Heinali – Kyiv Eternal (Injazero Records, 2023)

Sometimes, when I come back to my home city of Birmingham, I wonder how it will feel now, in what way it will be different to my previous knowing. In many ways the mood, or as the Zoomers would say the “vibe” of the city has changed little since my youth, though every new visit now does seem to be peppered with new buildings and new road layouts and so on that change the fabric of the familiar.

I left this place willingly though, and the evolution of both myself and my original home are both the developments that one would expect as life is lived. It is difficult therefore to imagine having to flee your home, indeed, the cultural and historic centre of your country, in the face of war: what does that do to one’s psyche? How can one come to terms with the threat of aerial bombardment, of the places and people you loved lost to cruise missile strikes in the heart of the most essential struggle for existence.

Heinali’sĀ Kyiv EternalĀ isn’t what I would call a requiem exactly, Kyiv isn’t truly lost afterall, but much of the field recording material that comprises this album was recorded years ago. No, amidst the humble sounds of city life and drones and synth loops is a place and time of remembering, soft and delicate, caught in a glassy and hardened sense of resolve: this must be fought for.

At first it rattles along, dragging us through city streets via the tram system on a plaintive journey through old neighbourhoods in opening “Tramvai 14”, each stop announced brightly in Ukrainian and English with all the perfunctory airs of a tannoy system. “Stantsiia Maidan Nezalezhnosti” melts in on its little arrival jingle, only to be paved over by abrupt drone that breaks hard into “Borshchachivka at Night” in lonely, spectral vocal hums and darkling looped synths ala 36’s older material.

Elsewhere, “Shuliavka in Winter” emerges out of snow and sodium light, a woman’s voice softly carried over some distant speaker system only to be ground out by rattling and oscillating tones and a scouring drone line, a burial under the sky’s white masses. It pitches into the bleakest piece “Night Walk”, some Aphex Twin reminiscence as a distal church bell tolls through the increasing distortion of its spartan synth chords, plodding sadly through lost streets and metro stations.

There’s plenty of brighter moments to be found though: “Piezazhna Aleia” exhales in a series of loving, breathy sighs, a soft static washing over the twinkling electronics: it’s not hope here, but rather a sense of lightness, even in retrograde. Its fellow interior tracks “Rare Birds” and “Silpo” don’t quite reach the same ethereal heights, but each have their own quality. The former thrums in elevated Fenneszian drone, snippets of voice peppering the mix simply caught of the street, an ode to the city’s energy and liveliness: the latter meanwhile slinks back slightly to glassier refractions and reflections.

Mostly they pale in the face of the title track though: “Night Walk” finally closes out on the sharp arrhythmia of the rain to ascend into the faux-organ chords of “Kyiv Eternal”, rising and buzzing and glowing as it steps into the light of the city that refuses to bend in the face of the aggressor and holds claim to its independence, and the strength of its people.

This was released on the anniversary of the Russian invasion and we’re rapidly approaching the second anniversary now: with no apparent end in sight we can only hope that the conflict will one day be over, though for the Kyivans no matter what happens, the city they once knew no longer exists, except in the hearts and minds of those who lived it before all this.