Draugr, the third album by European superband Obake, takes the extreme elements of 2014's excellent Mutations and expands on them in a more focused and organic-sounding set. Mutations, great as it was, was unrelenting in its attack, which crisscrossed through extreme metal subgenres, noise, and electronics.
Draugr is more nuanced and more "song"-centric in approach. That said, by all accounts much of what transpires was actually written in the recording studio. Live drummer Jacopo Pierazzuoli (of math rockers Morkobot) has replaced Balazs Pandi; though no less athletic or creative, his style is different, and he's more of a rock drummer. Vocalist/composer/co-producer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari offers mostly clean vocals and sings in English here to excellent effect. Eraldo Bernocchi's baritone guitar chops reflect his hardcore roots without sacrificing everything he's put on offer as an avant-jazz axeman or experimental heavy metal innovator. Likewise, his palette as an electronic producer and composer is amply evidenced. Bassist Colin Edwin (who plays with Bernocchi in Metallic Taste of Blood and Fornasari in o.R.k.) is a more prominent member of the writing team here. On Mutations, he replaced founding bassist Massimo Pupillo after the album was composed. His signature -- as a composer/player and editor -- is abundantly heard.
Fornasari's performance is breathtaking. Check the way he veers from a grungy, swinging metal shout to an overdriven falsetto wail on opener "Cold Facts," and his manner of effortlessly bridging avant-prog metal to grinding chug through the grain of his voice on "Incineration of Sorrows." It's like these tunes were birthed from his DNA. Elsewhere, the riff-laden interplay between Bernocchi and Edwin is as menacing and colorful as it is wildly inventive. They frame and illustrate Pierazzuoli's blastbeats, off-kilter breaks, angular syncopation, and groove in "Hellfaced," "Serving the Alibi," and "Immutable." In "Cloud of Liars," they musically graft raucous doom onto a Gothic sense of drama and space opens for Fornasari -- imagine Peter Murphy fronting a band comprised of members from St. Vitus, Black Sabbath, and Earth. "Immutable" is built on a single riff that gallops, staggers, and glides along across musical terrains where dark lyric melody, violent dissonance, eerie ambience, and funereal dirge gather in uneasy balance. Draugr may, at least initially, take fans of Mutations by surprise. These ten tracks offer "smoother" -- yet no less ambitious -- shifts in direction as songs develop more naturally. They don't feel composed in formal sequences. That said, a closer listen reveals that this kind of spontaneous invention emerges because these musicians are able to dialogue more instinctively. Their trust in one another's abilities makes Draugr a triumph of mutual reliance and vision. Obake possess not only the technical chops to travel in any musical direction they wish, they also share a collective aesthetic soul.