Draconian – Under a Godless Veil Review

Darkness and light, good and evil, heavy and soft. Dichotomy has long played a key role in metal music, and following in the long, dark shadow of Theater of Tragedy, many bands have attempted the whole “beauty and the beast” thing, pairing death metal croaks with soaring, sometimes operatic female vocals. When it works the style can be very enthralling, and over their nearly 25 year career Draconian has been at the forefront of this movement, crafting albums of gothic doom death full of weepy romance and crushing grief. 2015s Sovran opus was one of their best and it left a rather large impression in my skull. It would be a tough act to follow, and it’s taken Draconian nearly five years to make the effort. Seventh album Under a Godless Veil bears the core Draconian sound still, but it’s a much softer album overall, with raw heaviness traded for more ephemeral, dreamy moments of goth/doom beauty. That may work for some and not so much for others.

The album is bookended with traditional Draconian works, with opener “Sorrow of Sophia” pulling out all the tricks, with moments of serene and delicate goth music colliding against heavier death metal segments. There are even some haunting atmo-black elements that really add frigid spice to the wintery mix. It’s almost like a collaboration between The Gathering and Paradise Lost and as such it’s quite effective in conveying diverse moods and emotions. It’s not the best song the band’s ever done but it’s very mature and stately, with Heike Langhans stealing the show with her fragile and beautiful singing. Closer “Ascend Into Darkness” is the album standout. At nearly 9 minutes it’s the ideal encapsulation of all that Draconian does well. It’s a little heavier than the rest of the album, sounding ominous and menacing at times, using atmo-black and death doom elements for maximum effect, then giving way to moments of melancholic beauty led by Heike’s soft crooning. It’s all stitched together immaculately and the song drags you through a field of diverse feelings. It could stand to be shorter by a minute of two but this is the stuff I wanted a whole album of.

That’s not exactly what Under a Godless Veil delivers though. There are no bad songs, but the overall mood is too restrained and sedate  for my tastes. Songs like “Sleepwalkers” and  “Burial Fields” are pretty much straight-up goth and though they are well done and enjoyable, I crave more heaviness than what they provide. At times this feels like a Trees of Eternity or early Within Temptation album more than the new Draconian and that’s a let down for me. Even songs I really enjoy like “Claw Marks on the Throne” would be better with more heft and danger in the recipe. And during the least compelling track, “The Sethian” I find myself reminded too much of Battlelore’s orcs and elves style of D&D themed melodeath. Only “Moon Over Sabaoth” really feels like classic doom, featuring a Candlemassive lead riff that is a welcome sound after so much lighter goth-centric noodling. At just over an hour things feel a tad too long as well, but not in a crippling way.

Since coming on board in 2015, Heike Langhans has become the central feature of Draconian. Her soft, ethereal vocals are captivating and it’s hard not to be impressed by her vocals regardless of what kind of song they appear on. She shines brilliantly here whether the songs are gothy ballads like “Night Visitor” or heavier fare like “Ascend Into Darkness.” Heike’s singing is offset by the death vocals of Anders Jacobsson, and though I’ve always enjoyed his delivery, he feels somewhat neutered on much of the material here, as if he doesn’t want to throw too big of a death stone into the gothy stream. That makes this the prettiest Draconian album, if not the best. Guitar-wise Johan Ericson (Doom:VS) and Daniel Arvidsson also seem subdued this time out, with fewer riffs really standing out as crushing or heavy. There’s no shortage of sweet goth trilling and pretty flourishes, but don’t expect to get pulverized by doom leads as they’re in short supply.

Under a Godless Veil is another quality release from Draconian, though it’s too mellow in some ways to meet my admittedly high expectations after their Sovran album. Fans of the band will find plenty to like and there’s no shortage of lush sadboi moments. I just wish there was more of the hard metal edge that made me a fan originally. Still worth checking out though for a wintertime bummer.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: N/A | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Napalm
Websites: draconianofficial.com | draconian.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/draconianofficial
Releases Worldwide: October 30th, 2020

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