Eternal Turn of the Wheel
posted on 1/2012 By:
When Drudkh announced that their ninth album would be a return to their harsh roots, many preparing to groan at another Handful of Stars probably held their breath and raised a cautious eyebrow. After all, from 2003 to 2006, our Ukrainian lords crafted four bona fide black metal classics that stretched the formula of the early 90s into more folksy and cultural territory than most bands had hitherto attempted. However, over the last several years, they’ve been mired in the decent-but-unexciting (Estrangement), the pointless (Songs of Grief and Solitude) and the just-plain-unfortunate (Handful), with the quality Microcosmos thrust in the middle. So the promise of this band shedding away the scattershot years in favor of their yesterdays was something many yearned for, but few believed they could truly accomplish.
It pleases me to report that in many ways, Drudkh has delivered upon their promise. Eternal Turn of the Wheel is by far the bleakest, most minimal set of songs the band has written since Forgotten Legends. The soloing and wispy folk melodies of Autumn Aurora through Blood in Our Wells are virtually nonexistent, replaced instead by long passages of repetitious riffing (often more like blackened strumming), bare-bones, sometimes hidden melodies, and sparingly-used keys offering an effect not dissimilar to that heard on albums like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.
Despite these parallels, Eternal Turn isn’t exactly a carbon copy of the old days. Whereas Forgotten Legends focused on entrancing the listener with repetitious riffs delivered through an irresistible guitar tone, these new songs seem more intent on using the music for reflection, and the vocals for confrontation. In short, these are the most desperate, hopeless vocals Thurios has ever delivered, bringing an almost Nemtheanga-like vibe of forlorn destiny. And much like Primordial (only not really at all like them), the impression is of some past tragedy that needs to be spoken for—an impression somehow pronounced even by my lack of comprehension of the lyrics. Still, if one had to point to just one other Drudkh album when describing Eternal Turn, the debut would be the most convenient reference point.
All of these new (old) facets point to one likelihood: Drudkh accepted where their true skills lie and decided to stop pussyfooting around and get back to the grindstone. True opener “Breath of Cold Black Soil,” with its repeated drop-and-build, and “Farewell to Autumn’s Sorrowful Birds,” which takes advantage of a slower tremolo melody to support Thurios’ scathing words, are easily the most complete tracks here, but all have plenty to offer. In fact, if the album has one true fault, it is only in comparison to their past—unlike their masterworks, Eternal Turn simply isn’t gripping from start to finish. Some songs are made up of great material (the dancing bass during the intro of “Night Woven of Snow, Winds and Gray-Haired Stars” is too fuckin’ cool) but don’t have quite the edge-of-your-seat structures that we have come to expect. Is this a crime? No. Will it affect the longevity of this album? Probably. Eternal Turn of the Wheel will likely find a spot close to Microcosmos in the Drudkh history books, which is nothing at all to frown upon. And although it lacks a song as wholly entrancing as “Ars Poetica,” it may actually be a more fully realized album.
All of this has been a very convoluted way of stating this: Eternal Turn of the Wheel is good, and at times great, but it largely pales in comparison to what Drudkh was once capable of. Over the history of artistic media, the trend has been that genius fades, only appearing in flashes, and at best over a glorious but brief period. Very few bands, directors, or painters ever sustained more than this, and based on this simple observation, the odds were high that Drudkh would never again make something even this good. So take Eternal Turn of the Wheel for what it is: a very good album by a great band that has their best years – and hopefully their worst – long behind them.
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Handful Of Stars
Blood In Our Wells
The Swan Road