Dvne – Etemen Ænka Review

If you ask me, Dvne is one of the greater discoveries of the last 5 years. After sampling them, based on a random recommendation from a random review, I’ve found myself increasingly absorbed by the Scottish band. They are still my favorite out of all the TYMHM reviews I wrote, and they landed a high spot in my end of year list in 2017. Needless to say, my anticipation for this weirdly named sophomore offering of sci-fi prog sludge was sky high. Can they live up to my expectations?

Aside from one or two notes in the margins, Etemen Ænka is largely a triumphant return for Dvne. There’s not been a grand stylistic departure from Asheran; the foundation is still progressive sludge from the school of Mastodon, but with more daring, long-form compositions, a superior sense of flow and transition, and better balance of riffs and rhythms. Simultaneously, it feels like a proper sequel instead of a retread, primarily thanks to the more significant role of the keyboards. The change in structure has forced the addition of Richard Matheson as full-time keyboardist, and in doing so, the style of the band has subtly shifted away from the desert planet illustrations of its debut and moved more towards a cosmic retro science fiction setting.

The keyboards are just another layer in the belt of Dvne, however, and if there is one thing this band knows, it’s how to properly employ layering. It seems almost unfair to try and dissect the guitars, bass, keys and drums separately, because they are so closely interwoven it’s like reviewing a sweater by unspooling its thread. The drums don’t just set the tempo and provide fills; they punctuate the chords of the riffs and the bass. The lead and rhythm guitars elevate each other by exchanging tasks and supplanting each other’s snippets of melody, and the rhythm and bass guitars engage in similar trickery. The keyboards just add atmosphere, rarely inhabiting a lead role, but they do so while making use of the inherent versatility of the instrument, employing bright crystalline notes one moment, shimmering transparent curtains of sound the next. When this sumptuous feast of compositional quality takes its time to build a mood and set a stage, it’s already an absolute marvel to behold. When all brakes are loose, it becomes a cascading avalanche of riffs, the melody borne atop wave after wave of mingling strings and keys and carried on a mountain of tempestuous, piledriving drums, an avalanche that never ceases to amaze and entrance.

The dreaded note in the margins, then, is true to the band’s ancestry. Vocals were never Mastodon’s strong suit, and neither are they for Dvne. The roars are fine to good; coarse, gruff, dry, but with sufficient power to not be left behind by the music. The cleans, however, are somewhat thin, frequently waver, and occasionally seem to glance off the intended note. I was more generous to the vocals on my previous Dvne review, but either I have become more critical or the issue is more noticeable on Etemen Ænka. However, they are far from terrible, nor do they ruin the music; a lot of emotional resonance is carried on the clean vocals in particular, even if their technical execution is not as mindblowing as the rest of music. I have another quibble, but it’s minor: the atmospheric interludes take a bit too much time spinning yarn, often slowly crawling to life from silence over the course of the first minute, and it saps the momentum of the album a little, but as they are otherwise effective at setting a mood this is easily forgiven. The vocals, on the other hand, are the only complaint of real significance I can levy.

With an album of this magnitude, that sure is saying something, as Etemen Ænka clocks in at 8 minutes past the hour. And yet, aside from the interludes, I would not want to shave a second off any of these tracks. They are simply too well-written, too beautiful in their dynamic compositions to want to miss a moment. Each track is an exercise in building towards billowing crescendos in a wide variety of ways. Fluid transitions pull the music gradually from gentle mystery to stormy peak, until it all coalesces into a rolling, thundering hurricane in which every part of the band weaves through the others to create an utterly inescapable tidal wave of riffs that will pull you under and drown you, and when it’s all over and done, you will want to go again and again. Dvne is absolutely unstoppable.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: songs-of-arrakis.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/dvneuk
Releases Worldwide: March 19th, 2021

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