The music playback software I use on my phone has a useful function where it will recommence tracks of over 10 minutes from the point at which the song was paused and the software closed. This is great if I reach the 20-minute mark on Crimson or over halfway through Close to the Edge. It’s less great if the track is only narrowly longer than 10 minutes and immediately crashes into the climax while otherwise relistening to the album as a whole. Denver’s Dreadnought is particularly affected by this problem as their third record, A Wake in Sacred Seas, comprises three tracks between 10 and 12 minutes with a 17-minute fourth. Such raw numbers would strike fear into my very heart were I not already familiar with their expansive, genre-blending musical tapestry which thrives on gradually unfurling long tracks. 2015’s Bridging Realms is exemplary so I was obviously excited for a follow-up.
Such music can scarcely be described in a few short words and is done a disservice with overly exact consideration of particular tracks or moments. A Wake is an album in the truest sense of the word with a real sense of continuity and flow. But as my daily exposure to clean air is withheld until describing the music of an album, I’ll give it a go. Dreadnought have always stood out for their vaguely doom-oriented metal components which are executed with layers of psychedelia, progressive rock, and folk. The twinned female vocals of Kelly Schilling and Lauren Vieira are excellent, enchanting with soft croons and harrowing with blackened shrieks. Rounding out the instrumental repertoire beyond standard metal contributions are Jordan Clancy’s saxophone, Kevin Handlon’s mandolin, Schilling’s flute and Vieira’s keys. A Wake, however, is clearly Dreadnought‘s heaviest album; black metal influences arise through tremolo-picked guitars and faster percussion, with Schilling’s witch-like howls cutting through the mix with much greater frequency. The textures are generally denser and the mood darker.
As a consequence, the lighter, floating aspects from Bridging Realms take a back seat. These flute-dominated interludes were critical to the development of the Dreadnought sound. Each track has its moments to breathe but those effortlessly cool, chill passages are simply less present this time around. It’s as well that the heavier use of dense compositions are executed professionally. The guitars have a stomping quality to their melodies and real clout with their warm tones. Despite the range of instruments, the mix is never cluttered and while the master could be more dynamic, it’s a well-produced package overall. When ethereal clean singing, the airy flute or the jazzy saxophone require prioritization above heavy sub-layers, they’re well distinguished and sound great.
It’s disappointing that A Wake isn’t really worse for the quirk in my phone’s software. Another album may be punished for a scattered order but the song structures here are such that they don’t really “pay off.” They run through satisfying music but in an unsatisfying way. There aren’t clear end-points as the tracks expand and contract but without clear direction. I’d wager that this is intentional given the flowing nature of this music but I’m not convinced it’s the most compelling way to write. “Vacant Sea,” particularly, is a long track and could be even more effective if split down into more logical chunks. I noted earlier that Dreadnought are not about highlight moments but shorter fragments may help to accentuate distinct passages. Bridging Realms had “Minuet de Lune” which anchored the entire record despite it only occupying six relaxed minutes in the middle. It gave significance to the encircling halves and showed that their most emotive music didn’t necessarily need 10 minutes to establish itself.
The relative absence of lighter material and my structural concerns ensure that A Wake is not as good as Bridging Realms. But this shouldn’t discourage you from checking it out as it’s still a strong release and an easy recommendation for listeners who love to drift off while enjoying their music. The word ‘dreadnought’ evokes to me metal, industry, and war but this Dreadnought is far more natural and brooding. It has that other-worldly quality that not many other bands can do so well and leaves me with a warm feeling overall.