Thursday, 14 July 2022

Drift into Black - Earthtorn (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Gothic Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 May 2022
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I liked this album by New Jersey-based Drift into Black from the outset but not immensely, until it grew on me, which almost came as a surprise. They're on their fourth album, even though they've only been a band since 2017, and they tend to be described as gothic doom, which isn't unfair. They certainly fit into doom metal, their tempo slow and doomy. The gothic side isn't as overt but it's a noticeable angle when it vanishes, as it does briefly in On Borrowed Time, when its layers cascade away to expose the doom below. It's there in a melancholy tone but also through use of piano and violin, albeit not as often as I'd have liked.

However, those components don't add up to Drift into Black, because there's progressive metal in this sound too and it gets more and more important as the album runs on, to the point where it's a driving force. There's prog in the prominent display of keyboards, which often comes across like prog rock rather than prog metal, but also in the way the guitars build and the sometimes copious use of sound effects. There are samples here too, not used frequently within the album, but in the intro, Good Mourning Earth, which collates a slew of pivotal news moments. They're negative and mostly American (9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Challenger explosion) with only Hitler representing the rest of the world.

I think the songwriting often comes out of prog metal too, especially on more subdued songs, like The Ups and the Downs, or in more subdued sections of others. After them, even far more overtly gothic doom tracks, like Weight of Two Worlds, feel like they still have a prog metal component to their construction, especially as they evolve into something else. The man to ask would seem to be Craig Rossi, the only songwriter here, who is also the band's guitarist and keyboardist and, I think, both of its lead vocalists.

I say both because there are two male vocalists here and one female, though the latter is a guest, Melissa Hancock, who elevates a handful of tracks by adding a further contrast to the one that the male vocalists provide. One of those is clean and one harsh and I'm not entirely sure which is seen as the lead. Early on, I'd say the harsh vocal is the lead, because it's easily more prominent and it has a confidence to it that the clean vocal doesn't, seemingly content to serve in the background. As the album runs on, though, it seems to gradually acquire that confidence and eventually take over.

I prefer the clean voice, especially when it wants to be the lead. It's a decent voice and one that's able to be far more flexible than the harsh voice, which is mostly a texture, often a rhythmic one. It's limited in its delivery, so it struggles to do more than simply be the harsh contrast to the clean voice. It's almost entirely monotone and it plods, with little shift in pitch and little enunciation. It manages a little nuance later in the album, but mostly relies on the clean voice to handle any sort of melody or engagement. Sometimes it increases its urgency, but that's about it.

And so we focus more on the instrumentation, which is excellent and won me over far sooner than the vocals. The elegant electronica on the intro starts that and some neat, Queensr├┐che-esque prog metal guitar tone on It Fell from the Sky adds to it, along with the contrast in vocal styles which is emphasised by the musical shifts in sections. At this point, the music outstrips the vocals, though the introduction of Hancock's voice on The March to Oblivion helps balance that a little, until the clean voice truly takes the lead with The Ups and the Downs and we reevaluate what we're actually hearing. Ghost on the Shore is just an interlude, but a tasty electronically focused one that allows us to refresh and see what's left in a new light.

The more we listen, the more we catch the nice touches in the background. That's often the violin of Ben Karas, from Windfaerer, but it's the electronica too and other details that sometimes hide in the background waiting to be discovered. There's some really cool jagged stuff going on at the end of It Fell from the Sky, for instance, that I didn't initially notice. Some of it's pretty expected, like the clocks in On Borrowed Time, but some of it not so much, like the tribal percussion behind Left to the Burning Sun.

And so I like this more than I did initially, when that limited harsh vocal tinted my enjoyment until I realised what else is going on here. I'd be interested in hearing those three earlier albums to see how Drift into Black came to this sound and how much it's developed over time.

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