Much has been made of the impressive alignment of metal bands from Denver, and Colorado more generally, in recent years, including Khemmis, Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation, among myriad others. But Dreadnought have always stood apart from other bands not just within that scene but within metal overall given their singular blend of diverse influences, creating something vaguely resembling doom metal but which has always had wide eyes for detail and grandiosity. Their new record, Emergence, represents my third interaction with their material, having loved 2015’s Bridging Realms and respected 2017’s A Wake in Sacred Waves (Wake). Love and respect are strong markers of my feelings; will another such marker be placed by Emergence?
Emergence continues on the note left by Wake, utilizing a similar, dense blend of sounds and influences. The fluctuating, dynamic music conjures the same topographical image as The Ocean, although Dreadnought uses a more diverse array of tools in their image. Among these is the pairing of soft, clean singing with blackened howls, the integration of unorthodox instrumentation such as a flute, cello and saxophone, and song-writing which wanders with gusto into post, doom, and black metal. Although clearly a metal record, it isn’t guitar-oriented; the lead riffs rarely take center-stage alone as each instrument is afforded breathing room in the mix. You’ll hear just as much of Jordan Clancy’s intricate drumming and Lauren Viera’s somber piano track as you will the guitars when all is arranged together. It’s clear that Dreadnought are about a ‘total’ sound, one which eschews the dominance of individual instruments in favor of dense, detailed soundscapes.
Post-metal often attempts to conjure a consuming effect, where the moment-to-moment enjoyableness is cast aside in favor of a wider vision which may only make sense in the context of the entire record. Individual tracks are simply a part of something bigger. That is certainly the case with Emergence but the particular result here is that I’m left pondering which tracks are truly enjoyable individually. I don’t think I can say that I love any of them taken in isolation and this makes the record as a whole equally difficult to love. That’s not to say it’s worthless though. There’s plenty of merit to be found in unpacking the dense compositions, whether disaggregating the clashing guitar lines, picking out the somber piano track, or appreciating the contrasting the shrieked and clean vocals. It’s most certainly an interesting record. But I don’t want to be just interested by the music I’m hearing; I want to be engaged and I want it to be compelling. Emergence simply lacks the dominant riffs, the delightful floating passages from Bridging Realms and, in short, the hooks required of records I love.
It makes for challenging music and this quality is not assuaged by the length of the tracks, 3 of which exceed 10 minutes. “Pestilent” concludes on an appropriately heavy note but is not very satisfying in total; it trundles along but there’s no real ‘pay-off’ and the fade to black ending is impotent. Counter-intuitively, it’s the longest track called “The Waking Realm” which I enjoy most as it defies this trend to meander. A serene opening featuring gentle guitar chords and soft vocals gradually crescendos over the course of 6-plus minutes; the oh-so-subtle layering is gripping and such an extended period of serenity ensures that the ensuing heaviness is all the more striking. Similarly, the apocalyptic, blackened finale makes for a strong climax and, alongside the quieter parts which swell into heavier environs, ensures that the track feels like it’s truly progressed across its duration.
There’s a lot to appreciate about Emergence and it’s an engrossing record on close listening given the myriad instruments, moods and textures. But the further Dreadnought drifts from the effervescent, bright qualities of Bridging Realms, and the more they draw from darker influences, the less I enjoy their records. It’s very well producing something which I find interesting but if I lack emotional attachment then a release will not ultimately stay with me. I’ll always take note when a Dreadnought record is announced but am concerned that the band’s best days are not ahead.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Profound Lore Records
Websites: dreadnought.bandcamp.com | https://dreadnoughtdenver.com/ | www.facebook.com/dreadnought
Releases worldwide: May 10th, 2019