For all the inroads women have made into metal in recent years there still seems to be many who see this as a novelty. And the mere presence of a female a heavy band has the group pigeon-holed into the Gothic or symphonic rock genres. While it’s true that many of the female fronted bands do fall into this category it isn’t always the case – you could hardly call Arch Enemy symphonic metal? And what or Autumn or The Gathering? Despite their roots we’re moving further away from metal, let alone small ghettoes within the genre.
But in Draconian we have a female-fronted band that does the deserve the Gothic label, but for authentic musical reasons. Harry checks out their latest beautiful and heavy album A Rose for the Apocalypse.
I’m very bored with lazy writers calling a metal band Gothic or Symphonic merely due to the presence of a female vocalist. But in this case Gothic metal is an apt description of the lovely noise created by Swedish metallers Draconian. Not, I should say, due to the presence of co-vocalist Lisa Johansson but because the band really does play Gothic doom metal of a type familiar to fans of pre-electronica Paradise Lost. I doubt there’s much of a coincidence that Draconian’s musical style is not a million miles away to the Halifax doomers’ classic album Draconian Times.
Draconian play heavy, often mid-to-low tempo, doom. There’s plenty of melody and much of the music is genuinely guitar based rather than being overpowered by the welcome – but not overwrought – keyboards. Vocal duties are shared by the gravel-voiced Anders Jacobsson and the beautiful work of Lisa Johansson. The style sticks pretty rigidly to the 90s doom metal template rather than the more symphonic stylings of bands such as Tristania or early Sirenia (you know, when Sirenia weren’t shit).
A Rose for the Apocalypse is a beautifully crafted record with strong production values. The guitars are heavy and powerful but with plenty of detail and separation. The performances by the musicians are strong without being showy and the song writing is strong. Lisa Johansson seems to have a larger role on the record compared to previous albums though this seems to be a natural result of this set of songs rather than the current move in the metal world to push female co-vocalists to the forefront.
Being a fan of strong dynamics with plenty of light and shade – something you’d expect from this style of music – A Rose for the Apocalypse is right up my street. There’s plenty of power on show in these songs yet the band aren’t afraid to strip things back for quieter sections. I particularly like the way Anders’ gruff vocals fit so well with the music – even the softer sections.
Meanwhile – being a sucker for a beautiful female voice – Johansson’s work is really lovely. It’s interesting that while Anders provides the aggression and motion in many of the songs it’s Lisa that adds the despair, melancholy and sadness one associates with the doom genre. This is one of Draconian’s greatest strengths – the use of ugliness to create power and motion, and beauty to create sadness – and I think they’ve capture it here better than their previous (albeit very strong) albums.
Johansson’s gorgeous vocals have a clear recognisable style of their own. But fans of Cristina Scabbia, Silje Wergeland, or Marjan Welman will no doubt find a new favourite here.
Of course this isn’t a cheery record, you don’t expect that with doom. But there’s enough variety of tempo and styles on A Rose for the Apocalypse to keep things moving along without the record becoming a dirge. In fact despite the record’s heaviness the most obvious adjective that comes to mind for me to describe this album is “beautiful”.
While this isn’t a particularly commercial sounding record there are enough hooks and classy performances on offer it deserves to be a bit hit in the metal market. Fans of female-fronted metal (I know, it’s a dreadful thing, we don’t say “male-fronted metal”, but you know what I mean) are likely to dig this record immediately. But even you grumpy old farts who think there are too many symphonic bands cluttering up the world of heavy music should check Draconian out. A Rose for the Apocalypse is good enough to sit on your CD shelf next to your hallowed copy of Draconian Times or The Ethereal Mirror.