It’s no secret that—following a legacy now two decades old—black metal is synonymous with Scandinavia. For most, this refers to Norway and Sweden, but, depending on who you ask, this may also include Finland and Iceland. Regardless if these countries meet the rules for the “Scandinavia” tag, they have a plethora of black metal bands, with legacies all their own. And I thank that goat-headed deity for that. Though I may have, at one point, been a Norwegian black metal pvrist, I find it impossible to dismiss acts such as Finland’s Horna. Not only are Horna one of my favorite black metal groups, but they are also one of my all-time favorite bands. Last year we all discovered an Icelandic gem that rose to the surface—even populating more than one end of the year list, and like Zhrine, Iceland’s Draugsól have arrived to add their own awe-inspiring touch.
But Iceland is where the Draugsól—Zhrine comparisons end. Though both bands navigate the progressive side of black metal, they do it in different ways. Zhrine does it with phlegming growls that traverse deep Mgla-like trenches, while Draugsól unleashes desperate snarls weaved through Enslaved melodies and Thorns/Stellar Master Elite viciousness. Draugsól‘s debut Volaða Land may be less icy and harrowing than Unortheta, but it’s no less mindfucking. Like enjoying a children’s Christmas performance while imagining the brutal powerbombing of the program director – violence exists beyond the beauty. Or, maybe it’s the other way around.
The title track opens the album with two-and-a-half minutes of dissonant guitars, ascending drum work, and desperate shrieks of pain. Short and sweet, the opener’s pace bleeds into follow-up “Formæling.” This is a remarkable track that balances between typical black metal and “oh, Hell yes.” The scratching, clawing vocals and black metal riffage see the song into following a typical Scandinavian black metal route, but the melodic, Viking-ish, Enslaved-like bridges keep it free of the ruts. And, when the closing riffs hit, they hit hard. The tone, the delivery, the headbangeability—it’s all Thorns.
But the album highlight has to be “Bót Eður Viðsjá Við illu Aðkasti,” which is also the quintessential Draugsól song. It opens with an old-school death metal riff and vocals to match. But this is only the beginning. After pummeling you for a couple minutes, the Enslaved emotion (and progression) arrives. Three-quarters of the way in, the band stuns us with emotion-soaked riffage that’s impossible to ignore. With the simplest of riffs and moods, “Bót Eður Viðsjá Við illu Aðkasti” builds in a way you never expected. “Spáfarir Og Útisetur” follows suit, and does its damnedest to trump “Bót Eður Viðsjá Við illu Aðkasti” via soothing acoustic guitars and a heart-wrenching mood, but it falls just short of its predecessor. Throughout its four-and-a-half minutes, the to-the-point “Spáfarir Og Útisetur” ascends one step at a time until, finally, it delivers a desperate conclusion of agonizing vocals straight from the hellish halls of Horna and Leviathan.
Unfortunately, this is where the highlights end and the album kinda peters out. “Váboðans Vals” and closer “Holdleysa” just can’t compete with the rest of the mterial and, as a result, drag the album down. The former concludes with an aggression similar to “Formæling,” but without the successful result. And the eight-minute closer leaves a lot to be desired. Neither song is bad, mind you, but they break the mood and send the album spinning off into mediocrity. The closer’s outro tries to save the mood, with its The Vision Bleak/Stellar Master Elite clean vocals, but the damage has already been done. It’s just not the right closer for this album.
Overall, I’m rather enjoying this record. It, unfortunately, didn’t quite reach its full potential and something that was riding a strong 3.5/5.0 until the second half of the album is kind of a bummer. Still, Draugsól really have something here. And, on top of that, the final mix ain’t too bad—though there is room to open up the dynamics. The drums have a good presence (as they should) and the vocals are balanced well against the guitars. Draugsól have a little more work ahead of them, but the potential is certainly there. Yet, another quality black-metal outfit to keep my eye on.