October 30, 2020 Draconian – Under a Godless Veil (Album Review)
Swedish merchants of gloom Draconian are set to release Under a Godless Veil, on October 30th through Napalm Records, the only label the band has ever called home.
Their seventh studio album, Under a Godless Veil marks five years to the day since the release of 2015’s Sovran, and finds the band in its usual rut of sardonic doom and sonic gloom. Long, sanguine articles of isolation, like “The Sacrificial Flame,” “Ascend Into Darkness,” and “Moon Over Sabaoth” are mixed among slivers of hope like “Lustrous Heart,” “Sorrow of Sophia,” and “The Sethian.” A total of ten tracks, the result is roughly equal to alternating speeds within an emotional blender that leaves you shaking for more.
Where Sovran was the final work to feature Fredrik Johansson on bass, as well as the first with Heike Langhans on vocals, Under a Godless Veil finds the lineup relatively intact. Returning with Langhans are original members Anders Jacobsson on vocals and Johan Ericson on guitar, as well as Daniel Arvidsson on guitar and Jerry Torstensson on drums. Additionally, recent collaborator Daniel Änghede provides further session work in place of Johansson on bass. Cover artwork from Natalia Drepina adds a sinister dimension, depicting a supine woman dressed in white with a hand belonging to an unseen tormentor covering her face.
The band relies on feeling and mood a bit more than musical substance, but that feeling alone is enough to sever all warmth from the outside world. Opener “Sorrow of Sophia” has glimpses of light and happiness breaking through, and “The Sethian” is almost upbeat, relatively speaking, and its beginning rhythms have ever-so-subtle nods to ’80s Darkwave. This is while closer “Ascend into Darkness” offers the shared emotions of pain and loss and brings a modicum of comfort. A finale that does end quite suddenly, rather than fading as one might expect in this genre, it leaves you in the down position. However, for the most part, Under a Godless Veil is a slow-winding path, exemplified by songs like “Sleepwalkers,” that will leave hearts cold and souls aching.
Between Jacobsson and Langhans, the band has a unique vocal identity. The pipes of Jacobsson alternate between guttural growls and humble spoken word; both in the mold of My Dying Bride, without sounding lifted. This is while Langhans uses her skill to alternate between someone like Lee Douglas of Anathema and an almost Pop-like sound similar to Lana Del Rey. Despite these leanings, neither voice manages to escape the dark sepulcher of Doom Metal the band has chosen, and neither appears as a simple background prop to the other. Done right, they alternate turns at the forefront and in the background.
Both cuts such “Claw Marks on the Throne” along with “Ascend into Darkness” appear on the second half of Under a Godless Veil, and they are easily the two most morbidly morose entries on the album. Starting with a quiet, largely acoustic movement, “Claw Marks on the Throne” does not kick into is highest (low) gear until its midway point. It is at this point it descends into a dense, shapeless void. Furthermore, the voice of Langhans, almost angelic at early points, becomes disjointed, and almost mocks its target in the second half. For the aforementioned “Ascend into Darkness,” a slightly upbeat tempo peppers the first few minutes, before the majority of the track becomes a slow, painful march forward. All in all, both tracks decide a quick death is the best death, and drop out of sight & sound with nary a few seconds of warning.
Draconian may have a conventional Death/Doom sound, but Under a Godless Veil contains a few brash, absolutely breath-stealing moment. Some are in the form of riffs, while others soaring vocals, still more in quietly whispered missives, but all make the album a painfully joyous listen for anyone who is a fan of the genre. Draconian have collected a few dark hymns here, and that is why Cryptic Rock gives Under a Godless Veil 3.5 out of 5 stars.