Sound: When Forgotten Legends EP was released in 2003, fans of black metal pricked their ears. Now, on it's 5th full-length and a second EP, Drudkh demonstrates that it's music reaches far beyond the term side project. Marking a return to the roots, but with a fresh approach and better production, this is one of the strongest works put out by the band in the past four years.
The sound is the familiar trademark dirge that has always been present in the music of Drudkh. Back are the familiar tempos, folky melodies, sorrowful atmospheres and the incredible presence of nature; the music is very evocative and calls back to the nature's very beginnings. The past few releases raised concerns over the band's ability to keep the sound fresh and inspired, and it is safe to say this album has largely answered those -- it is authentic Drudkh songs, but with a refocused and re-energised feel.
The innovation here comes largely at the drum kit. In contrast to most of Drudkh's output, blastbeats are present throughout a lot of the songs. Former drummer Yuri brought with him a very specific style, and the changes his absence brings are very profound. There are also a few heavy sections in Solitary Endless Path that sound rather new; the only similar sound I can think of in the band's previous work would be some of the moments of The Swan Road, band's second album. These are incidentally the weakest parts in my opinion, but at the same time they work really well when resolving into the more melodic sections. It makes for a difficult reviewing, but since the song works, I'm prepared to leave it.
Production marks a new level in the sound. Unlike a lot of traditional black metal bands, Drudkh have always maintained a certain level of clarity and a standard of production that's essential for the music to work the way it does. The complex arrangements of layers and guitar harmonies would be lost otherwise. Estrangement brings this aspect to a new level, with increased clarity of the instruments, especially where drums and bass are concerned.
The guitar work consists mainly of two or three layered tracks that play off each other and harmonise to make a lush and melodic sound. At this point I feel I need to note a few things about the excellent lead work. Solos were present in previous albums also, but I really feel they outdone themselves on this album. The leads sound a lot more inspired than their Blood in our Wells counterparts, and the melodies are really tasty. The song that particularly surprised me was the short last track, Only the Winds Remember My Name -- the lead here has a completely different feel and atmosphere to anything Drudkh have composed previously. It's a lot more conventional, but it works, and brings a new and exciting spark to an already excellent album. // 8
Lyrics: Vocals on this album are probably some of my favourite in the band's entire career, save perhaps for their debut album. Aggressive and full of emotion, at no point they sound overdone or forced. Together with the music, they bring out the exact feeling of solitude and isolation as inspired by the album title. Their classic debut Autumn Aurora featured the vocals that were more or less buried in the mix, to create a dense, lush envelope of sound. Estrangement is a lot more conventional in this respect, and the vocals take on a more traditional role.
The lyrics are excerpts from poems by a Ukrainian poet, but go very well with the music. Both Ukrainian and English versions are provided, and the English translation is very faithful to the original. The poems themselves are beautifully written, and well chosen as they convey the very feeling of estrangement that the title suggests. // 10
Overall Impression: This album may not be regarded by fans as the hallmark of the band's career, but with that said it is their strongest work in the past few years. Released after the Anti-Urban EP and the folk effort Songs of Grief and Solitude, both of which received rather lukewarm welcome, Estrangement returns Drudkh back to the top of the Ukrainian black metal pantheon. The songwriting is very solid, and despite the somewhat simplistic and repetitive nature of Drudkh's music it keeps the listener interested all the way through. The riffs are hypnotic, and the better production really enhances the presented sonic palette.
Another thing that kept me purchasing the band's albums is that whether their musical exploration work better or worse in certain cases, you can be sure that the band has put a lot of effort into making any given record. Estrangement is not an exception; the album comes packaged in an oversize jewel case with a booklet of complementary artwork and lyrics both in Ukrainian and English languages. With every release, Drudkh maintains a strong sense of identity and aesthetics that's expressed in it's romantic, nature-inspired black metal. Estrangement, thus, maintains that tradition both music and presentation wise. The album is a bit short at only 37 minutes long, but the quality of the music makes every minute worth.
There isn't much to fault with this album. I found the only problem may be that occasionally, the sound is a bit too tried and true. The criticisms that plagued the band recently were that they are walking on the thin edge between incredible atmosphere and incredible boredom. And because guitar-wise the album is inspired by the common thread that's present through their discography, it is too easy to pass it up as another Drudkh album. However that would be erroneous, as there are plenty of moments of brilliance on every song. The melodies are well executed, parts flow very well, and all the songs have plenty of dynamics that keep the tracks interesting. Both long-time fans and those new to the art of Drudkh will find this album an engaging and evocative journey. // 8