I think that one thing we can all happily agree on is that it’s difficult in this day and age for a band playing stoner-doom to really standout from the 3 million other bands in the genre. You either need to do something really unique or do the standard stuff incredibly well. Or both, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious. Moreover, I’d say that it’s a style of music that can be astonishingly dull if not done well. I’m not trying to dampen expectations here, I’m just trying to say that those hordes of stoner-doom bands out there have a high bar to reach if they want to grab anyone’s attention.
Which brings us to Laser Dracul, a three-piece from Borlänge in Sweden. Their Self-Titled EP from 2016 passed me by, but obviously drew the attention of Majestic Mountain Records who are releasing their debut album on a range of snazzy vinyl editions (genuinely some of the nicest designs I’ve seen).
Despite the slightly odd band name and the kitsch Hammer Horror album artwork, Laser Dracul don’t dabble in the camp, retro, occult side of doom – this is unironic, dark and heavy.At points the band distinctly reminded me of Mammoth Storm, at others of High Priest of Saturn, and I’m sure that anyone who’s listened to a reasonable amount of stoner-doom will find their own comparisons easily enough. So if Laser Dracul aren’t going to win any awards for startling originality, I suppose the main question is: do they have the tunes to make Hagridden a worthwhile listen? I’ll give it a qualified yes – it’s a good enough album to rise above the mass of competent, but instantly forgettable records that saturate the genre, but for me it doesn’t quite hit the heights to be a really essential purchase either.
There’s plenty to like on Hagridden. One of the first things to strike me was the production – absolutely spot on for me. The guitar churns out plenty of down-tuned murk but the bass is easily discernible as well. Also a tip of the hat to Henko, whose drumming across the record is often the star of the show. The vocals are inoffensive if unspectacular, generally falling somewhere between a shout and a bellow (getting technical here, I know). The thing that makes Laser Dracul standout from the sea of mediocrity is that while they’re happy to find a decent riff and hammer away at it for a few minutes, they also seem to have a decent sense of when to change things up to keep you interested. Most tracks have some twists and turns to break up the dirgey (in a good way) riffing.
The album begins with Ashes And Dust, which was what piqued my interest enough to pick this up to review. Laser Dracul lock into a sweet mid-tempo groove driven by a suitably heavy riff, which they ride for a few minutes before an instrumental break and a decent guitar solo. There’s then one of the pacier sections, before the track concludes by returning to the original riff.
The main riff oozes out of the speaker and the prominence of the bass in the mix really makes it snarl…
High Tide Striding is darker and reeks of pure, nasty doom. The main riff oozes out of the speaker and the prominence of the bass in the mix really makes it snarl. The track follows everyone’s favourite old chestnut quiet-loud-formula and an organ crops up which adds another dimension to proceedings and prompted memories of proggy Norwegian doomsters High Priest of Saturn. Again, there are moments where Laser Dracul pick up the tempo and even a brief burst of double bass drumming to keep things interesting.
Into the Night We Go is pleasantly different, with a speedier (we’re speaking relatively here) opening, driven by some quality drumming which alternates with a slower chorus section. The lengthy instrumental break is pretty cool actually and brings some welcome energy to proceedings.
Now You See It would make for an epic album closer and a decent one at that, so it’s an interesting move to have it in the middle of the record. The band lock into a groove and the whole track sounds more expansive and spacey than the rest of the album. It’s my favourite track on the album and definitely benefits from having a more psychedelic, less dark sound than the rest of the record.
Ill In Spirit follows a similar path to the opening tracks – the keys are there from the start and there are some growly backing vocals as well, which combine with the chugging riff to sound genuinely menacing. As ever there’s a break midway through where things speed up a bit, before returning to the main riff at the end. It’s competently done and it’s a decent tune, but it does at times feel a bit formulaic. The album closes with Mother Midnight, probably the most immediate tune with a simple but effective chugging riff that should get your head nodding and a chorus that at least pays a visit to the outskirts of memorability.
Overall, I’ve got slightly mixed feelings about Hagridden. Laser Dracul are clearly excellent musicians and they do a lot of things right on the album – there’s enough going on to keep you listening and there’s plenty of decent riffs and grooves on show. However, there are two things that hold me back from raving about the record: firstly, at times it all sounds a touch too formulaic and too similar to too many other things you’ve heard; and secondly, while there are plenty of good bits, there aren’t any genuinely awesome bits that really grab your attention and demand repeat plays. That said, if you’re in the mood for something gloomy and heavy to welcome the shortening of the days you could certainly do worse.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc