In the words of legendary Russian rock star Boris Grebenshchikov: «Нет лиц у тех, кто против; лиц у тех, кто с нами. Не смей подходить, пока не скажешь – кто ты такой» — “Those who are ‘against’ are faceless; faces are for those who are with us. Don’t dare approach while you have not said who exactly you are.” With this sentiment in mind, we wish the beautiful people of Ukraine and Russia safety and security during this difficult time. That said, we also stand against the vilification of the Russian people, and want it to be known that citizens of Russia have spoken out against wars like this current one throughout history, via protest, literature — and indeed kickass rock songs.
Join us as we reflect upon 10 of the greatest anti-war songs by some of Russia’s most daring freethinkers…
Nautilus Pompilius, “Khaki Globe” (Наутилус Помпилиус, «Шар цвета хаки»)
No other group rivals Nautilus Pompilius in terms of artistic integrity. The band was co-founded by a couple of architecture students living in Sverdlovsk: Vyacheslav Butusov and Dmitry Umetsky. Joined by Nautilus’ legendary saxophonist Alexey Mogilevsky, the two performed their Butusov-written classic “Shar Tsveta Khaki,” loosely translated into “Globe the Color of [Army] Khaki,” which was first released on Nautilus’ third album «Разлука» (Separation) in 1986. This highly dissident masterpiece of a record also features tracks like «Скованные одной цепью» / “Bound by One Chain,” which was written by the poet Ilya Kormiltsev. (The Sverdlovsk Rock Club pressured Nautilus to alter the following anti-authoritarian line from the song: «За красным восходом коричневый закат». / “Behind the red [Soviet] sunrise, there is a brown [Nazi] sunset“)
Kormiltsev, a.k.a. «Никто из ниоткуда» (No One From Nowhere), went on to establish a transgressive publishing house, «Ультра.Культура» (Ultra.Kultura). In doing so, he spread the motto: «Всё, что ты знаешь — ложь!» (“Everything that you know is a lie!”) Throughout the years, the poet, Vyacheslav, and the rest of the changing “Nau” clan have demonstrated warrior-like bravery in their various undertakings. Nautilus Pompilius may have officially ended in 1997, but, Vyacheslav, or “Slava,” remains active as a musician and continues to perform Nautilus’ material.
Kino, “Blood Type” (Кино, «Группа крови»)
If you ask Russian rockers who they idolize, do not be surprised to hear “Viktor Tsoi!” quite a few times. Tsoi has earned his place in history as frontman and co-founder of the groundbreaking Russian band Kino. Seven months before Metallica’s Black Album (1991) was released, Kino’s «Чёрный альбом» (Black Album, 1991) hit shelves. The record would unfortunately be both Kino and Tsoi’s last; on August 15, 1990, the singer tragically died at 28 years old in a car crash, resulting in countless murals and statues in his honor.
Kino’s songs are honest and powerful; Tsoi never used an unnecessary word. “Gruppa Krovi” / “Blood Type” will be eternally beloved for lyrics like «…я не хочу победы любой ценой. Я никому не хочу ставить ногу на грудь. Я хотел бы остаться с тобой, просто остаться с тобой. Но высокая в небе звезда зовет меня в путь» (… I don’t want victory at any price. I don’t want to put my foot on anyone’s chest. I would like to stay with you, just to stay with you. But a high star in the sky calls me on my way”). The chorus that follows is one of the greatest of all-time.
Kino, “A Star Called the Sun” (Кино, «Звезда по имени Солнце»)
“Zvezda po imeni solntse,” or “A Star Called the Sun,” speaks for itself: «И две тысячи лет — война. Война без особых причин. Война — дело молодых. Лекарство против морщин. Красная, красная кровь — Через час уже просто земля. Через два на ней цветы и трава» (And two thousand years of war. War without any special reason. War, a matter for the young. A medicine against wrinkles. Red, red blood. In an hour, it will be only earth. In two, there will already be flowers and grass”). The song is just one of Kino’s many anti-war anthems, with other recommended track incluidng, «Мама, мы все сошли с ума» (“Mama, We Have All Gone Mad”), «Война» (“War”), «Я объявляю свой дом» (“I Declare My Home [a Nuclear-Free Zone]”).
Sektor Gaza, “Time to Go Home” (Сектор Газа, «Пора домой»)
Sektor Gaza was fronted by the brilliant Yuri “Khoi” Klinskikh, adn were known as some of the most versatile kolkhoznye panki, or kolkhoz punks. Yuri, or “Yura,” tragically passed away on July 4, 2000. It would be criminal if we failed to direct you towards Sektor Gaza’s «Пора домой», or “Time to Go Home,” one of their biggest hits. The track includes lyrics like, «Лучше молодым любить, а не воевать, не убивать…Не цевьё, а руки девичьи в руках держать…» (“It’s better for the young ones to love, but not to fight, not to kill… Not a firearm’s forestock, but a girl’s hand in one’s own to hold…”) This song has even been performed in Red Square, though why Sektor Gaza was invited to take the stage on Victory Day (May 9, 1999) is one of history’s most confounding mysteries…
Tarakany!, “War Alert” (Тараканы!, “Военная тревога”)
Tarakany! (which means ‘Cockroaches!’) are simply out-of-this-world. The group are marked by their empathy — and, it should be noted, their decision to showcase dancing phalluses in one of their videos. In 2019, Tarakany! dropped the catchy single «Военная тревога» (“War Alert”), which is punctuated with lyrics like, «Каждый день крепче паранойя… Как смогло стать нам полем боя. Место то, где жила любовь… Сложно поверить, но это не сон! Знаешь я тоже чувствую запах пороха» (“Every day, the paranoia becomes stronger…How could it have become a battlefield for us. The place where love lived…It’s hard to believe, but it’s not a dream! You know, I also feel the smell of gunpowder”). In 2015, Tarakany!’s vocalist, Dmitry Spirin, proclaimed that weapons can never be a cause for pride while performing at the huge annual festival Nashestvie. Of course, that is just Dmitry’s opinion; however, it takes balls to be so bold in Russia.
Kukryniksy, “Soldier’s Sadness” (Кукрыниксы, «Солдатская печаль»)
Kukryniksy, who disbanded in 2018, were fronted by Alexey Gorsheniov, whose brother, the late Mikhail “Gorshok” Gorsheniov, was God’s gift to earth. As the co-frontman of Король и шут (King and Jester), Mikhail was honored as a true «герой нашего времени» (“hero of our time”). Although Alexey clearly has his own personality and strengths, he often sounds eerily similar to his brother. Like “Misha,” Alexey is distinguished by his imagination and poetic brilliance; Kukryniksy’s haunting tearjerker «Звезда» / “Star” is one of Russia’s most known contemporary songs.
“Soldatskaya pechal,” or “Soldier’s Sadness,” from Kukryniksy’s 1999 self-titled debut album, narrates the story of a soldier who escapes death. He then returns homeland to discover that his father, mother, and sister have all perished. After two days of silence, he grabs his gun and marches into a home in the country in which he had just fought. He tells the old woman, legless grandfather, and girl inside that they will pay for the deaths of his loved ones. The song ends with an altered version of the chorus: «И молча сев на стул, он сошел с ума. Развязал рюкзак и разулся, и в угол зашвырнул штык и автомат: Я принес поесть, я вернулся» (“And having silently seated himself on a chair, he went mad. He took off his backpack and removed his shoes; and he flung his bayonet and automatic rifle in the corner: ‘I brought food; I’ve returned.”).
Aquarium, “Train On fire” (Аквариум, «Поезд в огне»)
Akvarium, or Aquarium, and frontman Boris “BG” Grebenshchikov — where do we even start? The iconic Mr. Grebenshchikov, who was born on the 11th birthday of Jimi Hendrix, proved that his art transcended even the Iron Curtain when he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman Show in 1989. The guru is a fountain of spiritual wisdom so deep that his words and actions are impossible to fathom. But if are going to pick just one of his songs, however, «Поезд в огне» (“Train on Fire”) is a true classic, a song that Boris scolded the state-owned television channel Россия-24 (Russia-24) for misappropriating while covering the conflict in Ukraine.
In «Поезд в огне», a colonel learns that «По новым данным разведки, мы воевали сами с собой» (“According to new intelligence report, we were at war with ourselves“). “Borya” continues: «Я видел генералов. Они пьют и едят нашу смерть. Их дети сходят с ума от того, что им нечего больше хотеть. А земля лежит в ржавчине. Церкви смешали с золой. И если мы хотим, чтобы было куда вернуться, время вернуться домой» (“I’ve seen generals. They drink and eat our death. Their children will go crazy because there is nothing more to want. But the earth lies in rust. The churches are mixed with ashes. And if we want somewhere to return, it’s time to return home”). During the chorus, Borya sings, «Эта земля была нашей! Пока мы не увязли в борьбе…» (“This land was ours! Until we became entangled in war…”) The man lives by his own words: on February 28, he spoke out against the current war in a brief yet effective Instagram video.
Grazhdanskaya Oborona, “Soldiers Are Not Born” (Гражданская оборона, «Солдатами не рождаются»)
Who would have thought that Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense) had more to offer the world than just «Некрофилия» (“Necrophilia”), with such lovely lyrics as, «Я люблю голубые ладони…» (“I love blue palms…”). Grazhdanskaya Oborona’s über-necro «Война» (“War”) could have also easily made our list. But whereas “War” is cool, «Солдатами не рождаются» (“Soldiers Are Not Born”) is painful to the point of comedy. As always, late frontman, Igor “Yegor” Letov, is impossibly audacious (his outspokenness actually landed him in a Soviet mental hospital), beginning the song with, «Свято место не бывает в пустоте. Лишним телом заложили котлован. Красной тряпкой обернули катафалк. Бравой песней заглушили злое горе. Ведь солдатами не рождаются. Солдатами умирают. Солдатами не рождаются» (“A holy place doesn’t exist in the emptiness. With excess bodies, they laid the ditch. With a red rag [Soviet flag?!], they wrapped the hearse. With a brave song, they drowned the evil grief. Indeed, soldiers die. Soldiers are not born“). Now this composition is what I call «минимализм» (minimalism).
DDT, “Don’t Shoot” (ДДТ, «Не стреляй»)
DDT is an extremely successful Russian rock band that has existed since 1980, fronted by Yuri Shevchuk. «Не стреляй», or “Don’t Shoot,” is not DDT’s most popular anti-war song (That is probably «Умирали пацаны» , or “The Guys Died”), but it is the one that most quickly comes to mind, imbedding itself into one’s head like a bullet. Shevchuk begins, «Не стреляй в воробьев, не стреляй голубей. Не стреляй просто так из рогатки своей. Эй, малыш, не стреляй и не хвастай другим, что без промаха бьешь по мишеням живым» (“Don’t shoot at sparrows; don’t shoot at pigeons. Don’t shoot just like that out of your slingshot. Hey, young one, don’t shoot and brag to others that without fail you hit your living targets“). The song ends with the little boy as an adult who has been transformed by war into a real killer: «И когда кто-нибудь вспоминал о войне, он топил свою совесть в тяжелом вине. Перед ним, как живой, тот парнишка стоял. Тот, который его об одном умолял: Не стреляй!» (“And when someone [else] remembered the war, he [having listened] drowned his conscience in heavy wine. In front of him, as if alive, that same lad stands — he who begged him just one thing: ‘Don’t shoot!‘”).
Kalinov Most, “Girl In Summer” (Калинов Мост, «Девушка летом»)
Kalinov Most, who are known for «Родная» (“Dear”) is fronted by profound poet Dmitry Revyakin, and have been making phenomenal music since 1984. “Devushka letom” (“Girl in Summer”) is one of the greatest Russian rock songs ever, and while it may not initially strike you as an anti-war song, it nevertheless tells the story of a woman whose man is sent away to fight. «Страшно подумать — Придет — не придет? Девочка любит. Девочка ждет» (“It’s scary to think. — Will he come — not come? The girl loves. The girl waits”).