Drakonis – Blessed by Embers Review

I’m getting too old for this shit. That was my initial thought after starting my third or fourth listen of Blessed by Embers, the debut album by U.K. black metal band Drakonis. Hailing from Northern Ireland, the group initially had some promising signs that drew me in. The promo blurb told of a band that had captivating live shows, a string of EPs that garnered positive reception, and a style that mixed black and death metal without falling neatly into any one genre (several members are also part of folk metal band Waylander, so they have some experience under their belts as well). Likewise, the name “Drakonis” is one of those simple yet effective monikers that I’m surprised hasn’t already been used by a dozen other budding metal bands. All told, I thought Embers would be the perfect album to delve into while I’m stuck at home popping my belly pimples and eating frozen pizza during this new social distancing lifestyle which has become the global norm. Sadly, it was anything but.

That’s not to say Embers is bad, but it does have some issues and it certainly wasn’t what I expected. Unlike the blackened death metal hinted at in the promo blurb, Drakonis’ style here is wholly black metal. It’s a clean, polished, and modern take on the genre, with bright guitars and a crisp, trebly production that makes the cymbals sound extra splashy. Gone are the days of Transylvanian Hunger’s rawness; no, on Embers every riff is allowed to be heard in pristine clarity.

The band’s sonic foundation is built from the traditional black metal of something like Dark Funeral, yet Drakonis fortunately understand the style they play well enough to know that people got tired of hearing 40 minutes of blast beats and tremolo riffs back in 1997. As such, the group incorporate little twists and outside elements that make their music slightly more interesting and occasionally betray their U.K. origins. Early highlight “From the Eternal” recalls fellow U.K. black metal band Wodensthrone1 with its folky influences, incorporating background choirs and folk melodies in between passages of pounding gallops. Closer “An Anthem of Ashes” later uses these folk elements to greatest effect, beginning with acoustic strumming and a lone, mournful guitar lead before breaking into eight minutes of surging riffs, cosmic melodies, and a simple yet catchy vocal hook (“Bring forth the moon! Bring forth the stars!”).2

Another compelling moment arises in the title track, when an immense melody comes to life just as the vocalist abandons his traditional rasp for a pained howl that recalls a similar moment by John Haughm in Agalloch’s “Black Lake Niðstång.” In terms of riffing, the band likewise come up with some decent ideas. “Fear of the Wretched” rides a twisted melodic tremolo line that winds its way through the verses before breaking into a jagged stomp, while “Of Dusk and of Pyre” stands out with its frantic little melodic riff that occasionally crops up.3 Yet for every interesting idea, you also have something like opener “Threnody,” which spends seven minutes pounding through rote riffing that fails to generate much interest. In fact, while the group’s riffing can occasionally be fairly eclectic, it never feels terribly exciting, as penultimate track “All Is Still” hammers home. It doesn’t help that the vocals, while thankfully quite intelligible, are pretty monotonous, nor that aforementioned clean production makes Embers feel sterile and largely saps these 49 minutes of atmosphere and mystique.

Drakonis seem like an inspired group, and I applaud them for giving what sounds like their best attempt to create a modern black metal album that remains at least passably interesting without delving too far into one of the style’s many subgenres. Yet much like Avslut’s last album, I simply find myself struggling to care about Embers. This record feels inoffensive, lacking danger or excitement, rife with predictability and a debilitating sense of heard-this-before. Some of the riffs and folky elements can certainly be interesting, and there’s little here that Drakonis truly do wrong. Yet there’s also little that truly sets them apart. Blessed by Embers may be a solid black metal album, but for most of us, “solid” just isn’t worth pausing the classics for these days.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hostile Media
Websites: drakonis.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/drakonisofficial
Releases Worldwide: April 3rd, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Who apparently broke up in 2016.
  2. I also like that the acoustic intro to this track reminds me a lot of “Grand Edge, MI” by American indie band Dads, which is an excellent song in its own right.
  3. It subsequently loses all points for using the pointless and pretentious “Of XXX” pattern not once, but twice in its title.
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