Handful Of Stars
posted on 9/2010 By:
By now, most Drudkh fans have learned to tread carefully in anticipating new releases. With one of the more frustrating recent track records in all of black metal—four masterpieces followed up by a series of erratic, less-than-stellar follow-ups—it now makes just as much sense to expect disappointment from a new Drudkh release as it does to expect excellence. With last year’s solid outing in Microcosmos, things looked positive in the Drudkh camp for the first time in a few years. What a shame it is then, that Roman Saenko and co. decided to turn right back around after only a year and crank out the bland, tasteless slab of boredom that is Handful Of Stars.
Most of us probably saw the writing on the wall; the lame album title, the corny and out-of-place cover art, and the mediocre post-black sections that attempted to diffuse Microcosmos’s more enthralling moments. But even as someone who hasn’t been shy about voicing their displeasure with elements of the band’s recent direction, Handful Of Stars surprised me in how fundamentally trite and uninteresting it is. Once the absolute top purveyors of desolate, wind-swept black metal, Drudkh now sound about as epic and emotional as a bowl of plain oatmeal. Most of the internet backlash surrounding Handful Of Stars has been concerned with the album’s supposed deviation into post-rock influenced black metal a la Alcest or Les Discrets, but this comparison is only partially valid. Yes, the song structures are now increasingly rock-based and the guitar tone is thinner and more quiet, but where bands like Alcest use the airiness of post-rock to strengthen the blackened atmosphere of their songs, Drudkh try and squash the two styles together, making for a dry and sparse album that lacks all the indefinable emotive qualities that usually makes these characteristics conducive to black metal’s artistic goals.
Many of the riffs themselves display some real potential, but it’s the delivery and tone of the music that ultimately kills its impact. These songs are utterly devoid of narrative flow or build up; unlike Drudkh’s past albums, you never feel that sense of eager anticipation at something amazing waiting beyond the horizon as you wade through Handful Of Stars. Songs plod on and on, repeating indistinct chords and serpentine bass lines that often barely even register as riffs for far longer than necessary, while the weak and trebly production job removes any semblance of heaviness or energy from the equation. There are instances when some epic melodies somewhat in the vein of the band’s classic material attempt to free themselves from the muck, but they feel so low-key and hazy that they don’t come through with any real force or conviction. Drudkh used to be absolute masters at making simplistic riffs hit with mountain-toppling gravity through careful use of repetition, melody, and timing; here, even the album's most complex and intricate moments fail to get off the ground because the core sound is just so damn anticlimactic. Even the more "intense" moments like the blasting riffs in “Towards The Light” are castrated by the wimpy guitar tone and overly-jazzy feel of the percussion (a strength on Microcosmos), and Saenko’s tortured rasps feel awkward without a more engaging musical score to back them.
If I could describe Handful Of Stars in one word, its just weak. The production is weak, the riffs are weak, and everything has this sort of hollow, plastic feel to it that is just so disappointing coming from this band. I can kind of get a sense of what Drudkh were trying to accomplish here in theory, but the execution is just too confused and aimless to properly deliver this vision. The music on Handful Of Stars is monotonous, unenthusiastic, and most importantly, unfulfilling; it’s the equivalent of waiting for an hour at a restaurant smelling all of the delicious steaks that pass you by only to receive a couple of Doritos on your plate when your order finally arrives. Under whelming in every sense, Drudkh has released the biggest disappointment of 2010 so far.
posted on 9/2010 By:
Drudkh. In the past, the band's very name has been one of mysterious enchantment, one of isolation, one of solitude. Drudkh has always stood out in the world of black metal as a band whose music contains some of the purest organic mixtures known to man. The band possesses the unique ability to harness all of the strong emotions of black metal and deliver them in a way that is both warm and comforting. If that isn't enough, Drudkh uses their music to explain how such a thing is possible. Surely, the same pain, loneliness, angst, desperation, hopelessness and estrangement (pun intended) lie within many other black metal albums, but the light in which Drudkh interprets these emotions in its material is unprecedented. While important musicans from the past have focused on the fact that feeling these emotions is an inevitability, Drudkh allows even the most shattered soul to take comfort in the fact that it's temporary; it allows one to realize that they can appreciate their own sorrows and misfortunes while still seeking to obtain hope for a warmer tomorrow. Perhaps this is the reason why their sound has never been successfully mimicked in even the slightest of ways. The echoing of Ukranian melodies -- which were all undeniably written straight from the heart -- has always been instantly discernable to the ears of anyone who has had the pleasure of reflecting on Drudkh's music. In fact, it may be impossible to casually listen to Drudkh. If not impossible, than it's at least perhaps insulting to the band.
Handful of Stars, in its structural sense, is very similar to all of its predecessors. As with Microcosmos, the quality of the recording leaves nothing to gripe about. To some, recent production experiments such as the snare drum on Estrangement stuck out like a sore thumb. To others, these imperfections are part of the reason why Drudkh's albums are so loveable. Regardless of personal opinions, most will agree that the production of Handful of Stars is right where it should be. "Downfall of the Epoch," the first of the four main tracks, gently eases the listener into the album. The bass line is just as easily recognizable as the twang of the guitars, which constantly ring out as new notes overlap. The drums are slow and steady, with brilliant fills standing out as the biggest element of variation. If you've ever heard a Drudkh album, you should know the routine by now. "Towards the Light" picks up the pacing slightly, with very subtle tremolo picking shyly hiding behind repeating chords. The double bass makes the heart beat faster as you wait for the ONE thing that will solidify Handful of Stars as yet another masterpiece... a 30 second guitar solo 7 minutes and 45 seconds into the song? Please, Roman Saenko, don't tease me like that. Matters just became personal. Don't ever fucking tease me like that again. Let's try this again with the next track, "Twilight Aureole." Wait a minute; it sounds like more of the same, this time with guitar soloing replaced by some out-of-place distortion effects placed yet again at the song's ending. Ironically, the next track is entitled "The Day Will Come." Will the day come again when we can all listen to a Drudkh album that doesn't sound as incomplete as this one? Sadly, that day is not today. About halfway through the album's "opus," comes the worst solo yet.
Before I start acting like the little boy from Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree with all the complaining I'm doing, allow me to sum things up. Handful of Stars has what would be three great lead-off tracks, two minutes of the usual intro/outro business, and an eighteen-minute-long "epic" with a little too much fluff. Musically, Handful of Stars lacks lengthier solos such as the one in "Only The Wind Remembers My Name," but yet it still gives off the feelings that are contained within their strongest releases. Have we really become so musically spoiled, that we're willing to deny an album of the brilliant qualities it possesses just because of a few missing pieces? Well I haven't...not yet anyway. While Handful of Stars may seem downright mediocre in comparison with their other albums, it's still a Drudkh release, through and through. Sure, we all know that the band is much better than this, but they've given us an album every single year since the beginning. Ultimately, I'm left in awe at how Drudkh's music is such an accurate portrayal of true human emotion, and Handful of Stars is no exception. So what if it may not be exciting enough to keep you awake... A mother's gentle lullaby isn't comforting because of its musical brilliance; it's comforting because of the familiarity that comes along with its loving delivery.
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