Draugadróttinn – Where The Sea Gives Up Its Dead
Release: EP, 2009 (Self-Released)
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Sonic Brethren: Lustre, Summoning, Trancelike Void
Draugadróttinn means “zombie lord” in Icelandic… wait, that can’t be right. Fucking Google Translate. I’m going to assume it’s supposed be something along the lines of “dead heroes.” Yeah, Dead Heroes sounds much better, let’s go with that. Despite the name, this isn’t some underground Icelandic band waiting to be discovered – it’s a one-man project from Montana. The post-black metal scene has seen a torrent of these lone apartment dwellers flooding the intertubes with their home studio releases and Alcest worship. (Spend five minutes browsing through Bandcamp and you’ll know what I mean.) But somehow this release kept popping up on my searching sessions so I decided to use my precious bandwidth and download a copy.
The mood projected by this record is fantastic. Dreamy, with an overlying sense of sad beauty which I find to be the driving — and most important — characteristic behind atmospheric releases. With genre influences ranging from Depressive Black Metal to Post Rock, the EP is a bit eclectic at times but never wanders into a territory of pretension. It uses repetition as hypnotic theory, and as soon as you think you’re getting sick of a verse it changes into something equally mesmerizing.
But you’ll need some patience to find the sense of calm on Where The Sea Gives Up Its Dead. While the guitar work is clean and clear, pretty much every other instrument suffers from some distracting flaw. The drum machine is tinny, lazily-programmed and too forward in the mix. And the vocals, oh god, the vocals. Scott Byrnes either doesn’t have confidence in his voice, or simply doesn’t have much of one. Tons of distortion and reverb is heaped on the vocal track, making the black metal rasp an electronic bastardization of the norm for the genre. I can just imagine him sitting in his bedroom at night, hoping his growly whispsers aren’t waking up his parents, only to play it back without effects and find how un-kvlt it is. “Ah fuck it, I’ll just Pro-Tools the hell out of it.” Listen to the first three minutes of the EP and you’ll know if you can sit through the whole piece or not.
But with all my gripes, I still find myself returning to this album or having bits of it stuck in my head as I fall asleep. I’m a total sucker for any metal that can transport me to another plane while I lay in bed, and Draugadróttinn does just that. It’s not going to change your life or even be something you’ll remember a few years down the line, but you can tell how much effort Scott poured into this release and it’s worth it to hear how much tortured emotion can be spewed forth by a native Montanan.
Final Thoughts: Not a great headphones record, but beautiful and calming nonetheless. At the end of the day, it’s still worth at least $2 more than its $0 price tag.