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Draconian : Sovran

Draconian's first release with new female vocalist Heike is a fulfilling experience.

So, after four years of all the nagging and begging for new material, Draconian have finally brought us their newest release; Sovran. What has really been the big attention catcher about the album is that it's the first release to feature Heike Langhans as the band's clean vocalist, following the departure of Lisa Johansson. I was a big fan of Lisa, as I found her singing contained a lot of charisma and power; I would go as far as to say she is one of the best female vocalists to have sung in a Doom band. However, her departure is old news, and so this review will not dwell on the matter.

Draconian is a band from Sweden that plays Gothic Doom with some touches of Melodic Death Metal. The general characteristics of their sound consist of slow to mid-tempo songs which retain a moderate amount of aggression, with dueling vocals (clean female singing and harsh male growls), occasional usage of pianos and orchestras, and a generally somber atmosphere. Some could see it as though the band has revived the sound of 90's Gothic/Death/Doom Metal, pulling in clear influences from the early days of bands like Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Theatre of Tragedy, and of course My Dying Bride. Not only does Draconian manage to tastefully take in these influences without deliberately replicating them, but they also perform it very well and have been able to create their own trademark atmosphere in the style.

The atmosphere of Sovran is very scorched, bitter, and ugly. On a majority of the songs, the guitar melodies tend to sound very jaded and dire. This becomes immediately noticeable on the sinister album opener; 'Heavy Lies the Crown'. A deep, brooding riff and some hellish sounding organs lead in before we are left alone with Heike's clean voice and some sparse piano lines. It's definitely an effective method of introducing her voice to the album; having her sing over an almost silent accompaniment, before building up to a heavy ensemble with Anders' hateful snarls. From here on out, we are treated to a good hour of aggressive, guitar-driven, Deathy sounding Gothic Doom that focuses more on morose, angry guitar leads than sweet sounding keyboards or dramatic, romantic duets.

One aspect of the album that is worth focusing on is the fluctuation of aggression. Over the course of the band's discography, they have been a bit more well-known for pursuing romantic, atmospheric Gothic Doom anthems that went heavy on the airy, dreary keyboard passages and sweet duets between the two vocalists (tracks like 'Death, Come Near Me', 'She Dies', or 'The Solitude' would serve as good examples). However, this album seems to cut its influences into two sections; morbid sounding Doom/Death sections with mournful leads and Anders' angry grunts, and catchier mid-tempo Gothic Metal bits with Heike's light singing. Yet, when I utter the words "Gothic Metal", I would be quicker to compare such sections to the more aggressive, riff-oriented form of the style Paradise Lost have perfected in the past ten years, as opposed to the cheesier, synth-heavy kind. A good example of what I'm talking about would be the alternation on track 'Stellar Tombs'; calm verses and a catchy mid-tempo chorus are narrated by Heike's croons, whereas Anders uses his anguished growls to add emphasis to a slow, grim bridge of Melodic Doom/Death Metal a la October Tide.

The keyboards are used pretty judiciously throughout the album, which I am grateful for. Whenever they are not being used as a very faint background synth behind the guitars, they are bringing in some tasteful grand piano melodies into the mix, but even this is very occasional. There are some really nice violins utilized on 'Pale Tortured Blue' alongside the main riff, which help to create a forlorn, apocalyptic atmosphere. Another nice addition is the clean singing voice of Daniel Änghede (of Progressive Rock group Crippled Black Phoenix), who lends his melodic harmonies alongside Heike's voice on 'Rivers Between Us'; a bleak ballad which almost sounds like something one would hear had Katatonia and The Gathering ever collaborated back in the late 90's. In fact, the track more or less reminds me of the band's Where Lovers Mourn album, reflecting the more relaxed and passionate sound of the band's earlier works.

For me, the moments of the album which truly shine the most are when Heike's voice is given the spotlight over the slower, more morbid sections of the songs. Because of this, my favorite track of the album would easily be 'The Marriage of Attaris'. On this what WOULD be closer track (though 'With Love and Defiance' is listed as a bonus track, I have yet to know of a copy of the CD that doesn't have it in the listing), Heike's singing wails over trudging, slow riffs. The combination of lumbering, bleak Doom riffs and emotional female singing reminds me of bands like Funeral or The Slow Death; bands who have been known to put lead female cleans over utterly miserable Funeral Doom riffs. In terms of pacing and atmosphere, the track could easily lean closer towards something that guitarist/songwriter Johan Ericson would have written in Doom:VS (which is more or less, Doom/Death with some leaning towards Funeral Doom) than anything Draconian have played in the past.

Now, to address the vocals; I didn't want to be one of those Lisa fanboys who would shit relentlessly on this album due to her departure, and happily, that isn't the case. However, I did find myself somewhat disappointed by Heike's contributions to the album. From what I've heard in her Dark Electronic project :LORELEI:, Heike possesses a very nice, almost sultry lower-range voice that would have added an interesting twist to Draconian's music. However, a majority of her singing on the album is higher range stuff that reminds me too much of Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation. She sounds very ethereal, light, and soft; a bit too soft for my liking. By no means is she a bad singer, but I feel as if the band could have (and very well should have) done more with her lower range to make her sound more sinister and ominous, as opposed to simply sounding pleasant or gentle. Aforementioned track 'With Love and Defiance' is the only one to show her utilize her alto range, as she croons in a sinister mid-range refrain that I find to be pretty addicting to listen to.

As for the rest of the music, I can say I'm pretty pleased. It's not specifically anything new from Draconian; it's a catchy, aggressive blend of Gothic and Death/Doom elements, and it's performed very well. The rhythm guitars and bass have a nice crunch to them, the leads always sound haunting and ghostly, the drums are never too sparse nor overly technical, while the sound quality is crystal clear and allows the music to retain a considerable amount of heaviness.

I will say that, as a fan who has waited for this album pretty eagerly since its announcement, I feel pretty fulfilled by Sovran. I feel as if this album has brought back some of the heaviness, hostility, and aggression that seemed to be lacking a little bit with A Rose for the Apocalypse. Overall, the album is a good complement to this past year's releases from Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Swallow the Sun. Those who take a liking to Gothic Doom, Melo-Death Doom, or simply enjoy bleak sounding music that carefully balances out aggression and melody will want to look into Sovran.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. Heavy Lies the Crown
2. The Wretched Tide
3. Pale Tortured Blue
4. Stellar Tombs
5. No Lonelier Star
6. Dusk Mariner
7. Dishearten
8. Rivers Between Us
9. The Marriage of Attaris
10. With Love and Defiance

Duration : Approx. 67 minutes

Visit the Draconian bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-03-20 by Dante DuVall
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