We’ve seen Europeans cover famous rock and metal bands in an American folk style—Finnish musicians playing AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Dio in Appalachian folk, to be exact. Now, prepare to hear famous rock and metal bands in a distinctively European folk style: Medieval Belarusian folk, played by the beautifully named Stary Olsa. The band’s name derives from a stream in East Belarus—their clothing, instrumentation, and rhythms from an early Lithuanian state called the Grand Duchy—but the songs are all 20th century radio fodder. Above, see them do Deep Purple’s “Child in Time,” and below, they tackle the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication.”
Stary Olsa’s cover of Metallica’s “One” (further down), already an incredibly dramatic song, works particularly well in their syncopated Spartan style. The sounds and costuming of the accomplished Belarusian musicians will inevitably remind you—if you haven’t been under a rock in Belarus—of that Medieval-style fantasy show in which your favorite characters meet horribly violent ends week after week.
When we look at the bloody history of Medieval Europe, the gruesomeness of Westeros can seem like only a slight exaggeration—dragons and ice zombies aside—of the so-called “dark ages.” These associations, and the solemnity of the song selection and starkness of the voices and instruments, lend Stary Olsa’s performances a gravitas that, frankly, elevates some of the material far above its pop origins (I’m looking at you, Red Hot Chili Peppers).
In order for such meldings of styles, periods, and cultures to work, whether they be played for laughs or deeply serious, the musicianship must be top notch. Such was the case with Finnish bluegrass metal cover band Steve ‘N’ Seagulls, and such is certainly the case with Stary Olsa, who have appeared on Belarusian TV (from which some of these videos come) and are currently finding a level of popularity outside their native country that few Belarusian bands have achieved. It’s unlikely we’ll see them soon on the rock festival circuit, but their status as an internet sensation is all but guaranteed. Just below, see the band translate a medley of The Beatles’ “Obla-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Yellow Submarine” into their musical idiom, proving that they don’t just do dark, haunting, and mysterious; they’re also positively danceable.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Yellow Submarine really rocked. It probably would have knocked Green Sleeves out of the Number 1 spot.
I have always thought “Child In Time” had a medieval sound to it since I first heard it in 1971. Well done!
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