Referring to a black metal record as “pretty” strikes me as a bit odd, but Haze of Summer’s Znoi fits no other description so completely. Haunting melodies flow through the bleak guitar riffs and coarse shrieks, blunting the pure aggression and intertwining it with a sense of delicate beauty. As such, the record is a surprisingly easy listen; whereas most black metal albums are dense and somewhat draining, Znoi is remarkably light on the ears and accessible, its sense of melody consistently at the forefront. It’s a black metal record with the potential to find some fans well outside of the genre’s breadbasket, yet boasts more than enough riffs to earn a pass from the purists.
Though Haze of Summer’s callous, cold style of riffing reflects the frozen tundra of their Russian homeland, the inclusion of folksy, acoustic elements adds a warmer flair. The periodic addition of clips of the band laughing and chatting in their native tongue further contributes to this atmosphere, while the juxtaposition of these interjections with solemn black metal riffs is a reasonably effective and emotional touch. With that being said, these clips are too lengthy and frequent; a mood-setting interjection has the potential to be evocative and interesting if utilized sparingly, but Haze of Summer overuse this device to the point of annoyance. Each song is more than good enough to stand on its own, so I can’t exactly wrap my head around the band’s insistence on interrupting consistently excellent material.
Baffling interludes aside, Znoi is a damn good melodic black metal record. Haze of Summer take risks, and are all the better for it—“June” uses backing synths to excellent effect, while the inclusion of what sounds like an accordion in “July” and “August” lifts them to brighter, catchier heights. Znoi brings the goods from a purely riff-centric standpoint as well, boasting an abundance of catchy and bouncy licks. While enjoyable on their own, these elements prove most successful and memorable when layered upon one another in beautiful melodic climaxes. In these moments, Haze of Summer hit their stride, conjuring dazzling walls of sound and emotion.
Though undeniably black metal, it’s one of the most curiously accessible heavy records I’ve heard this year. Equal parts aggression and summery beauty, Znoi transcends the genre’s usual barriers and defines itself as a wholly unique artistic statement. While not perfect by any stretch, nor likely to impress the “trve” crowd of black metal enthusiasts, it’s an album that triumphantly blazes its own path and kicks genre tropes to the curb. Znoi is slick as ice and more than a little poppy, but unabashedly so.