REVIEW: DRACONIAN - UNDER A GODLESS VEIL
Sonorous Swedish doom peddlars turn out some class.
Steadfast purists of the 'beauty and the beast' style of gothic metal (where melodious, celestial female singing interplays with anguished, harsh male vocals, a sound first purveyed by the likes of Theatre of Tragedy and since used by many other European acts) Draconian have not, over the course of seven albums, strayed from this core approach to their sorrowful gothic romanticism.
This is the second album with Heike Langhans, whose impressive range is an undoubted centre-piece throughout. Her stately and controlled style is a more serious alternative to the operatic or histrionic delivery favoured by many of her peers in this subgenre and it does much to enhance Draconian's intended atmospherics. From big choruses to more meditative, wistful intimacy, it is a quality performance by any standard and is offset, of course, by the raspy orc-ish gargle of Anders Jacobsson.
A pre-release press statement claimed this would be Draconian's most diverse effort to date and, though there is certainly no stylistic departure from their signature sound of saturnine tragedy, there are moments that probe into newer territory such as Burial Fields which dabbles in shimmering ambient with cosmic electronic haze, faded singing and spoken word passages. Elsewhere on the likes of Sleepwalkers echoey sparser strings and breathy ghostly vocals are layered to form a trance-like walk in the dark.
These moments add contrast and vivify Draconian's palette. Opener Sorrow of Sophia has a gripping, dreamy chorus with vividly cinematic quiet passages between the heavy waves of riffs and Jacobsson's choked roar. In fact, some of the reflective pianissimo employed across the album is arguably among the band's strongest hand and help distinguish them from the rest of the doom pack. Some of the choruses, meanwhile, are almost approaching accessibility and you seldom get to say that about a Scandinavian doom metal band.
Genre loyalists, however, need not fret as The Sacrificial Flame with its funereal paced heavy riffs and tortured singing is redolent of My Dying Bride as a rising drapery of organs elicit an atmosphere of hopelessness and dread. The Sethian includes despairing echoey vocals like Godflesh before building to a big epic crescendo with one of the loudest choruses on the album.
Other highlights would be Claw Marks on the Throne developing, as it does, from a haunted plaintive soliloquy to an overblown epic crescendo with an ascendant chorus reminiscent of Within Temptation while Lustrous Heart boasts the perfectly distilled chemistry of the ethereal and the savage.
Under a Godless Veil shows off powerful and sincere atmospherics across the volume scale as mood and hue trump one-dimensional punishing heaviness. In an over-crowded sub-genre, this is a trick often employed over-theatrically or in an unintentionally comedic cack-handed manner but Draconian display a defter, more cerebral touch. It is bleak but meditatively so at times. Is it over-blown? Yes, of course, how could it not be: the album briefly drops in pace in the third quarter and the slightly hackneyed spoken word doggerels are straight out of the well-worn textbook pages of goth melodrama. It is a moot point, too, as to whether this album could have relied solely on Langhan whose vocal delivery has the potential of reaching a wider audience than the often conservative-minded confines of doom.
The formula is not new, but this is a polished and convincing dose of heaviness and emotionalism that packs a classy oppressive punch.