Review Summary: Often overshadowed by the two albums that follow and precede it, The Swan Road is an entry in Drudkh’s discography that isn’t to be missed.
Any black metal fan worth their salt will be able to tell you who Drudkh is. And hopefully they will then proceed to illustrate how consistently great they are. Since their conception in 2003, the Ukrainian band has worked hard to shake up the Eastern European black metal scene. Much of that can be attributed to the talent and work ethic of their leading member and guitarist, Roman Saenko, who also helms Hate Forest, Dark Ages, and Blood of Kingu, releasing two or three albums a year between the four projects. The members’ respective side-projects often lead the band to be labeled as NSBM, but that is simply not the case. Anyone ignorant enough to go around spouting such nonsense can get f*cked. With lyrical content ranging from Slavic mythology to Ukrainian poetry, Drudkh (meaning “wood” in Sanskrit) have always been about heritage, but this is not to say the band is radically nationalistic. And to worry about such things is to take focus away from where it really belongs – the music.
The band’s third release, The Swan Road, sees a departure from some of the experimentation seen in their previous album, Autumn Aurora, in favor of a more formulaic approach to atmospheric black metal comparable to their first, Forgotten Legends. However, one still cannot call this a run-of-the-mill album for the genre, for Drudkh is simply just not that kind of band. Their somewhat uncharacteristic fusion of blues chords and solos to black metal creates a uniquely emotive soundscape and is the type of trademark that keeps listeners coming back for more. The use of dynamics is often just frequent enough to break up monotony while remaining sparse enough to prevent tarnishing the atmosphere carved out from the wondrous droning riffs. The Swan Road also utilizes effective tinges of folk until the end of the album, where the band throws us a curveball in Song of Sich Destruction, a full on folk ballad about the destruction of the center of the Zaporozhian Cossacks by the Russians in 1775.
Drudkh’s signature atmospheric riffs are especially strong on this album and include some of their most evocative and powerful melodies to date. Mesmerizing as they are, there are a few points on The Swan Road that do prove to drag, but they truly are few and far between. Solos are no stranger to Drudkh’s albums; however, here we see an increase in their presence from the first two albums. Their thoughtful placement, combined with their beautiful sense of melody and sheer technicality, greatly enhances the overall product. Aside from the solos, blast beats make a more frequent appearance as well. While the blasting and throwback fills are standard affair, they serve to give the album an understated old-school feel that meshes surprisingly well with the ambient riffing. The bass, as in many black metal albums, is disappointingly low in the mix. It only feels a shame, though, after listening to their later works, Estrangement and Microcosomos, where it’s made clear how enhancing it can truly be. Thurios’ vocals are as sharp as ever, commanding such raw emotion in his signature tormented, raspy growl. All of these components meld to create an album that is rich in texture but never overbearing.
The Swan Road is a release that is complex, yet simplistic. It can be digested successfully on one listen, yet new things are left to be felt and discovered with each passing return. The album may lose one’s attention at times, but rest assured it will promptly be commanded again with something new and exciting. Its synergy is perhaps the strongest of any of the band’s albums up until the final track, which, love it or hate it, feels like an arbitrary insertion to an otherwise cohesive album. That said, The Swan Road overall proves yet another testament to the legacy of one of black metal’s most consistent bands. In Drudkh we trust.
The Swan Road, sees a departure from some of the experimentation seen in their previous album, Autumn Aurora, in favor of a more formulaic approach to atmospheric black metal comparable to their first, Forgotten Legends.
What experimentation? This album and Autumn Aurora are their most straight forward albums to date.
Figured this album went long enough without a review.
For sure. I might redo Blood in Our Wells because the rating is way too high and their weakest album in my mind (yeah yeah, shut er down!). Excellent review!
never listened to Drudkh, where do I start?
Microcosmos because anyone who says otherwise doesn't appreciate what they were going for on that album.
Honestly, coming from a huge Drudkh fan, I'd say start right from the beginning and work your way up. And I guess I don't understand what Drudkh were going for on Microcosmos, because I think it's their weakest album to date.
I thought their weakest was Estrangement, if not only because of that god awful snare drum.
Albeit, a weak album for Drudkh is only relative to their own work. Compared to almost anything else out there, they have never had a weak album. That is, unless you have the screwed up slow version of Anti-Urban, which did suck. Then again, it wasn't an intentional screw up.
Thanks dude. I've got the pic LP of this coming in the mail, and I'm pretty stoked. Thankfully, I've already got Autumn Aurora and Blood In Our Wells since they're my two favs, but this is one damn good album. Definately worth checking out.