Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Album Review: Drudkh - Microcosmos
Artist: Drudkh (Ukraine)
Album Title: Microcosmos
Record Label: Season of Mist (France/U.S.)
The mysterious Drudkh may have faltered a bit since 2006's fantastic Blood In Our Wells, but their new album Microcosmos shows the band back on top of their game. That's not to say that their folk album Songs of Grief & Solitude and their 2007 full-length Estrangement aren't worthy releases (I can't say anything for the Anti-Urban EP, as I haven't heard it), but they seemed to have halted in their tracks, unable to progress or to top classics like Autumn Aurora or Blood In Our Wells.
In the meantime, allegedly a business deal gone bad resulted in the band falling into debt, and as a result they moved from longtime UK label Supernal Music to the larger and better-distributed label Season of Mist. It may not have been Drudkh's intent to garner more attention, but that seems to be what happened. There was a lot of anticipation and debate leading up to the release of Microcosmos, so it was a bit of a relief to find that Drudkh is still one of the more important bands in the genre and deserve the growing attention they've been receiving, whether or not they welcome it.
The four lengthy metal tracks on Microcosmos are bookended by two traditional instrumental pieces, which should not be a surprise to anyone by now. And when track #2, Далекий Крик Журавлів ("Distant Cries of Cranes"), begins in rather familiar fashion, one might be tempted to think that Drudkh had taken a "by the numbers" approach to their new album. However, after a few minutes it became apparent to me that this was not the case. The sound may not be new, but the band has progressed in subtle ways, while also smoothing out the rough edges that marred Estrangement. There is a warm, poetic atmosphere to "Distant Cries of Cranes," an atmosphere that would continue throughout the remaining tracks. Microcosmos has a reflective, majestic sound, but not particularly brutal or angry despite Thurios' shouted black metal vocals.
Also notable is the brilliant bass-playing, presumably by Roman Saenko or possibly Krechet, and the much-improved drumming of Vlad. The drumming and the drum recording was a definite weak spot on Estrangement, but that's completely washed away with the varied and highly competent performance on this album. And I can't say enough about the solos, which are present on each of the metal tracks and are always appropriate and tasteful. They never overstay their welcome and are used to add another layer to the expertly-woven fabric that is each excellent track, rather than to show off skills or to pad out a song.
Декаданс ("Decadence") begins with a pleasant riff that possibly goes on a little too long, but a nice build-up occurs during the repetition of this riff (kind of like the beginning of Darkestrah's "The Silk Road") and after a few minutes it switches to one of the more melancholic-sounding sections of the album. The mood seems to shift often on this track, which may correspond with the mood of the lyrics but I'm not sure.
"Ars Poetica" begins with a rather bright and sunny riff that initially sounds out of place, but it melts so nicely into the rest of the song that it no longer seems so incongruous. The song turns melancholy for a while and then becomes nothing short of incredible. The track ends in a most satisfying manner, and by this point the album should have silenced all but the most stubborn critics.
But there's still more. Все, Що Не Сказано Раніше ("Everything Unsaid Before") picks up the pace and throws in what is probably the most technical set of guitar solos on the Microcosmos. Some acoustic guitars, accompanied by the bass, bridge the gap between the long intro of the song and the point where the vocals begin, at around the 3:30 mark. This is probably the closest the band gets to sounding angry on this album, as this song is a little darker and less "sunny" than the song before it. The track ends with a particularly dark riff that fades into the folk outro, ending the album on a mysterious note.
While the sound of Microcosmos (lush riffs, lengthy songs, melancholic atmosphere) is familiar Drudkh, it would be erroneous to say that the band is treading water or taking the same road they've traveled many times before. I find that the song structures are more complex than can be found on their earlier albums, with more in the way of mood and time changes. Autumn Aurora is a classic, but enjoying it requires a longer attention span than is needed to enjoy this album. Will some say that Drudkh is going "commercial" or "mainstream" with Microcosmos? Possibly, but I think it is more likely that Microcosmos is the product of a band that is maturing and becoming more comfortable with its sound but, at the same time, refuses to be boxed in. They seem to exist in a world apart from the critics, the fans, the expectations, and the endless forum debates (most of which end up turning into a political argument anyway), yet the most important part of all, crafting great songs, is obviously still high on Drudkh's priority list.
Microcosmos is the album to beat in 2009, in my opinion. If you're new to Drudkh, this is as good a place to start as any, and if you're already a fan, there's no reason you shouldn't own this. And if anyone tells you that extreme metal is morbid, thoughtless, and has little value for intelligent people, Microcosmos would be a good album to play in order to silence their ignorance.