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Draconian : A Rose for the Apocalypse

That latest album of Draconian is a valid evolution and the band has in no way lost sight of its main weapons.



Draconian have always been a band of many influences, originally combining them into an Epic-Melodic-Gothic Doom sound, seasoned with touches of Black/Death metal. Following on from the masterpiece that was 'Arcane Rain Fell', the next studio album 'Turning Season Within' veered more into outright Gothic Metal territory. ('The Burning Halo', between them, was a mixed collection of old, new and cover songs rather than a formal studio release). That may have fitted into the style of the group's side project Shadowgarden, but it was a weak and laboured-sounding effort. It appeared the band themselves tended to agree, promising in pre-release announcements for 'A Rose For The Apocalypse', that it would be more akin to the first two albums.

The first sight of the resulting CD was not immediately impressive, with a cover that abandoned the expected muted and elegaic artwork in favour of a piece more suggestive of some sort of tale of ancient civilisations. That has thus far failed to inspire either affection or a view that it is particularly relevant to the content. Gone, too, are the lengthy central tracks of older works like the preceding 'Turning Season Within', all songs clock in somewhere between 5 and 8 minutes, with the implicit suggestion that a full return to earlier values was unlikely.

And so it proved: the archetype for this album would be something like a more sophisticated 'Daylight Misery' or 'Heaven Laid In Tears', rather than a new 'Death, Come Near Me'. It is the nature of the band to make it difficult to actually describe the songs: each one contains considerable changes of pace, intensity and volume, not to mention vocal direction. However, there is little doubt that the sparse, extended frames of their longer tracks showed more of the doom side of the band, while the shorter pieces simply tended to contain doom-inspired segments. In stepping back to draw some inspiration from previous albums, the overall tempo has slowed somewhat from its predecessor and the doom influence is more pronounced, but the emphasis is still on the gothic.

That said, it is a valid evolution and Draconian have in no way lost sight of their main weapons: the mingling of vocals and guitars. In some ways, this has improved with the steadily increasing contribution from Lisa Johansson, whose strong, clear, tones play off perfectly against Anders Jacobsson's powerful growling and spoken/whispered words. They offer a much more nuanced and intertwined take on "beauty and the beast" than simple contrast, and the spoken parts provide an additionally effective bridge between the two. From that point of view, this album is the most complete use of their joint talents to date. The guitar-driven sound remains denser and more prominent than in early years, while retaining the hallmark soaring and mournful lead guitar work.

The great achievement of Draconian, when on form, has been to conjure an exquisite beauty from themes of misery and suffering. The wide sweep of epic-melodic influences gives a tragic sense of failing grandeur best applied, as on this album, to wider scopes than just personal despair. Broadly, that is what is on offer here: a picture of the dark state of humanity, wrapped in carefully-crafted musical shrouds. The songwriting is tight and lyrically erudite, including a number of quotes from classical poetry. Production quality is good, with precise clarity and a balanced depth of mix. There are, however, a few audible crackles those during 'The Quiet Storm' are presumably intentional mimicking of a vinyl sound, those scattered elsewhere at odd points seem careless.

As for the tracks: opener 'The Drowning Age' is a searing, vigorous piece with spoken interlude that as a good start - immediately brings to mind 'The Abhorrent Rays'. 'The Last Hour Of Ancient Sunlight' is slower and steadier, with brief flourishes of violin and 'End Of The Rope' could have graced the last album: both are listenable without being exceptional. Things improve with the exemplary vocal contrasts and urgent melody lines of 'Elysian Night' and the lengthy build-up to 'Deadlight', but the latter half of the album is where the most outstanding music waits. 'Dead World Assembly' intersperses haunted, angelic acoustic passages with brutal heaviness. 'A Phantom Dissonance' repeats that pattern, but with a greater fire and drive. Finally, the closing songs, 'The Quiet Storm' and 'The Death Of Hours', are both slower-paced throwbacks to the atmospheric influences of the first two albums. (NB: 'Wall Of Sighs', from the limited digipack, is absent from my standard copy).

'A Rose For The Apocalypse' is not entirely a return to basics, but it is a step back to form, poised somewhere between the more pedestrian 'Turning Season Within' and the sublime heights of 'Arcane Rain Fell'. That is not to imply that they could or should simply aim to reprise that particular classic ad infinitum: more an indication of where the band's greatest musical strengths have been. Where this succeeds is in creating a balanced synthesis between the new and the old directions, and in re-establishing the essential and unmistakeable Draconian sound; where it falls short is in taking that direction back to enthrallingly epic levels. Still, a worthy effort and a recommended purchase for existing fans of the group, of the Gothic Doom ethos, or of perfectly matched male/female vocals; just probably not one for Doom purists.

Reviewer's rating: 8.5/10

Information

Tracklist :
Track list 1. The Drowning Age
2. The Last Hour Of Ancient Sunlight
3. End Of The Rope
4. Elysian Night
5. Deadlight
6. Dead World Assembly
7. A Phantom Dissonance
8. The Quiet Storm
9. The Death Of Hours
10. Wall Of Sighs (Bonus Digipack CD only)

Duration : Approx. 60 minutes

Visit the Draconian bandpage.

Reviewed on 2011-10-24 by Mike Liassides
Aesthetic Death
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