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Greetings! My name is Matthew, and I love to listen to all types of metal. I'm a high school English teacher and aspiring writer. I also write reviews for the Metal Utopia webzine!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Drottnar - "Stratum" Review

Drottnar - Stratum
Endtime Productions
Genre:  Technical black metal


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Sven (vocals)
Karl (guitar)
Bengt (guitar)
Glenn (drums)
Håvar (bass guitar)

The Norwegian band Drottnar returns for their third full-length album Stratum with their brand of self-proclaimed “bunker metal.”  Essentially, this boils down to technical black metal with a few delicious avant-garde moments thrown in.  Stratum is a step up for the band in many directions:  the production quality is much better than that of Welterwerk, and the individual instruments on the album attain a clarity that is often lacking in black metal.  Drottnar plays music with the ferocity of Wintersoul, the technicality of Extol, and the brutal beauty of Antestor.  Certainly, they may be one of the best kept secrets of the far North.
  What makes Drottnar stand above the average black metal band?  For one, the instrumental prowess of the band deserves some recognition.  Karl and Bengt are madmen on the guitars, churning out riff after riff of technical delight.  Songs like “We March” and “Ersatz” demonstrate that Stratum is a well thought-out album in terms of return appeal.  The vocals are black metal shrieks that immediately bring to mind Vrede from Antestor.  Overall, Sven does an excellent job of maintaining a delectable gurgle in his throat; the result is an acidic highlight to an already ferocious onslaught.  The bass guitar pops out of the mix a few times, but generally remains buried.  However, this is nothing new in the genre, so fans probably won’t complain about it.  One of the highlights of the album is definitely Glenn on the percussion.  His fills serve to accent areas of momentary cessation in Drottnar’s assault, and his tight, quick skills on the set even remind the listener at times of someone like Hellhammer.  

            The music itself is aggressive, and barely lets up over the almost 40-minute duration of Stratum.  Guitar riffs peal out at abandon with all the alacrity of a group of piranhas swarming to a feeding frenzy, and the overall tempo of the music proceeds at a breakneck pace.  Indeed, this is one of the shortcomings of Stratum; Drottnar’s approach is at times so caustic, so scathing, and so biting that the listener is left gasping for breath.  There is a general lack of melodic breaks, and Drottnar misses out on some opportunities to turn a great album into a legendary album.  The things that bring listeners back to music are often those memorable moments in which one is awed by a certain chord combination, grasps the importance of a particular reoccurring musical thread, or is duly impressed by varied structures within melody.  At times, it seems that Drottnar is being technical simply for the sake of being technical.  If the band allows riffs to take their own direction, and sits back and studies the effect and duration of their songs more often, I feel like this could improve.  At some points, they do seize the moment and deliver something close to perfection.  “Cul-De-Sac” does exactly the opposite of what it suggests, building to a series of memorable, driving guitar lines reminiscent of Extol.  Another highlight on the album is the song “Soul Suburbia.”  Here, all the best elements of Drottnar are combined:  fierce aggression, technical aptitude, and melodic intervention.  Chills wormed their way down my spine as the sound of an acoustic guitar framed by gently rushing water emerged out of a calculated audible assault.
            I hope that Drottnar releases the lyrics to the album, but until then, I can only conjecture what they might be about.  In the distant past, the band began its career in the “unblack” metal scene.  As they have evolved, it seems that they have taken on a more political approach to their music.  This can be seen in the band’s donning of military uniforms to play at their live shows.  Perhaps there is a biting political reformation present in the lyrics; perhaps not.  I am not quite talented enough to be able to intelligibly decipher the black metal shrieks that rent the air as I listen to Stratum.  Neither, I can guess, are you.  So we will just have to wait and pretend, at least for now, that there is grave wisdom written within the words that the band has penned.
            Stratum is Drottnar’s most mature offering to date, and will please new and old fans alike.  The album is relentless in its approach and form, and is not for the faint of heart.  Those who are willing to undertake its challenge, however, will be richly rewarded.

Overall rating:  8.0 out of 10.0 (Excellent)
Musicianship:  8.5 out of 10.0 
Song structure:  8.0 out of 10.0
Album structure:  7.5 out of 10.0


How did I come up with my rating?  I rate the following categories:  musicianship, song structure, and album structure.  I then take an average of these three scores and come up with an overall rating.

1.0-2.9 (Poor:  musicianship is poor, song structures are haphazard, no directional flow)
3.0-4.9 (Good:  musicianship is sloppy, song structures are undeveloped, flow is hampered)
5.0-6.9 (Average:  musicianship is adequate, song structures are good, flow works most of the time)
7.0-8.9 (Excellent:  musicianship is very good, song structures are thought out, songs connect well)
9.0-9.9 (Superior:  musicianship is superb, song structures are varied, flow is almost flawless)

Note:  Ratings may be given in increments of 0.1 for a final score (rounded up) and 0.5 for individual category scores.  I will never give a rating of 10.0 because I do not believe that any one album can be "perfect," and the ratings at either end of the spectrum will be very few.

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