Review Summary: Drudkh exchange confusion for focus, but in doing so they lose a bit of what made them so exceptional in the past
In what may be considered a hasty retreat spawned by the backlash in the wake of 2010’s Handful of Stars
, Drudkh are back right where everyone expects them to be. This backpedaling can be seen in the name of the album – Eternal Turn of the Wheel
is lifted directly from the third track of their debut Forgotten Legends
, so it hearkens back to a time when Drudkh were still doing their thing, their style of folky atmospheric black metal that made them a name everyone in the black metal world was familiar with. If anything, Eternal Turn of the Wheel
is Drudkh being themselves, rather than flailing around in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory like a person suddenly submerged beneath the chill waters as the ice below their feet gives way. Its potency is a concern – this doesn’t feel
like the Drudkh of old – so it is a legitimate concern as to whether or not they will ever recover fully from their stumble that was Handful of Stars
, but as far as I can tell Eternal Turn of the Wheel
is proof that Drudkh are still in tune with what made them good in the first place.
It’s no Autumn Aurora
or Blood in our Wells
, but it is Drudkh in their comfort zone. Much like Microcosmos
injected new life into the band’s sound after a volley of rather unorthodox releases, Eternal Turn of the Wheel
is the sound of a band getting back on their feet. They layers of guitar and bass wander around trance-inducing riffs that bring me right back to the days of old, despite their inherent banality that leaves the longer tunes like “Breath Of Cold Black Soil” growing stale by closing time. Much like a rusty hinge, it takes Drudkh a few swings to flow smoothly. It is no wonder, then, that the album's final two tracks are its best. “Farewell to Autumn’s Sorrowful Birds” comes closest in achieving true glory that would belong up there with Drudkh’s best songs – the fact that it is the most varied piece on the album plays no small part in this distinction. Core elements to Drudkh’s aesthetic are still there: tangible bass that is as critical to the atmosphere of “Night Woven of Snow, Winds and Grey-Haired Stars” as it was to songs like “Distant Cries of Cranes” from Microcosmos
; vocals that have a natural, human element to them instead of being distorted shrieks that fit as well with the music as orange juice mixes with milk. However, it is hard to say that Drudkh are reliving their best moments.
Eternal Turn of the Wheel
can almost be forgiven for what it doesn’t do well in relation to, say, Microcosmos
because of what it does do well in relation to Handful of Stars
. It doesn’t get off that easy, though, because there are qualms to be had with the record. For one, it does precious little to distinguish itself among a venerable back catalogue of releases that continuously showed themselves to be among the best of the best in the black metal world. Even taken as an individual album, it harbors moments of stagnation instrumentally that need to be spruced up in order to warrant replayability. “Breath of Cold Black Soil” seems destitute compared to “Farewell to Autumn's Sorrowful Birds” or the lively, desperate and sublime conclusion to “When Gods Leave Their Emerald Halls” – a track that could be labeled similarly desolate had that outro been absent.
Thankfully, Drudkh have exercised enough subtlety of mind to reign in the running time of Eternal Turn of the Wheel
to more or less the perfect length – 37 minutes – given what is present on this album. Walking away, I am left with a sound assurance that Drudkh are back on track, despite their obvious rustiness and songwriting stagnation. It’s not as magical as Autumn Aurora
, but it is nothing short of enjoyable. There are moments here worth returning for time and again, but not much to put Eternal Turn of the Wheel
in the same level of esteem as its distant predecessors. Roman Saenko and company are back in familiar territory, and for that I am glad, because when Drudkh are on point they are easily one of the best black metal bands in the world today, and even when they stumble a little bit these Ukrainians prove themselves to be a band that demands your attention.