Draugr is the third album from OBAKE and those familiar with the band’s previous output will be happy, as it ploughs a similar furrow to their last release, 2014’s Mutations. For all their proclamations of avant-garde, experimental, jazz leanings, OBAKE have built Draugr upon foundations of unrelenting, cacophonous drone rock. For those not already familiar with the band’s work to date, SUNN O))) and 90s psychedelic noiseniks DR PHIBES AND THE HOUSE OF WAX EQUATIONS are your starters for ten.
The guitars on Draugr screech and wail, but provide the backdrop to an impressive vocal performance from Lorenzo Esposito Formasari, who seems equally at ease whispering sinister sweet nothings as he does letting his impressive range take flight. If SYSTEM OF A DOWN ever decided they wanted to record, but Serj Tankian told his bandmates he wanted to concentrate on one of his solo projects, Formasari would be perfectly capable of filling his shoes. The best moments on Draugr come when OBAKE deviate from the template which they appear to have stuck to when recording the album. Serving The Alibi has a more commercial sheen than anything else on Draugr; claustrophobic spoken word verses jostling for space with melodic ALICE IN CHAINS style choruses. Immutable balances all the traits OBAKE aspire to more evenly than any other track on Draugr. There’s grimy doom metal riffing, changes of pace and some impressive vocal gymnastics.
If every other song on the album was as good as Immutable, we’d be looking at an album of the year contender. Sadly that isn’t the case though, as the two tracks mentioned stick out like comets shooting across an ink black sky. OBAKE are demonstrably a talented bunch of musicians and their will to not be confined by one easy to apply label has to be applauded, but there just isn’t enough variation throughout Draugr to make it the compelling opus it could be. You only have to look at some of the other albums released this year to illustrate why the feeling at the end of multiple listens to Draugr is that of an opportunity being missed. Winter by OCEANS OF SLUMBER has its share of experimentation, but retains an ear for melody throughout and never allows itself to become nothing more than a soundscape. OBSIDIAN KINGDOM’S A Year With No Summer is edgy and at times discordant, but retains a coherent artistic vision. BLACK SPACE RIDER’S Beyond Refugeem EP did driving psychedelic rock better and HELHORSE’S eponymous album made greater use of walls of noise, albeit that they do so in a much more linear manner than OBAKE. The conclusion has to be that Draugr represents an opportunity missed.
Draugr is out now on RareNoise Records.
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