Autumn is the perfect season to enjoy some well-crafted doom metal with a palpable gothic tinge to it. And with their latest offering, titled “Under a Godless Veil,” which was released on October 30th, 2020, via Napalm Records, this is exactly what DRACONIAN offers – a soundtrack to the falling leaves and crisp weather. This album also happens to be their second with Heike Langhans on vocals and a worthy follow-up to 2015’s “Sovran.”
The usual gothic metal trope of contrasting male growls and ethereal female clean – which is widely known as the “beauty and the beast” style – is the driving force of this album, as it should be. Heike Langhans’ angelic vocals feel distant and diaphanous, calling to us from another realm like she’s a ghost in the mist, while Anders Jacobsson’s diverse growls, perfectly placed each time, add gravity and weight to the music, superbly balancing the songs and grounding the album. There are not many bands that can pull off this approach with the finesse and elegance that DRACONIAN have for the past couple of decades, which makes me appreciate “Under a Godless Veil” even more. Add to that their penchant for melancholy soundscapes and gloomy ambiance, and you get an album that sways between the legacy of MY DYING BRIDE (or even PARADISE LOST) and the delicacy of TREES OF ETERNITY.
This is the type of music where the focus lies on the compositions, on what the songs themselves need to tell a certain story or to transmit a particular emotion, reason why the instrumental feels so restrained, so soft, even minimalistic at times, letting the vocals guide the listeners. Opening track “Sorrow of Sophia” or “Sleepwalkers” are great examples in this respect, with their sorrowful, almost funeral atmosphere and Heike Langhans’ airy vocals in the forefront while Anders Jacobsson’s growls and spoken parts, as well as the guitars, are used only to accentuate key parts of the tracks. Beauty lies in simple things, and that also applies to music.
Doom metal anthem “The Sacrificial Flame” features meaty riffs, coupled with dark, introspective lyrics and an incredible build-up in intensity and drama halfway through that culminates in one of the album’s best moments. Another highlight of the album is “Claw Marks on the Throne,” whose crescendo from an almost story-telling style of vocals and tranquil vibe to a fuller and heavier metal piece speaks volumes to the band’s musicianship and songwriting prowess, as this increase is almost imperceptible, yet it is there. Cinematic and enigmatic “Night Visitor” is the gothic equivalent of a ballad driven by Heike Langhans’ croon, setting the mood for the heavier “Ascend into Darkness” to close the album in an ominous note by combining all the best DRACONIAN has to offer into an almost 9-minute moody banger.
The flow of the music is also worth noting, as atmospheric piece “Burial Fields” is nestled between two of the heaviest tracks on the album – “Moon over Sabaoth” and “The Sethian” – making for a moment of peace and serenity while acting as an interlude between the first and second part of the album. The guitars and Anders Jacobsson’s gutturals punch through in these two tracks adding momentum and a bit of aggression to an album that otherwise feels so light and delicate it could float on thin air. The way some songs seem to bleed into each other (like “The Sacrificial Flame” and “Lustrous Heart” or “Sleepwalkers” and “Moon over Sabaoth”) adds to the overall playability and charm of the album. It makes “Under a Godless Veil” feel like a continuous piece of music that rises and falls like the tide, engulfing the listeners in shrouds of melancholy and beauty, even if each of the ten tracks can stand on their own. There is an incredible sense of consistency felt throughout the album as neither the mellow parts nor the heavier segments are overbearing, but working in tandem to keep the listeners engaged till the final notes fade from the speakers (or headphones).
Even if this style of music has evolved since the release of THEATRE OF TRAGEDY’s eponymous debut in 1995, such bands as TRISTANIA, THE SINS OF THY BELOVED, or DRACONIAN took it upon themselves to carry the gothic metal flag. It is Sweden’s DRACONIAN that was and still is most dependable for old-school doom and gloom. While “Under a Godless Veil” doesn’t offer anything new under the sun, it also doesn’t have to, as the compositions feel fresh and invigorating in themselves even if the formula is old and quite worn out. DRACONIAN are masters at creating weepy romances and delivering crushing sorrow, all wrapped up in a gothic aura of mystery and wistfulness, and this is where the charm of “Under a Godless Veil” lies. They have traded heaviness for an intense, dark ambiance but there is beauty and depth to be found in more fragile and delicate music for those that know where to look. Granted, it may not everybody’s cup of tea.
Written by Andrea Crow
- Sorrow of Sophia
- The Sacrificial Flame
- Lustrous Heart
- Moon over Sabaoth
- Burial Fields
- The Sethian
- Claw Marks on the Throne
- Night Visitor
- Ascend into Darkness
Anders Jacobsson – vocals
Heike Langhans – vocals
Johan Ericsson – guitar
Daniel Arvidsson – guitar
Jerry Torstensson – drums
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