Draconian_Sovran1My Dying Bride and Anathema invented what we now think of as the goth-tinged doom/death genre back in the early 90s with their respectively earth-shaking debuts. Though many bands have subsequently tried their hand at the style, few have nailed the original sound and mood as well as Draconian. Helmed by Anders Jacobsson, they’ve released a serious of beautiful and depressive works like Arcane Rain Fell, Turning Seasons Within and 2011s A Rose for the Apocalypse. A major part of their success was how effectively they utilized the whole “beauty and the beast” vocal gimmick. Although the concept has been done to death and back, it always worked like a charm for Draconian, largely due to the angelic and fragile vocals of Lisa Johansson. Sovran sees Lisa depart and Heike Langhans assume the role of beauty to Anders Jacobsson’s beast, and while I prefer the former’s voice, the song writing here is so haunting and beautiful it scarcely makes a difference.

Sovran offers a lot of what fans have come to expect from the band but this time the female vocals are more prominent than ever before and there’s a noticeable shift toward a more goth-centric sound, continuing the drift away from their raw doom/death roots. However, opener “Heavy Lies the Crown” still delivers a monolithic slab of gloom and hopelessness with weepy, forlorn riffs assaulting the listener. These are dressed up with hauntingly beautiful harmonies as Heike and Anders trade dueling vocal lines amid the nothingness of despair. Heike has a voice much like Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) and she does a fine job sounding heartsick and emotionally destitute while Anders roars away with his typically grim, low-register death vocals. “The Wretched Tide” features even more morose riffs that remind me equally of Novembers Doom and While Heaven Wept and the atmosphere they weave is exquisitely sad and tragic.

The best cuts come toward the album’s mid-point with “Pale Tortured Blue” being an instant contender for Song o’ the Year. It’s an emotionally powerful doomer with traces of vintage My Dying Bride and a large amount of Tuomas Saukkonen’s melancholy riffing style throughout. The lead at 2:30 is completely gorgeous and sad, and when Anders growls “I will raise a statue in the wilderness. It will find its way to your dreams” I have no clue what he means but it feels important when paired with the massive and tasty doom riffs and I hope that statue looks like this. “Stellar Tombs” suffers from a slightly clunky opening but quickly settles into a haunting and stunning song full of emotion and gravitas. The riffs borrow from old Cemetery and Saturnus and Heiki delivers a delicate performance that perfectly offsets Anders’ imposing growls. “Dusk Mariner” rounds out a touching series of songs with a slight Mandylion vibe and that’s always a very good thing. The cumulative effect of these few tunes is like someone stabbing a big old Scandinavian icicle in the part of your brain that generates happy thoughts. It’s going to take time to learn to laugh again.

Draconian_2015a

The back-end gets significantly more gothy on “Dishearten” and “River Between Us” and though this means much less heaviness, it still works. “Dishearten” benefits from a sweeping but somber chorus that really sticks, and “River Between Us” is just a beautiful song regardless of genre. There’s a definite shift toward a goth-metal style evident throughout Sovran, but I get the feeling it’s these later tracks that show where the band will be heading in the future for better or worse.

Aside from the occasion weak transition or poorly phrased riff, the songs are all extremely well-written and performed for maximum emotional impact. The overall level of writing slightly surpasses that of A Rose for the Apocalypse, which I still love, but concede I may have slightly overrated in my days as a young metal scribe. Both are great albums, but Sovran pushes the needle ever so slightly closer to excellent despite the reduction in heaviness.

While I was put off at first by the loss of Lisa Johansson and by Heike’s more stereotypical vocal style, she won me over and proved she can carry Lisa’s torch and keep Draconian going in the right direction. She has a lovely voice, emotes pain and suffering quite well and sounds great paired with Anders. It’s definitely the guitars that elevate the music this time though, with Johan Ericson (DoomVS) and Daniel Arvidsson (Mammoth Storm) dropping a depressive state the size of Texas on your heads. From the crushing doom riffs to the sweet, sad harmonies and the more direct goth-metal leads, they are masters of all. This is a beautiful album, plain and simple.

Draconian have been on a major roll since 2003 and it continues here with more sadness per square inch than most gothic death/doom bands could manage. I dread seeing them drift much farther from their doom/death roots, but I can’t find much to fault here. Check this out.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: draconian.se | facebook.com/draconianofficial
Releases Worldwide: October 30th, 2015

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  • Rob Liz

    Nice review and Draconian rules. I’m glad it isn’t just me that instantly thought Heike sounded a lot like Sharon Den Adel especially in the early days of Within Temptation.

  • Art Saves

    Dont like one bit that Heike sounds like Sharon.
    Really offputting but hope that with repeated listens it can be ignored.

    • You’ll get past it.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      If Heike Langhans voice reminds you of Sharon Den Adel it´s your own fault for listening to Within Temptation in the first place.
      ;-)

      • Art Saves

        Touche ;)

  • Pimpolho

    IT’S SO GOOOOD. (Fanboyism apart, GREAT review, Mr. Dhrum).

  • 20111s A Rose for the Apocalypse? That must be a future re-release ;)

    • It’s the special limited edition “Jam the Hammer” Redub.

  • Nick Maestas

    Damn this sounds really good! Thanks Steel Druhm for the review! A suggestion for the next “Yer Metal is Olde” how about some Dark Tranquillity “Character”? hahahaha I would say the other band I would like to be reviewed more too but I have a feeling it’ll start pissing grumpy Angry Metal Guy off and I don’t want to get excommunicated by the AMG staff. *cough* review Rotting Christ’s back catalogue *cough*.

    • There’s nothing wrong with old Rotting Christ! As for AMG, he’s a chronic crank pot and nothing can be done about it.

      • Nick Maestas

        Hahahaha I’ve had the Rotting Christ suggestion in like 5 different comments! If you were to review it Steel Druhm, it must be Genesis. I never hear everyone talk about that album and after MANY MANY listens it has some of RC’s best most underrated songs in my opinion.

        • I would be more likely to go back to a Dead Poem or Triarchy of Lost Lovers, but Genesis was fine too. You aren’t wrong.

          • Nick Maestas

            Those albums too are great, Triarchy is special being that it was my first Rotting Christ purchase.

          • Noobhammer

            I love me some Triarchy and Dead Poem. But for me, I will always adore “Thy Mighty Contract” if not for the fact that I I feel the album flows beautifully, and it has the epic, grandiose, time stopping, hauntingly beautiful ‘Exiled Archangels’. My first album purchased as a special order from a Record Exchange, and the album that led me to becoming a rabid RC fan, it will always be my top album from them, and probably 10 of all time for me.

        • Noobhammer

          Genesis was a pretty good album, for me though I would say it’s one of their more tame albums I think. It felt like a continuation of Kronos which was great, and then shortly afterwards they shifted their style more with Sanctus Diavolos, which was a fantastic album as well. So I don’t think it’s not on purpose that no one really discusses it, because it has two of my other favorite RC songs ‘Lex Talionis’ and ‘Under the Name of Legion’, but moreso because it got sandwiched between two amazing albums.

          • Nick Maestas

            ‘Dying’ also! such a great song and ‘Release Me’ is super awesome. Definitely a band where every album is unique and good.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          I should really check out more RC. Loved Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού. Such a unique sound.

  • Ooh I like this a lot. I kinda (really) like how Heike sounds so much like Sharon. But the doomy riffs are what sell it to me.

  • Wilhelm

    I hate to be the voice of dissent but here it goes. The problem with Draconian is that they are just an unremarkable band. I’m a huge fan, and a pretty forgiving one too, of gothic/atmospheric doom but I cannot, for the life of me, sit through an entire album of these guys. The female singer, not being a soprano, and more suitable for upbeat goth metal or hard rock might be the culprit, or the fact that they lack keyboards might have something to do with it but really I think it boils down to songwriting. They don’t really capitalize on the strengths on the genre; rarely do they get death metal heavy, or slow down to sweep you into another time, there’s no unexpected changes in tempo – I just feel that they are always in the middle somewhere, just kind of hanging out…Plus I don’t hear much “goth”, I would say it’s more like melodic doom (I have the same problem with Swallow The Sun) This is the band that would, naturally appeal to people who don’t normally like the genre as it’s accessible and easy to digest. As for gothic doom metal, over this one, I would recommend the new Angellore, My Dying Bride, the last Saturnus album, the Slow Death, To Cast a Shadow, The Fall of every Season…and don’t get me started on the 90’s stuff.

    • Alexandre Barata

      Not being a fan of this genre, I totally agree with you. Listening to Draconian isn’t as painful as it is unremarkable. After a couple listens to their discography I couldn’t remember a single moment that got me by the balls… I mean, I’m not really a fan of this genre, but the last one from Paradise Lost has the punch, the riffs and everything I miss on Draconian.

      • Wilhelm

        I wasn’t too big on the last PL album either but that was more to do with the vocals and production but at least that held a little excitement and diversity. When I listen to Draconian, it just feels like I keep listening to the same song…across their whole discography. It’s not BAD by any means, just completely average.

    • AnnieK13

      Oh I really like the new Angellore!

    • Tristan gummow

      Yeah Draconian does have its draw backs. Theyre a skip band for me. Half the album gets skipped. But the other half I like quite a bit. Granted I disagree with the review and would rank this album below Where Lovers Mourn as my least favourite. But I got draw backs on all the goth bands. Each only have a few songs I like. Many are just to slow or to much beauty not enough beast. Give me a beauty and the beast Omega Arcane. Now that would be something

    • RuySan

      I agree with you with Swallow the Sun. I do remember some of my friends falling in love with that band in the last years of my addiction to Doom (2003/2004) and I found them to be incredibly generic. As for draconian, i’m liking what i’m hearing, but maybe my days of elitism are long gone and my standards aren’t the same,

      • Wilhelm

        I liked the embedded song and decided to check out the rest of the album, it was a real letdown…but decide for yourself, seems people are big on this band. Swallow the Sun might have the worst vocalist in all of metal – I’ve tried but just cannot get past his vocals.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Please! Get started on the 90s stuff!

      • Wilhelm

        The 90’s were a great time for doom/death, gothic doom, atmospheric doom. Not only did you have young bands making great music, but perfect full uncompressed, analog, production…the sounds were fucking heavy, spacious and you could feel the sorrow seeping out of your speakers. Ashes You Leave, Lake of Tears, Tristania, Decoryah, Empyrium, Morgion, Ecstatic Fear, Cemetary, Tiamat, the 3rd and the Mortal and that’s not counting the big names like My Dying Bride, Katatonia, PL, Anathema. Even today if I do a search and find some unknown gothic doom act from the 90’s, I’m rarely disappointed with the result. When the 2000’s came and everyone started doing their thing on computers, the music became less heavy, less personal and less creative.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          I knew you should get started on the 90s stuff. Go listen to Avernus if you haven´t yet.

          • Wilhelm

            Yes! I loved Avernus, I recently listened to “Of the Fallen” after many years and was still very impressed. It’s great to meet a fellow fan.

    • Tentacles

      I thought I would be a voice of dissent but I feel completely the same way about this band. Being a noob when I ‘discovered’ them I went out and bought the back catalogue simply based on what I read. They sounded like a band I should love and the reviews were almost universally gushing, but I don’t think I ever actually listened to any album from start to finish.

      This embedded track is typical of the band. It starts off and you think, ‘Oooh, I am going to enjoy this,’ and but after a couple of minutes you realise that there’s nothing really interesting going on melodically. It is a triumph of style over substance. They have all the ingredients to make something incredible, but the songs are a bit….dull.

      On the plus side…listening to this over morning coffee got me in the mood for some doom, so I put on Pantheist’s ‘O Solitude’. Now that’s an awesome death/doom record!

      • Wilhelm

        Wow! I haven’t listened to Pantheist in a long time, in fact I could not remember much about them. I’m listening to O Solitude now and the songs are coming back to me…this is kind of what I wanted Draconian to sound like. Thanks for the name drop, my coffee also tastes better with this Pantheist in the background.

  • Kalsten

    I have been laughing (like really, laughing in real life, not an internet lol, xD or similar) with this sentence “and when Anders growls “I will raise a statute in the wilderness. It will find its way to your dreams” I have no clue what he means but it feels important when paired with the massive and tasty doom riffs and I hope that statue looks like this.”

    Thank you for making me laugh. It was a tough day today :)

  • Stefunal

    Woah, this IS good. Should probably take a look at their back catalogue.

  • tomasjacobi

    Come on, haven’t you heard? When a band you already like makes an album you also like, you’re supposed to give it a 5/5 score.

    • That may happen with my next review, but I’m averse to over rating these days.

      • tomasjacobi

        Get with the times. All the kids are doing it!

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        hmmm very curious to see what your next review is now!
        Could it be the Steel Druhm 5 star Deafheaven or Repentless review?
        Speaking of 5 stars I’ve been very much enjoying Enshine on your recommendation. I would say that it would be as close to 5 stars as 4.5 gets ;) just flawless!

        • tim.o

          +1 for Enshine
          Check out their previous release as well. The kind of death-y, new-age-y, space metal you can flop into after a long day at work leaves you wanting to throw a spiked battery ram up your boss’ ass.

        • Oh, it’s something special.

          • Monsterth Goatom

            Please tell me it’s “Jorn’s Christmas Favorites”.

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            Well looks like I need to put aside some more pocket money…I’m hoping that its either the new Kylesa or Monolithe…otherwise it’s looking like a cat food christmas :)

  • mauler77

    Absolutely love Anathema’s ‘Serenades’, will check this out for sure.

  • CyberJesus

    I’ve been listening to this almost constantly since they released a stream on invisible oranges! I agree that apart from the odd transition here or there it’s a great album and although I love Lisa’s vocals I too have been won over by Heike.

  • GooberMan

    October what are you doing?
    OCTOBER!
    STAHP!

  • I rather liked their last album when it came out and remember listening to it quite a bit, but admittedly, I had forgotten about this band. I am digging the embedded track although I will admit on this site, the tile is abbreviated “DRACONIAN – Rivers Beneath Us (feat. Daniel…) and my heart skipped a beat for a moment thinking it would be Daniel Brennare from Lake of Tears, but it’s not. I am a Lake of Tears fanboy! :)

    • Pimpolho

      Lake of Tears is so underrated! It’s such a great band.

      • ‘Forever Autumn’ remains a fall staple for me after all of these years. I can never grow tired of hearing that album.

    • Wilhelm

      Lake of Tears were one of the best – everything up to (and including) Forever Autumn is a must.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I do really like her vocals in the embedded track, not so sure about the talky vocal bits though. It could get a bit much if repeated through the album. Very washy nice sound. Though in the middle of a killer couple of months I don’t think I can fit this one in, will be keeping an eye on these guys.

    • Mark Hunt

      I just recently got myself “The Burning Halo”, after being a big fan of Turning Season Within, Arcane Rain Fell and A Rose for the Apocalypse. The Burning Halo has “talky vocals” overload and especially the first half of the album is hard for me to get into. Some bands like Saturnus or Doom:VS can pull it off, Draconian can’t.
      Sovran, has very very little spoken word though.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Thanks for the tips,
        I’m a fan of Doom:VS the guitars on their last album were gorgeous. At some point I will check this out Ericson’s playing is of definite interest to me.
        Personally I think Doom:VS would be improved by them ditching the dreary funeral vocals and expanding what they where doing with the poetic spoken word passages.

        • Mark Hunt

          I don’t even know what I prefer. I love the vocals on their first two albums.
          Earthless definitely has a bit less variety without the clean vocals (except one song), but it definitely has the mightiest death vocals.
          I think it’s the vocalist from Saturnus, one of the GOAT doom/death singers imo.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Hey Steel Druhm!
    I might be wrong but I believe you broke a Metal Law by name-dropping My Dying Bride and Anathema and not adding Paradise Lost.

    Speaking of which I always thought this band was named after Paradise Lost’s “Draconian Times” but I have no evidence. It might be just me liking that album so much that I believe bands should name themselves after it.

    • doom-erik

      Either that, or they are big RPG nerds, and took the name from the Draconians (some kind of dragon-men) from the Dragonlance saga

      • Feytalist

        Or (and this is a bit way out there, I know), they took their name from the established, existing word.

        • doom-erik

          Naah, you really think so? :)
          But us Swedes usually don’t know that word (my first introduction to it was the album title mentioned above).

          • My guess is they did indeed take it from its Athenian derviaitve and not a suggestion from Bupu.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          You have quite a crazy theory there.
          ;-)

      • Heike Langhans

        Actually, the name derives from Draconian magick. Anders has past ties with the Dragon Rouge.

        But if we have to go back to the origin of the word, we look no furhter than Orion, the origin of the Draconis Race. That much I leave as hypothesis based on years of research. But let’s stick to the former. ;)

    • RuySan

      Even though i love all three bands, Paradise Lost early albums sounds substantially different from MDB and anathema’s. Not as slow and morose. Its Doom/Death gauge was much more pointed to the “death” part.

      Anyway, I don’t listen to this kind of stuff for ages, but I liked what I heard. I feel like 20 again.

    • I never really thought the early Paradise Lost albums sounded much like MDB and Anathema.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Indeed.
        But being the Peaceville Three, If you already named two of them one is left waiting for the third one…
        As if I mentioned Larry and Curly, you’ll be expecting to hear Moe.

  • tim.o

    Sharon truly has an angelic voice. Very expressive and moving. I am looking forward to this one. Great review, Mr. Druhm!

  • doom-erik

    Arcane Rain Fell was OK, but I always thought they where a little too much goth and too little doom for my tastes when it comes to gothic death/doom. Haven’t heard their later stuff but maybe I will give this a listen.

  • Mark Hunt

    Heike’s vocals are ridiculous. Search for the live video of “Heavy Lies the Crown” on Youtube, instant goose bumps on the opening of that song.

    • Pimpolho

      I agree. I think she is miles ahead of Lisa, and Lisa is great.

  • OzanCan

    I’ve been waiting this album for so long. Why don’t they make an album every two years? Oh well, none can rush the creativity process I guess!
    Thanx Sir Druhm!

    • marts

      I’m sure if you followed you would know that answer… there were big complications with Heike moving from South Africa to Sweden after Lisa left.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with Draconian or Johannsson, but I really like Heike’s voice. The soaring vocal lines on Stellar Tombs are thrilling and chilling. As you say, she’s great paired with Anders. It’s a match made in Heaven…. Or some such place.

    Having Ericson here is a big help as well. I love Doom:VS, and a song like Pale Tortured Blue sounds like it could have come off Earthless. Great autumnal music.

  • You wot m8?

    Does the male vocalist have anything to do with Doom:VS?

    • No, Johan Ericson did the vocals and the first albums and then brought in Thomas Akim Jensen from Saturnus to handle vocals.

  • madhare

    Speaking of name dropping. Yeah, I can understand that My Dying Bride and Anathema were the pioneers in this genre. BUT … and it think it’s like a enormous ginormous humongous BUT…

    But this stuff. On this amazing magnificent beautiful album. To me, this is much more Theatre of Tragedy than anything else (you know, their early good stuff). Little bit like a mix between Theatre and the Peaceville Three. In a really good way. I’ve always liked the P.ville Three but they just can’t compare to Velvet Darkness They Fear etc. And this kind of has good sides of both.

    I guess that’s kind of what you are saying in “the female vocals are more prominent than ever before and there’s a noticeable shift toward a more goth-centric sound, continuing the drift away from their raw doom/death roots”… but then somehow you fail to make the connection to what they have become.

    You could almost drop “The Marriage of Attaris” on a Theatre album and not notice the difference. I think I’m in love!

    But one would never guess that from your review. I’m tempted to use the term epic-f here… ;)

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I was thinking old Theatre of Tragedy too. Basically because they invented the whole “Beauty and the Beast Doom Death” thing. Plus some gothic garnish.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      About that marriage of Attaris… are they talking about two old videogames consoles getting married?

      • madhare

        …could also be some kind of internal merger or consolidation of Atari corporate branches… :D

    • Yep, ToT fits too, especially the old stuff. I just wanted to take things back to their roots.

  • Grumpyrocker

    What a great album. CD arrived this morning. Wonderfully gothic and doomy, and I love Heike’s voice – she sounds a lot like Sharon den Adel, which is no bad thing.

  • Levly

    I think I must disagree on this one. I find it a clear step down from A Rose to the Apocalypse and Turning Season Within. I think it’s the lighter instrumentation, the excessive use of quiet parts and most importantly the lesser quality of the overall riffing. It feels closer to old Draconian, which was good, but not as good as the band that produced Season and Rose. I re-listened to that last record and I find it way better, still as good as when I first listened to it. This one on the other hand is still good but disappointing, And as SD says, I’m a little worried for the direction the band is taking :s…

  • Solaire

    “Helmed by Anders Jacobsson, they’ve released a *serious *of beautiful and depressive…”

    Wat

  • Narune

    No mention of the extremely Lovecraftian vibe the lyics emanate? The subject matter is quite a departure from their other albums, which were mostly based on Satan and his battle with God. To me, this is the album’s greatest strength. There is such a heavy sense of forboding, like an ominous warning that we are but tiny little things in a universe filled with horrors beyond comprehension.

  • Viventes Mortua

    Except Dishearten whole Sovran album is sadly crap

  • Carsten Meng Smidt

    Once again I’m confirmed as to why I read your blog. I had never heard of this band before, but after reading this review I checked it out, and I loved it. Great album! Thanks for the head up!

  • TminusEight

    This is such a great album, thanks for the tip SD!