Monday, March 17, 2008

Album Review: Drudkh - "Estrangement"

Drudkh - Estrangement

Artist: Drudkh (Ukraine)
Album Title: Estrangement
Label: Supernal Music (U.K.)
Released: 2007

Although it's not very often we'll see an album by a pagan metal band from a country as obscure (in the metal world) as Ukraine grab the attention of underground metal critics, that's exactly what happened when Drudkh unleashed Blood In Our Wells upon the world in 2006. They had been quietly building up a fanbase for the previous couple of years, releasing a trio of albums that you will often see mentioned in "best of" lists on metal forums: Forgotten Legends, Autumn Aurora, and The Swan Road. But, for some reason, Blood In Our Wells managed to make Drudkh a bit of a critical darling in the world of underground extreme metal. Not bad for a band who never gives interviews or concerts, has never released any sort of band photo, and is often incorrectly identified as National Socialists.

As is inevitable, expectations were high for a follow-up to Blood In Our Wells. That album, to many, is the pinnacle of their impressive career. Then they managed to confound everyone, not once, but twice. The first was with the release of an instrumental folk album,Songs of Grief and Solitude, which many described as boring, and the 10" vinyl Anti-Urban EP, which most viewed as pointless and sub-par. Therefore, by the time Estrangement was released in 2007 (less than a year and a half after Blood In Our Wells), it seems that much of the crowd had dissipated. I suppose it's just as well, because Drudkh doesn't seem to welcome the attention.

Drudkh's sound is a little difficult to describe, at least if you want to do it any justice. They write very atmospheric and somewhat repetitive songs, often with a thick guitar tone, accompanied by lyrics taken from Ukrainian poetry and vocals that are kind of a rough shout rather than a growl or shriek. At first, they didn't use any keyboards, but ever since Autumn Aurora, the occasional keyboard will show up at just the perfect time. The band manages to evolve with each album, but on Estrangement they almost seem to devolve into a mixture of the sound they employed on the first few albums. However, they've improved in the way that the bass is now very audible (and well performed), and the songs, to me at least, seem less repetitive. The occasional solo is also welcome.

The few negatives I can come up with are that I don't really care for the way the drums are recorded, and that the album is a little on the short side. There are four songs, and it clocks in at about 36 minutes total. However, there is no filler, and even the instrumental that closes the album is great (and this is coming from a person who doesn't usually like instrumentals). They've trimmed out most of the use of samples, except for a very brief one that begins the album. This may be a good or a bad thing depending on whether or not you enjoyed the Ukrainian film and folk music samples from Blood In Our Wells.

There are always those who say that Drudkh is overrated, and Estrangement is not likely to silence those voices. It's a strange little album, and if I were more of a cynical type (I'm not, which is one reason why I make a very bad album reviewer) I would say that Drudkh kind of pushed this one out the door without much effort. However, I really enjoy Estrangement. I listen to it more often than I listen to their earlier albums, with the possible exception of Blood In Our Wells. It has kind of an addicting sound that I don't get tired of, even on those days when my attention span is shorter than usual. The songs are well constructed, the recording quality is good (except for the drums, as I already mentioned), and, even though they dialed back the epic qualities of their music, the beauty and melancholy is still very much present.

So, despite what the detractors might say, I find Drudkh to be an amazing band, and Estrangement is a great addition to their discography.

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