September 17, 2018 Dragonlord – Dominion (Album Review)
Dragonlord, the Black Metal project of Testament mainstay Eric Peterson, will finally release their third full-length album, Dominion, on September 21, 2018 through Spinefarm Records.
A band with a bit of a history, they first debuted back in 2001 with Rapture, putting forth a lineup that borrowed heavily from the Testament roster at the time: Guitarist Steve Smyth, Bassist Steve DiGiorgio, and Drummer Jon Allen, with Peterson adding vocals to his usual guitar duties, and newcomer Lyle Livingston on keyboards. Four years later, the band returned with Black Wings of Destiny, now with original Testament member Derrick Ramirez replacing DiGiorgio on bass (this move was an odd coincidence, since DiGiorgio’s first stretch in Testament in 1999 came at the expense of Ramirez, who had recently returned to the band playing bass).
The long stretch after, Black Wings of Destiny could have passed more quickly had Peterson not started kicking the tires and teasing the release of Dominion as early as 2010. Around that time, Peterson and Livingston were putting solid ideas to tape, and quickly enlisted Producer Juan Urteaga (Testament, Machine Head) to assist Peterson on the finished product. During the recording process for Dominion, the band was introduced to Drummer Alex Bent, the son of an old friend, to replace the departed Allen.
As Livingston began expanding choral aspects of the new album, Peterson turned to another friend, Canadian Vocalist Leah McHenry, aka Leah, to give those roles with a human voice. Interestingly enough, Leah and Peterson had recorded together in the past, first on her Otherworld EP and later for the dark Yuletide classic, “Winter Sun.” On top of that, making the most of the time between albums, Peterson has also penned comic book tie-in featuring “The Burner,” the de facto dragon mascot of the band.
All these little details laid out, let’s dive right into the long overdue Dominion. An album consisting of eight tracks, the guitar threads fit somewhere between Darkthrone and Satyricon, with some keyboard and symphonic elements pushing the envelope toward cousins Dimmu Borgir and Susperia. After the instrumental “Entrance” points all systems toward hell, the strong title-track arrives. Choirs, keyboards, and strings, combine effectively before the track breaks down into soaring vocals from Leah. This song would fit on a B-side from Dimmu Borgir’s 1999 album, Spiritual Black Dimensions, or 2001’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, but still manages to sound fresh and unique.
Then there is “Ominous Premonition,” which opens with a riff that clearly leans on the Testament portion of Peterson’s arsenal. This is before the song morphs into a vibe approaching ’70s Hard Rock, with the solos to match. The listener is officially entering hell now, but at least does so in good company. “Lamia” follows as a tale of love and revenge; the title character is a mythological figure cursed to roam awake after killing her own children. A worthy listen, it opens with textbook symphonic Black Metal effects – haunting keys linger throughout as the drums and guitar lay a foundation for Peterson and his raspy vocals, ably flanked by Leah, who again beautifully vocalizes melodies that might normally be played on through keyboards.
Nearly a ballad, “Love of the Damned” is another track where Peterson reaches into his bag of Testament tricks, not just on guitar, but also in raspy vocal style. Leah eventually takes the reins just before sullen guitar carries the melody away. Peterson has noted elsewhere that the lyrical content pulls from 2010’s Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, which was released toward the earlier end of the past dozen years between Dragonlord releases.
Moving onward, “Northlanders” follows as an ode to the cold, withered warriors of old. For those interested, the band filmed a music video to match this track; various members don studs and corpse paint while singing praises to the frozen north. There is a certain amount of kitsch within the video, but someone like Peterson gets a pass. The backing aspects drift away near the midway point, leaving Peterson alone with his guitar for a few bars before the other members slowly trickle back.
Overall, “Northlanders” ends up ticking all the boxes of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal – there are heavy Thrash portions, raspy Black Metal vocals, followed by driving NWOBHM portions, flanked by technical solos both loud and quiet. Keeping that momentum flowing, “The Discord of Melkor” drinks deeply from the 1977 posthumous The Silmarillion works penned by J. R. R. Tolkien. Musically it cycles between blast beats, playful keyboards, and crying shrieks both human and electronic.
Finally, Dominion gallops to an efficient close with “Serpents of Fire,” a staggered song with several distinct pieces that serves as a recap of everything told to this point. The middle portions lean toward Blackened Death Metal, before breaking into some clean guitar solos and more vocal work from Leah. The raspy vocals reintroduce a feeling of foreboding doom, and it is tempting to double-check the credits for an appearance from Chuck Billy, as Peterson briefly adopts the distinct sound of the longtime Testament vocalist. Topping it all off, the NWOBHM vibe returns at the very end as the album ends with an exaggerated flourish.
For those who do not know, around the time of Black Wings of Destiny, Peterson lent some guitar work to the track “In Torment’s Orbit” on the 2005 album Vermin by Old Man’s Child, a band headed by Dimmu Borgir Guitarist Galder. The riffs in that song were lifted straight from the near-breakup Demonic era of Testament, and while there are some moments with Dragonlord where Peterson falls back into the habits of his day job, both vocally and instrumentally, he largely succeeds in forging a separate identity for this Black Metal work. The bottom line, all aspects of Dominion are strong – from the writing, execution and production, to the subtle mixture of diverse elements that make up the Black Metal landscape. That is why CrypticRock gives this album 4 out of 5 stars.