Saturday, May 7, 2016

Sovran | Draconian

My experience with metal mostly lies in the symphonic realm, and I tend to just dabble in other metal subgenres. Hence, I haven't listened to much doom metal just yet. I've always known I must be bound to enjoy it since I love some of the doom influences in Tristania's older work, and I whole-heartedly adore Within Temptation's debut album Enter, which has often been thrown into the doom category. (In fact, Enter is what introduced me to grunts/growls in general, let alone "beauty and the beast" vocal contrasts.) Since Draconian is a female-fronted band that has appealed to symphonic fans, I heard a great deal about the release of their latest album Sovran, and I was intrigued. Doom metal with beauty and the beast vocal contrasts? Dark and complicated songs? A singer that sounds like Sharon den Adel? - Wait a minute, that's impossible: Only Sharon can sound like Sharon, right?

But, alas, I gave one of Sovran's singles a try and that led me to buying the album... Good Lord am I impressed - and I've been pretty nitpicky lately. Sovran is a masterpiece.

Let me give you the highlights of this musical discovery as it awaits your full attention. The first few times I heard the lead single single "Rivers Between Us," which features vocalist Daniel Änghede (Crippled Black Phoenix), I wasn't too impressed. I appreciated the band's overall sound but struggled to hear what was special about this collaboration at times, but it's grown on me quite a bit since those first few listens. The single (and gorgeous music video) that really grabbed my attention was "Stellar Tombs," with its wonderful chord progression in the chorus and intriguing lyrics. The final line, in which Heike is only accompanied by piano, always leaves me feeling a stange combination of hope and melancholy.

Since Sovran is my first and only Draconian experience, I cannot copmpare Heike to the band's previous singer. Heike Langhans does indeed sound similar to Sharon den Adel - apparently it's possible after all. When I heard the first track "Heavy Lies the Crown," as Heike sings "A haunted, starless sky, / Fragile and oh so deep / The dying softly wakes / And smiles in painless peace" I actually had to remind myself that I wasn't listening to Sharon. Her voice is so peaceful and light, but also haunting - a combination that usually only Sharon is the master of. Anders Jacobsson does all of the grunts/growls, and Heike's voice meshes so wonderfully with his deep voice. (Personally, I like hearing growls that are deeper than the higher-pitched scream/growl hybrid that some bands occasionally work into their music... Am I the only one who has this off-the-wall preference?) Perhpas the best example of their blend is about three quarters the way through "The Wretched Tide" (which has some of the most interesting riffs from Sovran), at the lines "So we're leaving today / As dust-ridden shutters close..." The section Heike sings that goes "Tired and cold / A tale since eons of old / So elusive this intemperance of escape..." is pure perfection - not only for her voice, the steady soaring top notes in the band's wonderful chaos, but the vocal line in general is genial.

Another highlight is "Pale Tortured Blue," my personal favorite. It's kind of ballad-like, for between the emotion in Heike's voice, the A+ chord progressions, and the somber violin section, it feels sadder than the other songs. The guitars at the end give me chills every time. I found a similar appeal in the middle eight of "Dishearten," and Jacobsson growls "we're too tired to sleep / and these bodies confound..." but towards the end, "Dishearten" ends up having one of the fastest tempos found on Sovran, and once again, Heike's voice steadily soars as the band jams on.

In truth, there isn't a single bad or boring song on this album. There isn't a bad lyric, either - all are so well-written, poetic, and thought-provoking. And structurally, each one is compelling and complex with chord progressions that are at once hair-raising and heart-melting. Even my least favorite, the album-closer "The Marraige of Attaris," has some seriously strong points in its solemn middle eight and its haunting ending: "So tired, so tired... / I need to feel the freezing blue / Leave me here! / Let the coming of spring / Carry me back to earth. / Leave me here!" After discovering the beauty of "Stellar Tombs" earlier this year, I knew this band was capable of making great music, but I never predicted loving Sovran this much. My mind is blown and my weave has been snatched.

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