By the end of the 1980s, it was clear the USSR was in a decrepit state and on the verge of collapse. A combination of bad central planning and external pressures had essentially left the socialist countries in a sclerotic state. Gorbachev’s implementation of “perestroika” and “glasnost”, political and economic reforms which opened and liberalized the Soviet economy were attempts to make Socialism more efficient but ones that ultimately hastened the demise of the USSR.
While the official dissolution of the USSR took place on the 26th of December 1991, many of the countries in the union had already broken apart. Among these was Georgia, a small country in the Caucasus bordering Russia and Turkey. After a referendum held on the 31st of March 1991, Georgia declared its independence and soon elected their first president (Zviad Gamsakhurdia) as a democratic republic.
While he was soon removed in a coup d’etat and the country would quickly plunge into a civil war, 1991 marked a brief moment of optimist in the Georgian population of what the future could hold. An optimism that is somewhat reflected in the first album of Rkinis Raindi (Iron Knight in Georgian).
Rkinis Raindi were a heavy metal/hard rock act formed in Gori (Stalin’s hometown) that had a short-lived career from 1991 until roughly 1994. Like other Soviet acts, they likely managed to obtain foreign rock music through the black market or buying Melodiya (the official state owned record company of the USSR) pressings of famous international acts. Calling Rkinis Raindi’s short 25 minute debut purely heavy metal is a bit disingenuous. If anything, the album is a collation of late 70s Hard Rock and early 80s Heavy Metal tropes – synthy, melodic and very saccharine at times. If you took early Malmsteem mixed with Rainbow/Dio and added a dash of Judas Priest – you’d get a good idea of what to expect from the band.
Luckily, Rkinis Raindi are good at grabbing your attention. The record opens with a 7 minute long epic, “ინგრევა მონობის კოშკი” (The Tower of Slavery is Crumbling). After an eerie synth intro, we get to one of the strongest parts of the album – the vocal delivery of the lead singer, Roin Meladze. You could be forgiven in thinking Roin received classical training for his lines, as he delivers with excellent intonation and harmony. In spite not understanding the lyrics, one can’t help trying to sing along to the backdrop of a rhythm section reminiscent of Holy Diver and very soothing synth work.
In spite of its blatant homages, the band can excel at straddling the line between a harder metallic sound and more commercial, melodic sound. The mid-paced “შავი მხედარი” (Black Knight) exhibits this to the fullest – with Roin delivering some of his most passionate singing. “იესუს” (Iesus) is tied with the first track as the highlight of the album. Easily the fastest song on the album, it has to be one of the most infectiously catchy Soviet metal songs of all time – sugar-sweet vocals, with a quirky, fast solo and even a decent sounding keyboard interlude. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible not to try and sign along.
Of course, like most works from this era, Rkinis Raindi are not without their faults. The razor thin production does a disservice to the guitar work, which many times sounds drowned out in favour of the synths. Obviously the band cannot be faulted for the shoddy production given it’s surprising they would even have a budget to record a full length. Yet for me the biggest flaw is when the band go full soft rock, as seen by the syrupy ballad tacked at the end of the record. It doesn’t add much and deflates the upbeat feeling the record gave in previous songs. However, given the future direction of the band, this is not surprising (the following two albums are synthy rock).
Rkinis Raindi’s first album is an interesting glimpse of metal music from the late Soviet Union. While nothing excessively original, that is not the point of the record. Like many peers from nearby countries, they were likely young musicians eager to showcase their love of Western music and optimism for what the future held. The band managed to release two more albums in the midst of the civil war, both efforts that left whatever small metal leanings they might have had. If you’re the type of person always on the search for good music that came from behind the iron curtain, I recommend this release. More than anything, I urge anybody to check out their only music video, which is a visual masterpiece in every sense of the word…
Album rating: 75/100
Favorite track: The Tower of Slavery is Crumbling