Review Summary: Solid gothic/doom metal all around.
There is great controversy using the term "gothic" to describe any sort of music type. It's loosely flung around like a shotgun term, meant as either a compliment (for the scattered and congregated followers), or a demeaning term for the poser bands that rose throughout the late 90s and early 2000s (just compare Evanescence to Bauhaus and you know what I mean.) One reviewer for my daily newspaper even used the term for our favourite Finnish love metallers HIM; describing it as something that shows the truly bad side of "gothic", and pleading the listeners interested in this substyle to go to the ever-growing Summer Darkness fest.
Well, on the fringes of gothic music, in the darker spectrum, exists a niche genre called gothic metal, and Draconian is such a band that should attract the crowds at say, your average Summer Darkness fest. It's easy to see why, too; for a first, Swedish non-blonde (though she may have dyed her hair like all these bands do) Lisa Johansson is behind the mic, one of those typical female vocalists. Draconian decided she wasn't enough, and added a "beast" vocalist to the mix, giving us that most infamous vocal due of the gothic metal scene: lovely princess vocals contrasted with dark grunts.
"Whoa, nelly!" a listener with wit will point out. "Gothic metal? Don't all these bands sound the same? I've heard more bands with female vs male vocal duets than I can stomach? What makes you think that I should check these guys out? After all there's so much music from Sweden, and I can think of more interesting things to do with my time!"
Well, 'lo and behold, because these cats don't sound like Within Temptation. Draconian's musical element has more in common with bands like Katatonia, Opeth and Swallow the Sun than chickflingster bands like Evanescence, making this the real deal; these are riffs, these are melodies, these are doomy lyrics to these ears. It's like someone took the gothic stereotype vocals, but fitted them over a doom/death metal band; it's like My Dying Bride, with Aaron Stainthorpe being replaced by two vocalists and the band playing at a tempo that isn't nearing the speed of your grandmother on the highway in an old Fiat.
Of course, there are annoying things about this record. One is the spoken word sections, which don't add anything, except if you're a devout Novembers Doom fan and really want to hear Paul Kuhr speak (and if you are a ND fan, you probably have this album anyway and don't need to read the review.) The second is a useless outro, which if possible is worse than the useless intros people tag onto albums these days: we want to hear a song, not a minute of piano tinkering with spoken word vocals. It's not musical, it's not experimental, and for the last time, it's not interesting. Not when Opeth does it, not when Dream Theater does it, not if ***ing Trent Reznor did it, and it's not interesting when Draconian does it, either.
Lucky all else on this record are 8 good solid songs of moody metal goodness, as Draconian's lyrical songwriting is up to par, with Lisa and Anders trading vocals often (and Anders' growls are pleasing to these ears.) And all the gothic metal women are just gonna love the lyrics, which fit the exact mould of what you would expect; it's darkness, gloominess, and moodiness. Plus who doesn't love a sugary chorus sung by Lisa that runs "I know I'm alive / But not breathing / And you know how I tried / Please believe me", with those slow, typical guitar lines in the background; it's almost like Katatonia got a grunter again!
2008 may already be far underway, but I've been listening to this since March, and clearly this record is not intent on prying itself out of my cd player just yet. Draconian may not be the plat du jour
of the gothic metal troupe, but they're solid all around, and this new record doesn't seem to disappoint me. And I'm not the biggest aficionado of the style around, so I'm pretty sure fans will eat this up massively; in the meanwhile, get your kid goth sisters and brothers out of their Evanescence and My Chemical Romance phase and have them try out the real deal instead. Then at least if they'll try to angst their way out of their lives, their soundtrack might just be more genuine.