Review: Draken ‘Book Of Black’

In the wonderful world of all things heavy we joyfully argue over such topics as ‘which subgenre Master of Reality created?’ and ‘whether Ride The Lightning is really a thrash album when it had a bloody ballad on it!?’. I’ve seen our endless creation of genre tags and sub-sub-sub genres discussed in terms of ‘metal gatekeeping’ in recent months – the idea being that this is some sort of custom language created almost solely to keep people on the outside of the subculture.

Draken 'Book Of Black'

Do I agree with this view of the metal world?… well, in short, no. All of this ephemera and language has sprung up quite naturally since the late ‘70s and is a reflection of the love and commitment that the people involved in the music have.

Is it a fact that sometimes people with knowledge of this secret language will use it to make newcomers feel stupid or inadequate?… Yes, undoubtedly. However, I’d argue that the specific individuals who do this are the people/bell-ends who need to be criticised, not the world of metal as a whole. This isn’t to say that as a gnarly and disorganised collective we are beyond reproach; far from it, but we should never let the positive impact of what we share be dismissed.

Why have I gotten all deep and philosophical? Straight forward answer – with Oslo’s Draken we don’t need to worry about any complicated language or decades-long understanding of sub-genres, because Draken play HEAVY METAL, plain and simple! 

Let’s count some items off the heavy metal checklist: fantasy-related band name, cover art featuring druids and a skull, song titles containing the words black, bastards, suffer, horrors, faith, sinners, blood and guilt, distorted guitars, rumbling bass, thumping tubs, and throat-shredding vocals. All present and correct.

I’m as much a fan of death/doom and French-language enviro-warrior sludge as the next person, but sometimes it is good to cleanse your palate with something that is unashamedly fist-in-the-air metal. Book Of Black is Draken’s second album and it was released via Majestic Mountain Records on 13th January 2023 – the white and purple splatter vinyl looks particularly tasty.

The album kicks off in fine fashion with the title track, which has more than a passing whiff of High On Fire about it, so what’s not to like? Second track, Bastards, then takes us down the almighty Motörhead route – it really wouldn’t be out of place on any of the latter-day Lemmy platters. It also has a vocal rhythm that really brings to mind Maiden’s Run To The Hills.

Just what the metal gods ordered for a cold and wet winter’s eve…

Third track, We Deserve To Suffer, is where the album really comes into its own though. The guitar lines here are great, and the solo is really different. The only comparison that springs to mind is Vernon Reid from Living Colour – it’s kinda jazz influenced, but it totally works. House Of Horrors then changes things up a bit by introducing some organ playing to underpin the track. It’s subtly done and works really well. It’s the most retro feeling track on the album – maybe that is to do with the organ sounds – and it pleasingly strays into Uncle Acid territory.

Symbiote then takes us thundering back into the gallop-riffing, until it takes a violent right turn into an almost psychedelic section. In a similar way to the jazzy guitar solo that I mentioned, this section really served to subvert my expectations. It doesn’t in any way change the overall feel of the record, but it certainly means that there is enough variety going on and there’s definitely no chance of getting bored.

One thing that knocks my enjoyment of the album very slightly is the mix. On the face of it everything is very well balanced, and it sounds powerful enough. However, it is a very mono-sounding presentation – other than a cymbal hit here and there, the whole thing is very narrow. Strangely, the final track, Bloodguilt (more on that later), is the exception, with guitars in each channel which gives the track a welcome bit of meatiness.

Devotees Of The Faith and Relentless Sinners both owe something of a debt to Sahg (a band that I feel I mention quite a bit, but in a similar way to Draken they are unashamedly metal). They don’t quite have the points of interest that the previous two tracks do, but they serve the album perfectly well and prepare us for the final fight-ending uppercut.

Bloodguilt is a great closer. It has a moody intro and a slow verse section that reminds me of the unholy trinity (apologies for the gatekeeping – by ‘Unholy Trinity’ I mean Black Sabbath, by Black Sabbath, from the album Black Sabbath 😉). It’s quite different from anything else on the album; far more bluesy rather than being straight-up heavy metal. But of course, with this being the epic closer, we have a style change at the six-minute mark. The tempo increases, the backing vocals kick in, and Draken drive us to the end of the album with a metallic flourish.

Book Of Black isn’t going to invent any new sub-genres, and it won’t feature in any future lists of albums that helped define the genre. But what it may very well do is put a shit-eating grin on your face for forty minutes. Just what the metal gods ordered for a cold and wet winter’s eve.

Label: Majestic Mountain Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: David J McLaren