Draconian – SOVRAN Review

For reasons I won’t get into here, it’s been a long month. Trials and tribulations; personal and professional; trivial and major – you know the type. So it was with a bit of resignation that I asked the powers that be to assign me an album when I just couldn’t focus on one myself.

“Do the new Draconian,” they said.

I figured I could live with that. I knew I liked the band, even if I couldn’t remember why…or what they sounded like. All those Napalm bands tend to run together after a while. So I was taken back a bit when I first listened to SOVRAN – this is not the traditional beauty-and-the-beast goth metal I had been expecting. This was of the doomy variety. Somehow that rang a bell, and that I wasn’t as fond of them as I had thought. But, I’m a man of my word if nothing else, so onward I went.

Here’s the problem: this is pretty far out of my comfort zone. I like me some doom of all varieties, make no mistake. However, I’m also fairly high-strung and caffeine-fueled in my daily life. Gothic doom is the equivalent of year-old motor oil in that engine. In and out my attention would fade, snapping back in time to realize I had just missed 3-4 tracks. How can I review an album if I can’t even pay attention?

The answer was found in the “least metal” of places: late at night, family asleep, washing dishes. In fact, as I write this, I have just finished another session, as well as a refreshing glass of blueberry wine.

Don’t judge me – it’s one of the only moments of quiet solitude I get on any given day. Turns out that is the real key. The gloomy riffs; the tortured male vocal seething anguish; the angelic female vocal offering glimpses of hope across a desolate landscape. The problem wasn’t the oil in the engine – the car was just in the wrong gear. Apparently nothing says “Relax and unwind after a long day” like musical despair.

Now if only I could pinpoint why. Maybe it doesn’t matter. There is just something soothing in the echoing riffs that dominate “Heavy Lies the Crown”, the methodical drumming driving “Pale Tortured Blue”. It’s really quite schizophrenic, able to be all things without being too much of any one. The slow, heavy soundscapes have a sense of ominous foreboding when “beast” Anders Jacobsson is vocalizing, and a sense of glimmering optimism when “beauty” Heike Langhans is doing it.

As the music changes speeds, those moods shift and change. Faster tempos bring more imminent doom and increasing joy, respectively, as heard in “The Wretched Tide”. While it transitions seamlessly from “Heavy Lies the Crown”, around the 2-minute mark, the riffing picks up, and Jacobsson’s low growl turns into a bellow…and peril seems imminent. But then, about a minute later, here comes Langhans to offer hope for escape with an especially soaring vocal. Later, “Stellar Tombs” goes against form and starts right in with some double-bass underlying a deceptively midtempo riff that grab and snaps you to attention. Don’t get too carried away, it ends up being more of a start-stop than a full blitz.

The softer, quieter moments, such as those in “Dusk Mariner” are reserved almost exclusively for Langhans, who uses them to deliver the proverbial bad news in the gentlest of manners. When Jacobsson gets his chances, there is no such mercy to be heard. You might think there is on “Rivers Between Us”, but it’s Daniel Anghede from Crippled Black Phoenix providing the clean male vocal here. The dynamic works very well, creating some of the most beautiful type of doom and gloom.

Normally a review would include comparisons to similar artists or previous releases. Well, I can’t do any of that. This is a relatively neophytic take on Draconian and SOVRAN. Pretty solid gothic doom with funeral elements and crafty enough songwriting to keep things interesting with the musical highs and lows (not that there’s anything wrong with all of one or the other). I don’t know how often I’ll be able to get back to it, but it will provide a heavier alternative for those quiet moments of solitude than my usual outlaw country – again, don’t judge me.

Posted by Dave Pirtle

Coffee. Black.

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