotic emo/hardcore/punk that reminds me of those days in my late teens when every new record I heard felt like a major discovery and sounded deeply important. It’s loud, it’s urgent, and above all, it’s deeply compelling and hugely exciting.

Compiling their self-titled EP, original demo, and split with Scenario, these 11 tracks are – without exception – full of energy and passion, clearly the product of a group of friends who have the talent to back up their desire to make music that sounds like it means something. There’s some top class guitar work that often brings to mind the likes of Hot Cross and other Level Plane bands, and the song-writing reminds me of the European emo/hardcore I was in to just after the turn of the millennium. Some moments even possess the same ambitious, reckless atmosphere At The Drive-In captured shortly before they imploded. There’s plenty of twists and turns, structured in such a way that keeps the songs moving forwards, always forwards, with momentum and pace that is impossible to resist. It’s the kind of record that, at the end of a long day, will fill you with energy again.

But what makes the record so special and note-worthy is that it doesn’t just rely on that energy to succeed. Many punk records are reliant on simply being fast and loud, but Ksilema know that it’s also important to make use of dynamics, to vary the tempo and emphasis. The skill with which a band make use of such features largely dictates how successful they will be at playing this style of emo, and Ksilema succeed extremely well. Some of the moments – such as halfway through second track “terra plana”, where the band slow things down and the focus is placed on the interplay between bass and guitar lines; or the shift a third of the way in to “время смоет” – are absolutely breath-taking. It makes me think it’s the kind of movement and songs Fugazi might have written if they had committed to being fast and loud. The dynamics and shifts are that good.

There’s a few rough edges, admittedly, but in a way, that adds to the charm. The production is suitably rough and warm, capturing the band’s energy perfectly, giving them the right level of clarity without things becoming too clean and polished. And given that it’s a compilation of three different records, the contrast in sounds between some of the songs can seem a touch jarring towards the end of the album, but it’s not enough to throw the record off it’s stride or to be more than a minor criticism. Rather, this is a superb release, one that I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending to anyone who likes their punk to be fast, loud, and passionate. It possess that certain indefinable something that makes a record sound important, and for an album to do that to me some fifteen years after first discovering punk rock is quite a feat. Along with the recdent album from Plaids, this album ensures that it’s been a good year for emotional punk rock. Plus the insert features a picture of them playing in front of a Hardcore Help Foundation banner. Bonus points for that.

Ksilema is available for free streaming and download via Bandcamp. A cassette version limited to 31 copies is available via Ruined Smile Records.

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