Drudkh are, by now, one of the most veteran black metal bands in operation (they’ve been around for 15 years and have released dozens of albums, even when you don’t factor in side projects and related acts). As such, they are steeped in the tropes and mannerisms of the genre; shrouded in mystery, they make music often relating to their Ukrainian identity, an identity which has been in flux for centuries now, walking a thin and ambiguous line in their relationship with that identity. For example, Drudkh took part in the One and All, Together, for Home project, spearheaded by their own front-man, Roman Sayenko. This project included nuanced and varied ideas on nationalism, patriotism and love of country, even including some critique on those feelings and perspective. On the other hand, for the past few years and even beforehand, Drudkh have composed several albums around the works of poets considered integral to Ukrainian self identification, seemingly accepting the idea of national identity as important.
So, which is it? Can we even peg Drudkh down into a simple position? What manner of darkness lurks in the corners of their ideology? What is their relationship with the “Nordic” parts of the scene as far as sound, theme and messages go? Do they view themselves as “Slavic” or their own unique creature? What is their position on national identity, when this album revolves around Ukrainian poets and their work? If you’re looking for definite answers when you come to their latest release, They Often See Dreams About the Spring, you will be sorely disappointed. Well into the second decade of their career, Drudkh have no intention on making things easier on us.
Musically, the album drifts farther away from the old-school “Nordic”, foundations of black metal and closer towards the ambience that atmospheric bands from the other side of the ocean, in America and Canada, create. This “sparser” approach is melded with the signature Drudkh sound to make a beguilingly expansive and overwhelming album. Nothing goes as fast as acts like Nidingr or Orm do but in Sayenko’s vocals are found great repositories of expressiveness and force that attempt, and mostly succeed, to inject the necessary energy into the tracks. However, Sayenko obviously can’t sing for every single moment of the album and, when he is not present, They Often See Dreams About the Spring is, frankly, not that interesting. The instrumentation on the album seems to be content with giving Sayenko the pride of place; their interpretation of ambience relegates the guitars and rhythm section to the role of mood-setters. You won’t find any immediately unique riffs or leads that will catch your attention. Rather, the intent is to create a backdrop across which introspection can take place.
Which is, for Drudkh, a major flaw when taken together with their career so far and the heights to which the accompanying textual apocrypha lays claim. It’s hard to take statements of extremity, trendsetting and experimentation seriously when much of They Often See Dreams About the Spring is so plain. Previous albums excelled in the break in narrative for the band, like the acoustic experimentation of their early-mid career, but here the changes are mostly for the worse. Nothing is terrible; Drudkh obviously know how to make black metal. But in the light of what the band have done in the past and their insistence on their veiled identity, the music itself feels lacking. There’s nothing here to justify the speeding heartbeat and bated breath which their press releases and aesthetics might conjure up; in the face of the music, we are nonchalant.
And so, we’re left with an album which over-promises and under-delivers. This is a real shame since it’s a perfectly acceptable black metal release. Perhaps if Drudkh were willing, now that so long has passed since their inception and the social contexts in which their music was released back in the day have changed, to let their identity and communication change with the times, this album would be less of a disappointment. But as it stands, this album stands in stark contrast to its promise, delivering a somewhat drab and masticated take on black metal, here in 2018, as we stand with so many great releases in the genre and the band’s own varied career in our rear-view mirror.
They Often See Dreams About the Spring will be released on March 9th, via Season of Mist. You can head on over here to pre-order it.