Written by John Angel
Draken – Draken
Prog Rock from Oslo, Norway
Releases March 26, 2021
Via Majestic Mountain Records
Prog as a genre has become meaningless these days. Half of all the metal/hard rock bands have prog somewhere in their genre and the other half write music that displays characteristics of what has historically been called prog. Then you have bands that just call themselves prog. Yeah? Prog what? I’m a bit of a newbie to prog rock and I always thought it was basically Rush and Gentle Giant. It had clean production, was usually happy, and rocked in a more cerebral way. Then I heard Norway based prog rock power trio Draken and they’ve kinda changed what I thought prog rock could be. Dropping on March 26th, Draken’s self titled debut has a retro vibe that harkens back to metal and hard rock of yore but with a new, exciting reimagining.
First off, riffs. Riffs? RIFFS! Draken has definitely got the riffs. Each song on this record has a Big Riff that the track really revolves around. Some riffs are fast and funky like in “Strange Love”. Some riffs are big and slow like “(We Walk In) Circles” Some riffs are FUCKING BIG like “The Master”. It’s really a riff buffet. Or a riff expo? You get the idea. One particularly spicy riff is on my favorite track, album closer “Mountain in an Endless Ocean”. It kicks the door in and sprints around the room with its slippery chromaticism. This track has the most adventurous song structure and if you’ve read my other reviews (you have, haven’t you??) you’ll know that I’m a sucker for unorthodox musical form. “Mountain in an Endless Ocean” has a pretty standard verse/chorus structure until after the second chorus when we’re treated to a new vocal melody that absolutely soars all the way to the mountain in this endless ocean. Then we get a guitar solo (more on those in a minute) and the 3rd chorus with some tasty variations. What awaits us after this chorus is perhaps the heaviest moment on the record. An absolutely nasty riff that comes back slower and slower. Total stank face material and I love that its a brand new riff they utilize for this moment.
While my favorite track is “Mountain in an Endless Ocean” my favorite riff is the main one from “The Master”. Massively groovy, harmonically slippery, and progishly long, it really feels like the centerpiece of the album. I think they might add parts to the thing each time it comes back. Its hard to tell since the first time through the riff is 20 whole seconds! This riff is truly spectacular.
Draken has wonderful moments throughout its runtime. True to prog form, there’s mixed and nonstandard time signatures everywhere. “Realm of Silence”, the lead track, kicks off the party with a riff mostly in 3/4 that always ends with a measure of 4/4 and features a delicious moment of polyrhythmic delight after its guitar solo. “Strange Love” features an endless stream of variations on its central riff in 7/8 with numerous solos over this tricky meter. Draken presents a wonderland of rhythmic delights that reward repeated listens to figure out how to count it all!
I keep talking about guitar solos and boy howdy does this record have some tasty ones. Even Helte Hermansen’s approach to tone is an homage to psychedelic acts of old. His tone drips with effects goodness and each solo has its own unique tone. He melts face with the classic pentatonic shred and atmospheric noise moments but he’s evidently somewhat of a jazzer. Hermansen works in some bebop licks to his solos to fantastic effect.
Let’s talk a bit about the production. Draken nailed the vintage vibe with their sound. We’ve got powerful, fuzzed basslines, drums that thump and drive, guitars with the perfect vintage tones of the 60s & 70s, and vocals that are rough around the edges but wonderfully delivered. Andre Drage Haraldsen has a drum sound that perfectly sets the mood of the record. Lots of room sound dulls the attacks of the drums making for a slightly washed out tone and it really contributes to the overall vibe of the album. The psychedelic moments have a perfect complement in the drum sound and during the big riffs you feel almost like you’re standing in a garage listening to these dudes jam. Personally, I love the tone that Even Helte Hermansen gets from his guitar using low tunings with lower gain, vintage type tones. It’s a fat wall of sound that envelops you with a warm hug of riffs. Hallvard Gaardløs has the perfect bass tone to complement the guitars and drums. It’s tight where it needs to be and just so perfectly fuzzed. Gaardløs delivers a masterful vocal performance as well. Singing with a gritty tone that borders on yelling at times his timbre perfectly matches the overall rough-around-the-edges production. His sense of pitch appears to be wonderful. Gaardløs hits his notes, stays true through them, and sings “between the notes” just enough to lend his performance a wonderful emotive quality. It could be autotune but I know from first hand experience how vocals with grit can generate undesirable artifacts when processed with tuning software, even just a small amount of processing. I’m giving Gaardløs credit for a killer performance until proven otherwise.
Draken has unleashed a gritty, soulful take on prog rock on their self-titled debut release. It drops March 26th on Majestic Mountain Records. Be sure to give it a spin when it drops!
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