Written By: Hell³
Sweden’s Draugurinn is the dark ambient personification of one-woman-band, Dísa Á. Even though she didn’t make a blip on my metal detector until recently, that hasn’t been for a lack of effort on her part. With both Draugurinn and her black metal persona, Turdus Merula, she’s been releasing quite the number of full-lengths since 2010. Finding a new home on the Nordvis label, she’s awoken this project from a three year slumber and released Ísavetur, her first new album since 2012s Móðuharðindin. That predecessor album, besides having a name that looks nigh-impossible to pronounce, was also her first to be inspired by the cataclysmic eight-month long volcanic eruption at Lakagígar, Iceland in 1783. Ísavetur touches on the same grim theme and tries to rebuild and reinterpret the atmosphere created on the previous release.
First of all, I wouldn’t call this metal by any means. Sure, it’s got plenty of haunting dark ambience, but even an open-ended definition of the genre needs more than a stark, moody tenor to make any sense at all. That being said, there is enough black metal influence on the music to justify it’s inclusion on these pages. This influence takes the form of shrieking vocals on opening track “I,” recalling The Crystal World-era Locrian with its morose vibe. It’s also clear from the start that this is not the kind of blackened ambience you’ve heard from groups like Lurker of Chalice. Instead Draugurinn is more like a gloomier Dead Can Dance or a more spartan and primal version of This Mortal Coil. It’s also quite similar to the work of Ulf Söderberg under his Sephiroth moniker.
This is the kind of music you can put on and lose yourself in for its 50 minute length. The use of keyboards provide most of the melody and deliver a natural, authentic feel. The production is richly textured with great dynamics, allowing the acoustic and tribal instruments to breathe, thereby achieving a great balance between the modern and archaic. There are no thundering guitars here, with Dísa instead utilizing a wide variety of bells, rattles, and tribal drums combined with the extensive keyboard and vocal layerings. With all this going on, she somehow manages to create a sparse, barren soundscape that mimics the alien scenery left by a volcanic disaster.
Ísavetur’s minimalism could be an obstacle for the average listener, despite the severity it lends to the music. There is very little melody by design, and the tracks are stripped to the most basic compositional structure. Even the production treats the melody as a background element to be subsumed beneath the pulsating drone and totemic rhythm work. Tracks feel drawn out a few minutes longer than they should, but this is mostly nitpicking because there’s not much here that can be fairly be called filler. Particularly enjoyable are the odd numbered tracks with the really distinctive mood each is given. “I” has more of a liturgical feel, with almost choral vocal layering. “III” is more ritualistic, with the use of primal-sounding horns that highlight the throbbing rhythm, creating something akin to a Native American feel. Closing in a strong way, “IIIII” has a solid cinematic mood that begins with a shiny bell sketching the melody until the soaring keyboards flesh out what could be the soundtrack of a big budget sci-fi movie.
Despite the limited appeal for the regular metal listener, there is much to like about Ísavetur. It may demand more attention than most ambient music, but it’s hard to dismiss the album’s deliberate tone and mood. Few things create a more universal connection than the shared sense of loss a natural disaster leaves behind. Even if this particular event took place more than two centuries ago, the artist’s obvious connection to the period allows her to craft a beautifully haunting musical landscape capable of taking listeners on a journey back into the ash-clogged darkness. An engaging and unusual outing providing many reasons why we should look forward to her more metallic projects.