Friday, November 10, 2006
XIII Stoleti: The Best Gothic Rock Band You've Never Heard Of 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

[UPDATE: One sole three-minute video segment of video exists on YouTube, which looks like XIII. Stoleti at one of the annual "Castle Party" concerts in Europe. No further details available, but you can watch the first half of "Elizabeth" performed live.]

It's not easy to surprise this music fan after over three decades of collecting, and I admit I'm often late to the party when it comes to appreciating new bands. But this one is a fascinating find - and a challenging one to explore, since the band is virtually unknown outside of Europe. Czech goth masters XIII Stoleti (Czech for "13th Century") have been on the scene since 1992, lauded as that nation's "Sisters of Mercy, Cassandra Complex, and Bauhaus rolled into one."

Founded by brothers Paul and Peter Stepan (with current bassist Martin Soukup and Ollie Rysava on keyboards) the band melds heavy gothic crunch and poetic lyrics with the chilly synth-rock Eastern Europeans gobble up like candy. They're good - really good - and they hail from Jihlava, CZ.* Czech goths, you ask? Let's face it: from winter's darkness on grey concrete cityscapes, to medieval spires and cathedral ossuaries, Central and Eastern Europe ARE Goth, personified. Heck, even Chernobyl is goth, if you ask me.

So...I got my hands on a copy of their midperiod 1998 album Ztraceni v Karpatech ["Lost in the Carpathians"] around Halloween (when else?). This 7-song album closes with the show-stopper anthem "Elizabeth," a grand 7:45 paean to Alzbeta [Erzebet] Báthory, the Blood Countess of Cachtice (part of Slovakia near the Hungarian border) - the one that allegedly tortured and exsanguinated over 600 maidens to preserve her youthful beauty by bathing in their blood. Creepy, yes - but a pretty amazing song, nonetheless.
Elizabeth by XIII Stoleti [Translated by L.R.]

Jako černá orchidei vždy k ránu uvadáš, (Like the Black Orchid, ever fading by dawn)
noci plné temných tanc?, píse? nepoznáš. (Nights filled with shadowy dances, their songs to you unknown)
Nahé tělo vzýváš rudou koupelí, (Your naked body arises from beneath the crimson spell)
temné tóny varhan veže hradu hlídají. (Dark organ tones; the castle towers guard well)
[: Elizabeth, tvá krvavá cesta bohu hříchem se zdá, (Elizabeth, your bloody path a sin against God)
Elizabeth, jsi hledaná, milovaná. :] (Elizabeth, are you seeking, beloved...?)

Zrozená jsi v horách temné Transylvanie, (Born of the mountains in dark Transylvania)
moc a křídla draku ve tvých žilách koluje. (Might of the dragon's wings that flows within your veins)
Prastarý je národ který zrodil sestru svou, (Ancient the land that gave birth to your kind [sisterhood])
jsi jeho bílé svědomí, dcera temnot krá?í tmou. (Within its purest conscience, the Daughter of Darkess in shadow treads)

[: Elizabeth, tvá krvavá cesta bohu hříchem se zdá,
Elizabeth, jsi hledaná, milovaná. :]

Jméno je tvým štítem a domov sklepením, (Your name accursed, your home forever entombed)
chladný kámen náhrobkem, jen jméno tvé, nic víc. (On your chill gravestone your name, nothing more)
Moc a síla v??ná co se v krvi ukrývá, (The eternal power that sleeps within the blood)
pokořené vrásky ?asu v tváři nepoznáš. (Never will your countenance know time's withering shame)
[: Elizabeth, tvá krvavá cesta bohu hříchem se zdá,
Elizabeth, jsi hledaná, milovaná. :]
[: Elizabeth, tvá krvavá cesta bohu h?íchem se zdá,
Elizabeth, jsi hledaná, milovaná. :]
My Czech is rusty (that's being kind) and please forgive those AWOL diacriticals. I'll try to fix the UNICODE tomorrow. However, my blunted English transformation loses the Czech language's acute angles and phonemes, so apologies in advance. For obvious reasons I can't host actual tracks from XIII Stoleti here, but a Prague fan has kindly offered a few for streaming on MySpace, including "Elizabeth" - give them a listen for yourself.

* Just up the E50 highway from Brno, where yours truly was born.