It’s Angry Metal Confession time kiddies. Steel Druhm has many things he should confess but for now, lets focus on aspects of the metal scene I’ve grown weary of. First up has to be symphonic black metal. Its been done, overdone, redone and ultimately, undone. Another very overused gimmick is beauty and the beast vocals (death metal vox paired with soaring, usually operatic, female vocals). Since Theatre of Tragedy came out with Velvet Darkness They Fear, every gothic metal band under the moon tried their hand at the style and while it can be amazing, it’s been overblown in a major way. Because of the staleness in this approach, only the very best practitioners leave any impression on me. Draconian is one such expert unit and while I liked their early material, I LOVED their 2008 release Turning Seasons Within. That opus managed to balance heavy doom with ethereal gothic sensibilties and they made the beauty and beast approach work magnificently. Now with A Rose for the Apocalypse, these Swedish glumsters have done it yet again and offer a top quality gothic-doom/death album brimming with emotion, intensity and dark atmosphere. Its good enough to make me rethink my position on the entire paradigm and its a real slobberknocker of a metal album.
Draconian always excelled at long, doom metal set pieces that made maximum use of the dichotomy between the raw death rasps of Anders Jacobsson and the beautiful, emotive voice of Lisa Johansson (Shadowgarden). Opener “The Drowning Age” picks up right where Turning Seasons Within left off and its a great choice for the lead track. Starting off powerful and heavy, it soon locks into the traditional Draconian sound with a great doom riff that reminds of Brave Murder Day era Katatonia and really old Paradise Lost. Anders has a great death croak and when Lisa joins in she’s as enchanting as always. Over the next seven minutes they give a clinic on how to make this dueling vocal style work. Its as good as anything off Turning Seasons and contains the memorable line “let’s bring our gods to the gallows.” The rest of the album rings with equally high quality gothic tinged death/doom and songs like “End of the Rope,” “Elysian Night” and “a Phantom Dissonance” manage to be heavy as hell but memorable and addicting after just one listen. Not all the songs grind along at a doom crawl and they wisely shake things up with more aggressive tracks like “End of The Rope” and “Deadlight.” They also bring back violins with good effect on tracks like “The Last Hour Ancient Sunlight.” None of the ten tracks are weak and there’s enough diversity in approach and tempos to keep things from getting boring.
This time out Lisa’s vocals are pushed further into the forefront and it works well. She has a great tone and she never goes for an operatic approach or over-sings. She lets her rich, beautiful voice do its job without forcing anything (listen to her haunting vocals on “Elysian Night”). She sometimes reminds of Marjan Welman (Autumn, Demiurg) and sometimes Anneke Van Giersbergen (The Gathering). Whenever she comes in, her voice captivates and it really meshes well with the death vocals (especially during “Deadlight” and “A Phantom Dissonance”). Also worthy of praise is the guitar work by Johan Ericson and Daniel Arvidsson. They provide an impressive array of great doom/goth riffs and a lot of it is both heavy and tasteful. The riff at 4:30 on “The Drowning Age” is stellar as is the depressive opening to “The Last Hour.” At various times during album, the riff phrasing reminded me a lot of unsung but great Finnish doomsters Rapture (who all doom/death fans should seek out ASAP).
Yet another highly impressive release leaves Draconian at the very tip of the gothic doom/death spear. They keep refining and perfecting their take on the style and with results like this, there isn’t much negative one can say. This is the equal of the great Turning Seasons Within and likely to be one of the best doom metal releases this year. Its all about finding the beauty in darkness and these folks have the knack for crafting bleak, haunting music that remains memorable and accesible. Give this a listen and bask in the gloom as beauty and the beast gets a temporary reprieve.