Death Metal for a ‘Dying Language’

Melody Macher

By Mordechai Shinefield

Published September 20, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In his 1978 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Isaac Bashevis Singer said: “Yiddish may be a dying language, but it is the only language I know well. Yiddish is my mother language and a mother is never really dead.”

Ans so what better musical expression for an ever-dying language than death metal? Enter Gevolt, a six-member Russian-Israeli metal group that sings in Yiddish. The band’s music is not a pasquinade, but rather a nuanced embrace of both serious Yiddish lyrics and serious metal traditions. Gevolt’s rendition of the traditional “Tum Balalaika,” casts clean, articulate vocals against a chilling background of liquid metal that closely resembles the German Neue Deutsche Harte (New German hardness) movement.

Gevolt’s affinity for this style of music is, on one level, shocking. Rammstein, the NDH scene’s best-known band, has courted controversy by toying with fascist imagery (such as using excerpts from a Leni Riefenstahl film during one of its videos). But it is the dichotomy between the militaristic NDH sounds and the sincere intonations of “Tum Balalaika” that elevates Gevolt’s music above a cheap novelty act (metal and Yiddish!) and makes it a musical phenomenon that merits attention. They are singing Yiddish even as they defiantly borrow from a musical style that occasionally evokes the very movement that destroyed Yiddish culture in Europe.

But Gevolt’s music is not auto-annihilation rock. Rather, it is a resurrection. Their composition of Hirsch Glick’s famed partisan song “Zog Nit Keyn Mol, Az Du Geyst Dem Letsten Veg” (“Never say that you are on the final road”) is stunning in both its lyrical beauty (Glick’s contribution) and its musical defiance (singer Anatholy Bonder’s contribution). When the metal disappears momentarily and band member Marina Klionsky’s klezmer-inflected violin plays softly, one begins to reconsider Singer’s statement. Even as those for whom Yiddish was literally a mother tongue pass away, the mameloshn remains a language of cultural power and resonance. Gevolt aren’t singing nostalgia tunes — they’ve done nothing less than shaken Yiddish back to life.

Listen to “Tum Balalaika,” “Zog Nit Keyn Mol” and other Gevolt songs on the band’s MySpace page.


Mordechai Shinefield has written about music for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and the New York Press.

For more Melody Macher columns, click here.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.