The flourishing Eastern European post-punk scene has given way to a boom of dark, rhythmic, and powerful new activity. One of the most original and captivating artists to recently emerge from this scene is Kiev, Ukraine's Morwan. The solo project of Alex Ashtaui, Morwan evolved from an earlier post-punk project, 563 (Pyat'shest'tri). Searching for a new direction, Ashtaui circled back to his half-Ukrainian, half-Arab roots, arriving at the perfect crossroads - a sonic aesthetic informed by both ethic tradition and the familiar territory of dark, driving post-punk. Ashtaui cites additional influence from contemporary Russian groups Utro and Shortparis, as well as the industrial/experimental sounds of Swans.
Zola-Zemlya, Morwan's second release, is an exceptionally original piece of work. It is an album that reaches to the furthest corners of post-punk, further revealing a deep connection to the ethnic sounds of both Arabic and Slavic tradition. There is a profound reverence for nature in Morwan's lyrics - as Ashtaui best explains, "The nature in songs acts as a fundamental force, a given from which you cannot escape. With the help of metaphors associated specifically with nature I tell about some of my personal experiences and stories." Zola-Zemlya is equal parts primitive and contemporary, as traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation and structures are woven through driving, modern post-punk rhythms. Morwan's genius shines across all five tracks, a sound both genre-expansive and futuristic.
Our take: Zola-Zemya is the debut LP from this project out of Kiev, Ukraine, a locale we don’t hear from too often around here. While it’s on Feel It Records, it’s not like any of their previous releases. Feel It puts out some of the most forward-thinking music in the punk underground these days, but this stands out even on their eclectic roster. There is some inspiration from the post-punk era, but Morwan is about as far from a retread or a soundalike as you can get (or, at least, if there are older bands that sound like this, then I haven’t heard them). When I first listened, the elements that stuck out to me were the “eastern” sounding melodies and traditional Arabic instrumentation. I’ve listened to a lot of psychedelic and jazz music that explores these types of sounds, but I’ve never heard an artist who melded them with driving and atmospheric post-punk in this way, and I found it immediately captivating. As I’ve continued to listen, this record only seems more unique and enigmatic. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard, but it has just enough of the music I already know and love to make me feel at home. The production is also warm and raw, more like a strong DIY release than something that’s shooting for wider accessibility. This is so unique that I’m a long way from understanding it—much less describing it—but I can say that if you crave bands that excite you with their originality and innovation, this is a must buy.