Growth can be difficult to measure. For example, we know that grass grows, but if one were to sit there and watch it grow, said growth would be imperceptible. Similarly, you can’t see a child grow by staring at it. Thus, many parents utilize a “pencil and door frame” approach to height measurement. By this method, the child, and its admirers, can tangibly measure how much junior has shot up over a specific period of time. The same theory applies to music. Draugnim have been away for six complete years. During that time, they have grown, particularly in terms of a noticeable upgrade in production, but additional advancements are understated enough that they might require sharper examination. For example, the band still focuses on a monotone, saccharin affair that washes over the listener like the tide slowly lapping over a bloated corpse, but there is credible growth here with regard to focused composition, mood and a general understanding of the process that begins with songwriting and ends with recording, mixing and mastering. The resulting transformation is quite subtle, but it still manages to deliver a solid work in the vein of Bathory’s masterpiece, Hammerheart.
The band has a massive sound in a number of senses. First, they employ a full wall-of-sound approach where all instruments are exaggerated at all times. The guitars, much like the vocals, are thickly layered, harmonious and elephantine. Lead lines in the classic sense are sparse and typically played in the higher range while the rhythm vacillates between two or three bass notes in a deep, alternating pattern. This method is most prevalent in a song like “A Passage in Fire,” which also reveals the band’s penchant for contrasting chromatic guitar lines similar to baroque-era piano composition.
Second, since signing to Debemur Morti, the production has bounded forward to similarly behemoth levels of tapped out mid-range, the final effect of which results in an astoundingly huge and maudlin affair. The more commercial, digitized production works favorably for the vocals which, much like the guitars, are heavily layered and affected. Chimedra has several expressions: pained, exasperated and tortured, and he uses all of them to maximum effect at all times throughout Vulturine. For example, “As in Hunger, So in Demise” is a slow builder with guitars crisscrossing that really wouldn’t go anywhere if it weren’t for Chimedra’s explosive and exasperated vocals. It’s his forced breathlessness that carries the track.
Aside from being merely massive, Vulturine also provides an ample serving of atmosphere to the overall soundscape through the addition of ambient, digital touches to the mix that mimic ocean sounds, church bells, etc. One of the most successful layers in this heavily sugared cake is the keyboard work, and no track displays that prowess better than “Grief Unsung.” The interplay between the [climactic/aerial/ethereal/some goddamn thing] keys, Chimedra utilizing all of his vocal tricks and the guitars taking on their most somber demeanor gives the song an ethereal, choir-like beauty that represents one of the most harrowing moments on the record.
Ultimately, Draugnim are at their best when their musical stylings lean toward viking metal, but even that rarely strays from the conventional. The epic feel of oceans swelling beneath a shallow ship are never more effective than on the album’s longest track, “Serpent Stone,” but it’s formulaic with its bereft opening that leads into a stock crescendo of forlorn guitar lines and emotive vocals that never quite reach climax. Much like the rest of the album, “Serpent Stone” ends up feeling emotional, yet strangely static. It’s a solid closer, and really, solid is not necessarily a bad way to describe an emotionally charged black metal album such as this.
The climaxes and resolutions throughout Vulturine might be subtle, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. One simply needs a little patience to fully unearth its nuances. As such, it’s an album that doesn’t jump out of the gate attempting to win you over. It doesn’t compromise the sound that the band has spent nearly six years working to perfect. Rather, Vulturine builds slowly and gradually reveals a subtle evolution of in sound that allows the listener time to climb aboard and take the heart-wrenching journey directly alongside the band. There are rewards to be had here for those fans willing to take the time to get under the thick skin of this fruit, and it’s certainly a lot more fun that sitting around watching grass grow.