Oh, lustrous heart,
Persevere through life and dishonor
The tears of Sophia remind you
How beautiful you were
Before they made you
Before they made you to forget
Albums can be wonderful for many different reasons, ranging from technical fireworks to emotional proximity. Sometimes, however, an album connects with me because it is quite simply a genuine work of vivacious art. When I prepared to hear the new Draconian album for the first time, I knew I would like it to a certain extent, but “Under a Godless Veil” has managed to surpass all of my expectations with authority and power. The album is set to release on October 30th, and it might just be the album of the year for me.
Draconian hail from Sweden, and are legends in their own right. They have been active since 1994 and have produced many wonderful albums. The band includes Anders Jacobsson on harsh vocals, Heike Langhans on clean vocals, Johan Ericsson and Daniel Arvidsson on guitars, and Jerry Torstensson on drums. Back in 2012, the band brought in singer Heike, one of my favorite vocalists. Their next album “Sovran” was the first to feature her work, and it is fantastic. However, with this new album, I feel like the band is truly connecting, and this work is stunning to the core.
Draconian are a Gothic doom metal band with progressive death metal and even black metal accents, so their music is cavernous, dark, unsettling, and even Romantic. Because Gothic and Romantic ideas are closely related, I feel like I can hear both on this record specifically. This means that the music is evocative with a grinding sense of gloom, but also hopeful with an invigorating sense of beauty and tragedy. There is darkness and light here, love and loss, sorrow and determination.
The lyrics play a major part in these emotions. The record revolves around the Gnostic story of Creation, specifically the Sethian variety. The Sethians believed that an Unknown God emanated Aeons to share the spiritual world, called the Pleroma. Sophia is one of these Aeons, and tries to emulate God by emanating and creating on her own. Her actions produce a crisis in the spiritual world, resulting in the rise of the Demiurge, the famed serpent in the Book of Genesis. Instead of merely being a tempter, the serpent is a demon of sorts that steals a piece of Sophia’s divinity, and subsequently creates the material world itself, including human beings who now possess the divine spark. He establishes himself as Infinite God over this world. Sophia, as a result, falls from grace because of her boldness, and because of the consequences to her actions.
I cannot emphasize enough how intertwined this concept is with the music, and especially with the emotions present. Sophia is infinitely saddened, not just by her fall from grace, but by the ravaged world that her actions created. Our world, in some sense, is her dream, and thus she experiences every pain, loss, and heartbreak in her innermost being. When the material world was formed, Death ultimately came to rule it, and Death created a child called Time that would allow It to consume everyone and everything. Thus, humanity, still possessing the divine spark, was doomed to die, and Sophia experiences all of that, and sees the devastation. Looking upon the chains of humankind, her grief is that of a mother experiencing the agony of her children.
The music here gives us looming towers of guitar, desolate harsh vocals, and lumbering song structures to portray the epic and transcendent nature of the tragic story. Heike’s strikingly serene vocals provide an anchor to our own hearts, helping us to remember the empathic and deeper part of this story. Her side of the equation is the part that gives hope, too. Sethians believe that the Christos came to save Sophia, and then came again as Jesus Christ in order to impart hidden knowledge to humanity so that they might learn to escape the material world. The album is ultimately an ode to this mindset, to the idea of overcoming the physical in order to enter the spiritual realm. It is a call to abandon a lust for material things in favor of becoming one with true Reality once again. The album rests on this hope ultimately.
One thing I have noted here is that the band does not settle with having an interesting concept and a novel sound. No, the band writes strong songs. Their compositions are illustrious tapestries of elegance, contrast, and feeling. There is a sense of poetry and artistry that weaves its way through every vocal line, every grand riff, and every atmospheric touch. I would even call their writing patient, in a way, as expansive guitar licks and soaring vocal lines allow themselves space and meter to finish in purposeful, satisfying ways. The band knows how to let their music breathe.
The band has released several singles, all from the first half of the album. I like this way of doing things, especially for an album with a story this potent. “Sorrow of Sophia”, “The Sacrificial Flame”, “Lustrous Heart”, and “Moon over Sabaoth” are stunning creations, to say the least. The desperately human “Sleepwalkers” will also be released as a single before the album launch. Of these songs, I like “The Sacrificial Flame” and “Lustrous Heart” the most. The former is a somber affair, one with lit torches and tragic words. I love how Heike resonates the dark chorus. “Lustrous Heart” is a fantastic song with an addictive central guitar lick that I love from its very first moments. I find myself singing the chorus all the time; it is definitely one of my favorite songs this year.
The last five tracks are an absolute triumph, so much so that I scarcely know where to begin. “Burial Fields” begins the second half of the album, and it is a compelling masterpiece. This track drops the metal aspects to unleash emotion on an atmospheric and graceful scale one that feels stark and deeply grieved. It is so good. It leads directly into “The Sethian”, another phenomenal track. This song has some of the heaviest moments on the album, but they are spaced apart with hovering vocals and spacey textures. My favorite part is the chorus where Anders comes crashing in with “I am the Sethian!” in addictive form. You can feel the tears and the outreaching message of hope and transformation. It absolutely floors me every time.
The final three songs on the album are all top notch, as well. “Claw Marks on the Throne” and “Night Visitor” are a bit more reserved. The former has a touch of desperation to it as humanity begs for mercy. The chorus is fittingly immense. “Night Visitor” is a muted track that sets the metal aside for a dark musing of Heike’s vocals with a cinematic flair, and it contains perhaps the most nostalgic guitar solo on the record. Finally, “Ascend into Darkness” is a nine-minute closer that combines all of the textures and emotions we have experienced thus far. It is a gorgeous song, one with shoegazing guitars and driving rhythms. The final chorus is climactic and so satisfying before dropping off the edge of a cliff to end the album.
“Under the Godless Veil” feels like a once-in-a-decade record. It is perfect in every way I can conceive. From Heike’s unparalleled voice to Anders’ powerful harsh vox, from the immense guitar work to the searing tragedy and grief of the lyrics, and on to the exquisite presentation and Gothic sense of foreboding, this album will stay close to my heart for many years. Without a doubt, this is a commanding piece of staggering poetry and metaphysical potency.
You are the only angel I need
When I enter the darkest fields
A thousand lives behind you
They took the power from you
But I am the one to absolve you
From every shade of winter in their eyes
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