Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Armia "Legenda" Lp, 1991

How do you even start to describe, define or even approach "Legenda"?



I have loved this Lp for years and it is a regular listen at TSN's HQ, and yet, I feel like I don't comprehend its full meaning, that parts of it still escape me. "Legenda" is one of those rare punk records that have several levels of understanding, several layers of meaning. It is hard to grasp but completely enticing, be it on a very basic level (after all, it remains, first and foremost perhaps, a brilliant hardcore-punk record and that is how I first related to it) or from a more conceptual perspective. It has to be pointed out that the language barrier (my Polish is sadly non-existent) is particularly frustrating in this case as I can feel that the lyrics would definitely cast some new, meaningful light upon the album. The automatic translations I have read, although they do uncover some meaning, are useless in the study of the form (I encountered the same problem for the "melancholy Greek punk" series). More than ever, punk-rock makes me want to learn new languages, if only to be able to sing along correctly while showering.


Armia are a fascinating band. I am not knowledgeable enough to talk about what the band did after "Legenda" (I did hear some of it but never took the time to actually listen to it), but their 80's outputs are as powerful as they are unique and intriguing. Armia started in 1985 after Tomasz left Siekiera for whom he was singing (as I understand it, it was over a matter of musical direction, and Siekiera went new-wave after the departure of Tomasz) and founded Armia with guitar-player Robert, who had been part of the legendary, mood-defining Brygada Kryzys and of Izrael, a very popular reggae band (reggae has always been hugely popular in Poland, in fact, outside of England, I think they have the biggest reggae scene in Europe). On the drums was also a former Izrael, Tomasz Kozuchowski, and on the bass was yet another Tomasz (they almost could call themselves "Tomasz Army" really). From the beginning, Armia was a pretty mature band. All the members had had previous band experiences and had developed their musicianship and songwriting skills in the process. Even on their Ep, "Aguirre", you can tell that they knew what they were doing, it doesn't have a "young punk" feel, although it does sound like a band that is still trying to find its real identity, an ever-shifting one in Armia's case.



From the beginning, there was something unique and compelling about Armia. Although the band obviously built on the peculiarly intense Polish punk sound of bands like Dezerter, TZN Xenna, Moskwa, Abaddon and indeed Siekiera, as the texture and the structure of the riffs could attest, there was a different feel, a creative intent that was new, conceptual, almost metaphysical and could be seen in the aesthetics of Armia as much as in their music and words. The use of horns and other "non-punk" instruments gave the band a unique sound and pointed at their desire to create a unique soundscape (the fact that some members had already played in the horns-using Izrael also helped). The first 1987 Lp confirmed the band's amazing potential. Although it lacks the awesome power of "Legenda" and is still quite close to the classic Polish punk sound, some songs hinted at the songwriting tour de force that was to follow. But more important, the first album showed something central to Armia: the narrative intent. If you listen to it closely, there is a storytelling quality to the Lp, albeit in a still imperfect form. Taken individually, for all their undeniable quality as hardcore-punk numbers, the songs don't have the same strength and are not as meaningful as when the Lp is seen as a whole. A feeling of dementia and insanity floats over the album but it can only be heard when you listen to the whole work. That is a crucial thing to keep in mind for the "Legenda" Lp. It literally makes sense as a cohesive unit, a story in the telling, each song giving meaning to the other (I feel "Legenda" is as much a linear story as it is a circular one).



Prior to the recording of "Legenda", Piotr, who had played in Brygada Kryzys and intermittently drummed for Moskwa, and Dariusz (of Israel) joined Armia, on drums and bass respectively. I think the added power that Piotr gave Armia's music through his intense style of drumming cannot be underestimated, as he is obviously a very talented musician. "Legenda" is an ambitious musical project, a multilayered masterpiece that is meaningful on many levels and escapes easy categorization. The production is fantastic: the sound is dark and monumental but unpretentious, powerful but relying on the strength of the composition rather than on petty heaviness, it is also cold and yet organic and epic. In addition to the classic punk instruments, there are some flute, French horn, acoustic guitar, clarinet, trumpet and synth on "Legenda". I am usually very suspicious when punk bands start toying with what I often call "forbidden instruments" because, more often than not, they don't really fit in their songs and the songwriting has not been adapted to their particular sounds. It often sounds like your average punk song but with a bloody sax or violin just ruining everything. Armia's real achievement has been to use these uncommon sonorities (for the time anyway) in order to improve their story, not just their individual songs. The horns increase the epic, monumental quality of the album, possibly even casting an almost ironic, self-reflexive light upon it, and add a subtle moodiness when needed. The synth is very much an atmospheric tool and offers a postindustrial reading of the Soviet epics. For what it is worth, and as irrelevant as it might be, "Legenda" blends the distinctively Polish punk sound of Dezerter (noticeably in the riffs' structure) with the awe-inspiring power of "In darkness"-era Antisect (in the riffs' length and texture, I do hear that) in order to get the perfect ink with which Armia are going to write a darkly ironic, multi-instrumental story about madness and alienation.



More than a journey, "Legenda" is possibly closer to a dantean crusade such is its scope. The album is heavy, relentless and angry, undeniably, and is suffused with a demented and dramatic sense of epics. The presence of horns certainly adds a different texture to the dark, dischargy riffs and arguably even modify their intent as they convey a sense of unreality and foreboding. From the very song, the listener is taken into a overwhelming maelstrom with fast, pummeling drums and epic chorus, expressively potent riffing. The vocals are one of the many high points of the Lp, as Tomasz truly sings on this one with an angry, raucous yet strangely tuneful tone, like a man inhabited with a mad determination. I would not change a single thing to "Legenda"and it is an impossible, and ultimately irrelevant, task to isolate a single song as they all appear to be crucial steps of one story. "Nie ja" is possibly one of the most intense punk songs I have ever listened to, one that is both simple and yet articulate. My favourite has to be "Opowieść Zimowa" though, a passionate 6-minute long epic number that is beautiful in the emotions it invokes in the same way as a storm, with its circumvolutions and fluctuations. The multilayered quality of this song is exhilarating, it feels like a living thing, and I particularly enjoy the layer of classic guitar, closer to surf music than anything, that gives "Opowieść Zimowa" a sense of eeriness. It is truly amazing that Armia managed to put so many different moods, textures and emotions into one single song, and yet not making it sound like a patchwork, a disparate construct. It wouldn't be far-fetched to say that "Legenda" was a landmark in Polish punk history and many bands have tried to recreate the narrative vibe of the album and it is no coincidence if Robert went on to become a skilled producer afterwards (he worked on Post-Regiment and Wlochaty Lp's, which makes so much sense). 





As I said, "Legenda" is incredibly difficult to describe but listening to it as a story is probably the most relevant stance. There are interludes that give fluidity to the album and confer meaning to what precedes or follows. The Don Quijote metaphor that pervades the aesthetics of the Lp tends to indicate that "Legenda" could be a contextualized rewriting. A blinded man living in denial, obsessed with ideas but discarding reality, as pathetic as he is heroic, the Quijote prism can be meaningful on many levels. It could be a comment on post-Soviet Poland (debunking the mythical representation), or on punk-rock, or on the shibboleth of ideology, or on the creative act itself. From what I understand, Armia's lyrics are rather poetical metaphors dealing with the existence of man, with nature, with faith, but there are always a political subtext to them. If anyone has good translations of them, I would be more than grateful.  



  

5 comments:

  1. hi! this is by all means a great review - your intuitions about the song meanings have been very close to the mark; now, I'm a one-time Armia collabolator and I did some translations of their lyrics (to be sung in English, so the focus wasn't exactly on accuracy), I hope they are at least partially close in spirit to the original work; just two of them below:

    THE LEGEND
    let` s look how rain goes down
    that` s how the shadow falls
    through window dusk
    horizon of what happens
    through all these days
    because of some old sin
    the dark and magic might
    this will be our death

    the dawn ahead
    the brand new day ensues
    toward the night
    the further step
    and then the dawn again
    the marvel of the day
    like a small ghost
    there at your toes

    CHORUS
    lift us, lift us, lift us where you will
    the red of blood, the white of snow
    and do remove
    the lazy death
    and deadly sleep
    where you will

    the voice won` t quake
    the steps will not be heard
    and neither will the wind
    take this where time proceeds
    and halt at last
    for thick and even thin
    the house you cannot say
    this will be our death

    the dawn ahead
    the brand new day ensues
    toward the night
    the further step
    and then the dawn again
    the marvel of the day
    like a small ghost
    there at your toes

    REPEAT CHORUS

    the head`s had enough
    the noise of older I
    how can one bear the thought
    that one aims at the wrong
    through all these days
    because of some old sin
    let`s look how rain goes down
    this will be our death

    the dawn ahead
    the brand new day ensues
    toward the night
    the further step
    and then the dawn again
    the marvel of the day
    like a small ghost
    there at your toes

    REPEAT CHORUS

    lyrics: Tom
    translation: Dzyń


    WHAT I HAVE NEVER SEEN (To czego nigdy nie widziałem)
    all the angels are slowly returning to Heavens
    and there underneath we`re looking up
    and each of us is dying anew
    because we`re alone
    moreover we are murderers

    CHORUS
    I`m told that you build
    your little house
    down there in the wasted land
    You are the One
    `cos You don`t want
    and You won`t hesitate
    from the highest tower
    the smallest bird
    that I have never
    I have never seen

    the winged creature it is so late
    when lights were fading I lost my time
    so I feed the fire, a sign for you
    that what was created may now be destroyed

    REPEAT CHORUS

    the rider beheaded had lost the way
    he showed to us the sleepless land
    and all our sin had weighed so much
    and stopped the march

    REPECT CHORUS

    lyrics: Tom
    translation: Dzyń

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    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot for these! Very interesting indeed.

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  2. And you can check this: https://youtu.be/aJqYaq4jQgo

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  3. Indeed, an in-depth review so close to the core of the album. Although it was written by a foreigner. That is a magic piece of music. As a Polish native speaker, I would stress that even if you understand the lyrics, still the meanings and intenions are floating with no fixed reference. It is, in my eyes, the strongest point of the album. It cannot be defined, neither can be any song. Each time you listen to it, it tends to produce new meanings and impressions.
    Well, as it has just started to snow outside my window. A Winter Story - Opowiesc Zimowa will be the song of tonight. And a song of all times, to me.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot man. To be honest, it was one of the most difficult reviews I ever wrote for the blog. I am not surprised to hear that, even to a Polish speaker, the album's essence remains transient and fluid. It is a rare thing in punk-rock (a genre that is meant to be directly accessible) and I feel that's what makes "Legenda" so unique.

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