True – Still Life

In any country, metal is a non-native species. After it invades, it either exists by itself or interacts with indigenous music. The former is easy; the currency is black t-shirts. The latter is more problematic. “Folk metal” tends to be either a shotgun marriage of its two elements or “folk music played through distortion”. The result is usually some sort of amped-up polka, and not that interesting.

True are both polka-less and interesting. They have taken on two difficult tasks – being Googleable (at least no one can accuse them of being false), and working Croatian folk aesthetics into death metal. Their trademark is a member playing tambura, the traditional Croatian lute. (For a one-minute introduction to the instrument, see here.)

The instrument works surprisingly well with metal, at least in the way that True use it: as a lead guitar substitute. I’m not familiar with Croatian folk music, so I don’t know if True utilize traditional Croatian tonalities. (The melodies and harmonies sound suitably evil for metal.) But the tremolo picking of True’s tambura recalls black metal. Sometimes blastbeats underlie the tambura; I’ve only heard Akercocke do a similar blastbeat/acoustic instrument pairing.

“The End”

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The tambura’s clear articulation offers a contrast to the distortion underneath. True’s metal is about 85% death metal (Bolt Thrower, Vader) and 15% black metal (Hellhammer). (Three members of True also play in Johann Wolfgang Pozoj, a similarly eclectic but more black metal-oriented outfit.) Despite these meat-and-potatoes influences, songs often stretch long, dipping into mournful passages that suggest Portishead (!). The execution and production are highly professional. True could hold their own against any First World band.

Despite the emphasis on tambura, True sing mostly in English. The results are mixed. Some songs address mundane personal and anti-religious topics, but one song hauntingly sums up Croatia’s history in three lines: “I am Croatia / Croatia is war / I kill for nothing”. Unlike, say, Soulfly, True don’t dabble in folk influences. The tambura runs parallel to and through the metal fabric. It’s new by being old.

Perhaps True’s experiment with tambura isn’t surprising given Croatia’s history with turbo-folk, a bastardization of folk music that involves pop and electronic music. (One analogue would be Indian bhangra.) And like pop and electronic music, metal is malleable due to its simple base: high gain guitars, high levels of aggression. Further hybridization is inevtable as Croatia transitions from Second World to First World status. Thankfully, True have chosen serious music as their foundation.

“Who Am I?”

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— Cosmo Lee

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True MySpace
Amazon (CD, MP3)

Bandcamp (MP3, shirt)