Review: Draugsól – “Volaða Land”

Volaða Land is the debut record from the recently-formed Icelandic group Draugsól. The band describe themselves as black metal, and by and large that’s accurate, but to my ears there’s a whole lot of death metal influence going on here as well, with a prominent low-end sound, heavy palm-muted guitar riffs, and guttural vocals. In some ways the texture of influences on this album almost reminds me of a way heavier, more death metal-influenced Enslaved. The tremolo-picked guitar passages and aggressive percussion are here as well of course, but Draugsól venture well beyond these conventional genre boundaries. The songs are constructed around powerful melodies, rhythms and motifs, with some incredibly tasteful, understated guitar solos and jazzy, varied percussion.

The opening track ‘Formæling’ coalesces around strong, memorable riffs, an intense crescendo, and a catchy chorus section, as well as a surprisingly powerful guitar solo that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Enslaved or mid-period Opeth album. Draugsól are less obviously indebted to  Deathspell Omega and the French black metal scene than many of their contemporaries, and in fact the death metal side of their sound shines through most clearly on ‘Bót Eður Viðsjá Við illu Aðkasti’, leading into guttural growls, downtuned, jagged riffage and blastbeats.  The bass carries through very nicely in the mix, and vocalist A.J.’s gravelly, aggressive barks and screams serve as the medium for the dark nihilism at the heart of this record, his gritty tone adding a darker shade to their varied musical palette. The song has some unsettling, prominent bass guitar as well as a really unexpected but tasteful and an incredibly beautiful guitar section half way through. The song’s crescendo is an especially powerful and moving piece of music, rounding off a truly stunning song.

‘Spáfarir Og Útisetur’ features a beautiful acoustic introduction, before seguing into a slow, mournful black metal piece. The lead guitarwork is infused with emotion and melody, and the percussion is worth listening to on its own. ‘Váboðans Vals’ is another highlight from an album comprised of little other than highlights. The song mainly revolves around a central acoustic guitar motif and melodic lead-work that channel such feelings of melancholy as I’ve not heard in a long time. There’s moments of punishing heaviness and startling beauty. It’s a riveting song from start to finish, and a clear example of this band’s potential. The range of textures and moods on this record is astonishing and delightful in equal measure, handled with a tastefulness rarely found on a band’s debut recording.

The strength of the songwriting, in the blending of various textures and moods, as well as disparate jazzy and progressive influences into a cohesive and concise recording would be admirable even from a veteran band, but for the debut record of such a young band it’s doubly impressive. The conciseness of the album also works in its favour, remaining a satisfying offering without ever overstaying its welcome. On Volaða land, Draugsól display an unwavering sense of purpose, with a fully-formed identity that sets them apart from their Icelandic compatriots.

Volaða land is available now on digital, CD, and vinyl formats through Signal Rex.