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From Black Sea Weed To Art In Post-Soviet Ukraine, Jinjer Brings Fresh Dose Of Reality To The Metal Scene

From Black Sea Weed To Art In Post-Soviet Ukraine, Jinjer Brings Fresh Dose Of Reality To The Metal Scene
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It was not a pleasant night in Brooklyn.

Multiple days of steady rains paved the streets with sewer grime and the common stench of urine that, on a bad day, smacks you in the face with all the subtlety of a brick to the face.

Alongside the outer wall of The Kingsland, about hundred or so rabid fans of the Ukrainian metal band, Jinjer, absorbed the warm drizzle with enthusiasm.

I met with bassist Eugene Kostyuk in a makeshift greenroom, which actually looked more like the set of an amateur porn flick than anything else. We sat on a queen-sized bed, most likely wondering whether or not the other person was going to pull out a bottle of chloroform and a dirty rag. No such luck, but boy did I get some serious insight on how the members of Jinjer grew up and how their lives in Ukraine influence their music, which is some of the most powerful aural art I’ve heard in years.

Influenced By Environment

According to Kostyuk, the band’s music has absolutely been influenced by its environment, which was not particularly conducive to the creation of bubble gum pop, rainbows and unicorns.

“It was hard. We didn’t have much money. We didn’t have much to eat. Maybe some meat a few times a month,” Eugene said. “I had never even been to a restaurant until I was 17, unless you count the time my father took me to a bar for my first drink when I was 13.”

An interesting anecdote, to be sure. But the fact is, Eugene and his band mates essentially grew up during the fall of the Soviet Union. They felt the brunt of a collapsing economy and a political and social uncertainty that still exists today.

To be honest, I felt somewhat stupid asking Eugene if his surroundings had any affect on the band’s music. How could it not? And perhaps this is one of the reasons Jinjer’s music feels so powerful and urgent. While I don’t buy this idea that an artist must struggle to create brilliance, to deny that struggle can and does influence one’s art would be foolish.

'When Empires Collide'

Certainly this is the case with the song, “When Two Empires Collide,” which is a very clear reaction to the violence that has been forced upon Ukraine by foreign aggressors.

Two eagles are cruising around over my land

Two eagles are trying to break a branch they've already bent

Two martial birds hunting each other

Two pairs of wings try to bring a brother up against his brother

To every metal and hardcore band out there that parades chipped shoulders and hostility towards “the man,” you’ll never be as hard as four musicians that likely rehearsed behind the backdrop of foreign invasions and commercial airliners being shot down and falling from the sky.

That’s the reality of Ukraine, so I must admit I felt a bit silly asking about the “cannabis scene” in Ukraine. But if one believes the prohibition of cannabis is a human rights violation, than certainly this question has relevance.

Marijuana Legalization

Now from what I’ve read, Ukraine seems to be the kind of place where you can’t get good weed unless you know someone, and if you’re a foreigner, be ready for a healthy shakedown from the cops if you get caught.

But as it turns out, it’s a bit more involved than that.

After speaking with Eugene, I learned that it’s not just foreigners that get hustled by law enforcement, but Ukrainian citizens, too. That being said, I also got the impression that a younger generation of Ukrainians is far more in favor of legalization than an older, more conservative generation that still seems to call the shots.

The folks in Jinjer don’t seem to be too giddy over weed, except for guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov, who was apparently quite taken with some of our dispensaries in the states that have legalized the adult use of cannabis.

Still, given the potential risks that come with consuming cannabis in Ukraine, I suspect that despite their support of legalization, the good folks in Jinjer aren’t likely to get you stoned at a show in Kiev. But that doesn’t mean some headway isn’t being made. In fact, last year, a Ukrainian mayor suggested Ukraine become Europe’s first center for hemp therapy.

Return Of Hemp

Michel Tereshchenko, the mayor of the city of Hlukhiv, is eager to return to a hemp industry that was actually quite vibrant in the early 1900s, when the hemp breeding department at the Institute of Bast Crops in Hlukhiv was fully operational. At the time, this was one of the world’s biggest centers for developing new varieties of hemp. Today, Tereshchenko wants to breathe new life into something that could actually prosper in Ukraine.

There have also been a handful of small protest rallies supporting the decriminalization of cannabis in Ukraine, but if you want to just head out to the beaches of Odessa and smoke a little weed, it might be more hassle than it’s worth. So if you’re fortunate enough to catch Jinjer in the US, I would recommend not being stingy with your weed and offer these good people a taste of your medicine. They deserve it.

In the meantime, it you love heavy music, and you have any sense about yourself, check out Jinjer. There are few metal bands out there bringing this kind of intense aggression and integrity to the scene. The musicianship is top notch, vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk is a fucking snake charmer, and, quite frankly, Jinjer could end up being the biggest thing to come out of Ukraine since Mila Kunis and borscht. Both wonderful exports, but have nothing on Jinjer.

Photo courtesy of Jinjer.

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