We Will Never Die opens with Albert Kuvezin strumming a Delta blues-style guitar flourish and singing with a guttural growl, two of the most essential elements of Yat-Kha’s Tuvan folk-meets-raw rock style. Soon, they’re joined by a third: Sholban Mongush’s horsehead igil, a heavenly drone that grounds “Kongurgai” firmly in the mountains and plains of southeastern Siberia. As Kuvezin breaks into a loping triple meter and lets loose with his roaring kanzat kargyraa – a particularly deep form of throat-singing – he fills the vast sonic landscape. Yat-Kha is riding again.
It’s been six years since Yat-Kha’s last release – Live at Stray Dog Club, a recorded gig with a bootleg vibe – and 11 since the last new studio material, founder Kuvezin’s avant-garde Poets and Lighthouses. In 30 years of recording, the collective, a rotating cast of mostly Tuvan and Russian iconoclasts centered around Kuvezin’s creative dynamism, has played in many spaces: folk punk, worldbeat, classic rock covers. We Will Never Die sees the band at its most stripped-down, Kuvezin and Mongush recording on their own in the wake of a 2019 tour and, in some cases, on the heels of pandemic-era travel restrictions.
Even with such a small cohort, there is no space too big for Yat-Kha to command. Sometimes melancholy and always energetic, We Will Never Die is an album of sonorous substance. “We Will Never Die” serves as a reminder of how poignantly Kuvezin lends his grit to slow ballads, while “Shartylaam” sees Mongush’s igil rise to ecstatic heights as Kuvezin sings quick, tuneful verses. The guitar arpeggi on “Umyvalsya Noshyu Na Dvore” lead some of the album’s most blissful string work, laying a mellifluous foundation for igil fantasy. The instrumental track “Ak-Oruk” glistens, layers of guitar brilliant over blunt percussion. “Bodap Choran” sees the igil and guitar come together in a brightly lit dance beneath Kuvezin’s swaying voice. “On the Path (Eternal Tengri Will Call Us)”, the album’s final original track, marches forward with a slow, deliberate pace, Kuvezin alone singing and playing his way forward.
Kuvezin pays homage to his influences with a pair of covers, as well. Black Sabbath’s lonesome “Solitude” lends itself especially well to the addition of khomuz and kargyraa. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sees Kuvezin take a fairly straightforward approach to adapt the instrument in question, though the higher vocal parts sometimes falter from sweet to strained. Both, though, are plainly heartfelt and serve as reminders of how much Yat-Kha’s variety of Tuvan throat-singing – an early world music darling – draws on a myriad of influences from across the endless popular music spectrum.
It is immensely satisfying to hear new music of any kind from the ever-innovative minds of Yat-Kha. Even better, though, is the sheer quality of We Will Never Die. Laid bare, Yat-Kha’s sound today rivals even the best of its work: the tightness of Yenisei-Punk, the intrigue of tuva.rock, the subdued beauty of Dalai Beldiri. The instruments are fresh, and Kuvezin’s voice is still unique and untouchably so. Yat-Kha still does what no one else can do, and, as their latest album title promises, their musical practices endure all the while.