A glass of red wine in hand, world weary and sullen from trudging through yet another week. Sovran then, the long awaited sixth album from Swedish gloom merchants Draconian, seems a perfect fit for the small release from such drudgery. Despite a gap of only four years since A Rose for the Apocalypse, the wait for this latest opus has felt a lot longer. Perhaps in part because the aforementioned release was unfortunately largely forgettable, but mostly due to long term vocalist Lisa Johansson leaving in the same year, and being replaced in 2012 by Heike Langhans – we’ve been waiting three long years to see what she’d bring to the band and their new material. Fans needn’t worry though, Sovran is a definite return to the doomy melancholy musings we’ve all come to love from Draconian, with Heike and her lovely voice fitting into the band as perfectly as if she’d been there from Draconian’s early days.
Sovran is still very much Draconian, with a new vocalist there’s not a huge shift in their sound, just more of a refinement compared to the previous effort. They still play a mournful and expressive style of gothic-doom that’s unmatched by most of their peers. We can see this from the outset on opening track Heavy Lies the Crown, a slow gloomy riff punctuated by dramatic keys starting an impressive opening track. The guitar tone is heavy enough to suit it’s purpose, but they don’t go down the route of trying to barrage you into submission with distortion. The rest of the heaviness comes from the feeling put forth in the lyrics and emotional performances of Heike and Anders, having just as much of an effect as any ten ton weight guitar tone. One also notices the album’s great use of spacing, the guitars letting up slightly to let Heike’s voice take centre stage – and these passages are often the albums’ best, when her voice breaks through with forceful emotions and providing a dramatic climax for most of the songs. Her voice is beautiful, with a similar tone to Within Temptation’s Sharon Den Adel, and though much more powerful, that low trill to her voice does bring comparison to the iconic singer, and fits perfectly as a “beauty” counterpart to Anders’ “beast” growls. A comparison to Lisa wouldn’t be fair to either party, both have their own style, and both fit marvellously within the overall picture that Draconian paints. As usual Ander’s growls are more emotional than they are needlessly brutal, and his dramatic spoken word passages are a trademark of his oft repeated through the album. Overall Draconian’s sound is great, the strings brilliant as usual,which alongside the keys make a great counterpart and add an extra dimension to the crunch of the guitars It’s more Turning Season Within than Arcane Rain Fell with it’s focus on gloom over doom punctuated by dramatic high pitched lead guitar melodies through the album, and it’s a lovely listen.
Pale Tortured Blue is led by Heike most of the track, showing just how powerful and filled with emotion her voice can be with a stirring performance, and it’s a slow melancholic affair, dripping with atmosphere from the interplay of guitars and keys. However Sovran really reaches it’s heights in it’s second half with one of the longer tracks Dusk Mariner eclipsing all those before it, with the length allowing for more indulgence in their sumptuous melodies, and there’s a more ethereal tone to Heike’s voice, with Anders’ brimming with a cauldron of emotions, and it’s really a high point of the album. The dramatic and epic edge which has always been a part of the Draconian sound, and it really shows itself on the longer tracks. The lyrics are beautiful, the strings stirring, the guitar melodies hard hitting and the track – a triumph. Dishearten has the loveliest duet between Heike and Anders across the whole album, and the pounding drum rhythm and subtle keys make it yet another highlight. Rivers Between Us features a guest appearance from Crippled Black Phoenix vocalist Daniel Änghede, providing some lovely cleans in a lovely wistful duet with Heike over a sorrowful cloud of melancholic leads and gorgeous keys. Daniel’s contribution is fantastic, the passion in his voice fitting perfectly into Draconian’s brand of gloomy music, and his lyrics near the end of the track being among the album’s best – but who knows what beautiful words would be said if one could provide a transcript for that expressive closing solo.
It doesn’t quite match up to the first two albums, which by now are classics in their own right, but while lacking a lengthy epic such as The Cry of Silence, or Death, Come Near Me, Sovran shows a freshness from Draconian that shows why they’re still stalwarts of the gothic doom scene, returning with an album that leaves you falling in love with it a little more each listen, with an electric atmosphere and of course with Heike’s beautiful voice. Another incredible effort from the Swedes and an end-year list botherer for sure.
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