DRACONIAN
"Under A Godless Veil"

(Napalm)

01. Sorrow Of Sophia
02. The Sacrificial Flame
03. Lustrous Heart
04. Sleepwalkers
05. Moon Over Sabaoth
06. Burial Fields
07. The Sethian
08. Claw Marks On The Throne
09. Night Visitor
10. Ascend Into Darkness

RATING: 8.5/10

Get ready to swoon. Get ready to shed a tear. DRACONIAN have created a gorgeous, mournful masterpiece here. A band that have long deserved greater recognition for their consistent and immersive catalogue of albums, the Swedes may share some obvious traits with other gothic (and maybe even funeral) doom bands, but "Under A Godless Veil" eschews many contemporary amendments to the blueprint, homing in on this music's ageless, haunting power and the visceral magic of melody. As ever, clean vocalist Heike Langhans provides the album's tender, human heart, while Anders Jacobsson's scabrous growls tether everything to hell's gates, but where previous albums had occasionally drifted into gothic cliché, every one of these lumbering mini-epics fizzes with newfound focus. DRACONIAN's seventh album truly does sound definitive; it's as if the band have perfected the formula they've been working on since 2003's "Where Lovers Mourn" and surfed through the subsequent songwriting process on waves of confidence.

It's obvious from the start: "Sorrow Of Sophia" is simply spellbinding, with handfuls of killer melodies and a sense of crestfallen grandeur that is more than backed up by an opulent but nuanced production. Slow and ominous, "The Sacrificial Flame" showcases DRACONIAN's grim, despondent side, but Langhans's voice still cuts through the fog of gloom to offer moments of beatific respite. The album's most instant anthem, "Sleepwalkers", fulfills its title's somnambulant promise with a ghostly drift through swathes of sweeping strings, leading to a beastly but weirdly uplifting chorus and some neat post-everything dynamics. Shrewdly saving the biggest payoff until the end, DRACONIAN conclude their new record with the widescreen woe of "Ascend Into Darkness"; nine minutes of heart-rending elegance and grotesque pomp, it could well be the band's finest moment yet.

The most curious thing about "Under A Godless Veil" is that while it seldom strays from a well-trodden musical path, it sounds imperious and genre-defining. There is diversity on offer: the epic doom plod of "Moon Over Sabaoth" evokes an entirely different atmosphere from the glacial shoegaze of "Buried Fields" or the rumbling, post-punk barrage of "The Sethian". But a red line of inspiration and class runs through every last note, gluing the songs together and forming a wonderfully cohesive and coherent whole. It's undeniable that there are plenty of bands doing more progressive and peculiar things with the melodic doom template, but what DRACONIAN achieve here is a near-definitive and yet thrillingly timeless take on the morbid basics. At a time when many of us are haunted by one unpleasant thing or another, this feels like a suitably cathartic and emotionally rich dive into sorrow's swimming pool. Bring a big black towel.

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