Okay, let’s get this out-of-the-way right off the top. This album cover gives me the creeps. It also makes me think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So I alternate between grimaces and laughter whenever I’m looking at this bizarre choice for sludgy avante garde collective Obake’s third album, Draugr. It really does fit with both the band and the music, though. An obake is a Japanese supernatural shapeshifting creature, and a draugr is an undead beast from Norse mythology. So my interpretation of the cover is that it’s a killer zombie rabbit. What does this do to our expectations from this group of oddballs? Are we going to want to run away?
As anyone who follows Obake (or read Roquentin’s excellent review of 2014’s Mutations) knows, these guys defy pigeon-holing. They’ve also got the chops and pedigree to do whatever the hell they want musically, with ties to Porcupine Tree, O.R.k., Metallic Taste of Blood, and more. Interestingly, these other projects don’t really influence the music of Obake, which is the heaviest and oddest of the bands listed. Obake are sludgy, grindy, and impulsive. The music twists and turns in unexpected directions, even if at times one thinks they can pin a song down. Opening tracks “Cold Facts” and “Incineration of Sorrows” both attack with bottom-fed, fuzzed-out guitars, singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari blazing through his entire repertoire of vocal styles, from marble-grinding throaty harshness to Mike Patton-esque deep menaces, to David Sylvain-like lounge croons. The music follows this lead, moving at times jarringly between pummeling grind and ambient oddness.
The theme of musical nonconformance carries on throughout Draugr. “Hellfaced” alternates between frantic blasts and eerie choruses. “The Augur” is a long, slow, menacing track that gives us respite from the chaos of the first three songs, and “Appeasing the Apparition” gets right back into heavy sludge centered around Eraldo Bernocchi’s molasses-thick riffs. “Serving the Alibi” features a circular, noodling clean riff but still drops into muddy chords for the choruses. The title track is the only one that really breaks the mold here, opening with quiet, airy keyboards and Fornasari’s croons before slowly building in emotion as the croons become throaty growls and fuzz-laden guitars sneak into the mix. There’s also a Leon Switch remix of “Draugr” tacked onto the end of the album, interesting but not essential.
The most well-known member of the band, bassist extraordinaire Colin Edwin, locks things down regardless of what’s happening around him, giving all the songs a firm grip on stability. Jacopo Pierazzouli behind the kit is the newest member of the band, having joined after Mutations. Pierazzouli has great chemistry with Edwin, and the two of them maintain, if not exceed, the pummeling rhythm of Mutations. The production suits the music: more dynamic range would be nice but certainly isn’t necessary, as you can only get so much out of these riffs. Electronics and keyboards are used sparingly but to good effect, subtly adding depth to the mix when present.
If there is a fault in Draugr, it’s found within its inherent difficulty to listen to. The unconventionality of the songs mean one can’t simply turn on the stereo and walk away. I’ve been listening to this thing for two weeks and I still find myself rewinding tracks to listen to a part that I just barely caught as it played. This definitely makes it an uneasy and awkward experience – much like the cover art. For those into the weirder side of metal, with the patience to really get into this type of record, Draugr will not let you down. Others who need more immediacy in their listening pleasure, run away!