Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been in the position of being left utterly speechless before even starting the review before, but there’s a first time for everything, I suppose; the music of Denver, Colorado-based experimental rock/metal four-piece Dreadnought does that to you, even when you’re going in prepared. In the following, I will nevertheless try to put some 700+ words into an order which approximately conveys the brilliance of the band’s new album. Wish me luck!
Alright then, what do you get when you combine elements of classic prog/psychedelic rock, doom/post-metal, Bergtatt-era Ulver black metal, and traces of folk and jazz? If your answer is ‘a hodgepodge of musical styles’, then a) thanks, Captain Obvious, and b) you’re only partly correct, for Dreadnought (and by proxy their new album A Wake In Sacred Waves) are more than just the sum of their collective tastes and influences. On this four-track, 53-minute tour-de-force of pure imagination and unbridled musicianship, they shape their own vision into even more coherent arrangements than on 2015’s stellar Bridging Realms, which was hailed as one of the best metal releases of that year.
It wouldn’t make sense to try and discuss the individual songs at this point; they’re simply too massive (none of them are shorter than 10 minutes) and hermetically sealed within the album’s musical context to break them down into easily-digestible bits and pieces without some of its magic getting lost in the process. A Wake In Sacred Waves is a journey best experienced for oneself, isolated from any outward interference. Or in other, more pretentious words, the musical equivalent to an enchanted pond in the middle of a deep, intimidating forest: ‘not dark but beautiful and terrible as the morn’ (extra points to those who can guess where that quote is from).
That doesn’t mean that we can’t discuss the music Dreadnought have served up for us to at least some degree, though. A lot of the album’s appeal stems from the band being able to conjure up otherworldly atmospheres to entice the listener to give all of his attention to the moment. Especially the quieter moments, or those in which the different elements seem to contradict each other (see the black metal/psychedelic rock section giving way to a folk-like passage in opener “Vacant Sea”, for example) are what breathes a special aura into every song and every movement of this record.
The vocals of guitarist/flutist Kelly Schilling and keyboarder Lauren Vieira are yet another major asset to the band’s sound. Ranging from beautiful two-part harmonies over solo pieces to harpy-esque black metal shrieking (courtesy of the former), they perfectly match the swings in style and tempo throughout the four tracks, displaying yet another layer of diversity in Dreadnought’s sound. As does the saxophone that pops up every now and again, as a matter of fact; the few moments it has on the album are among my absolute favourite ones. I’m in love with that particular instrument, and nothing makes me happier than seeing a band find a way to meaningfully integrate it into their work.
One more thing that needs to be complimented regarding A Wake In Sacred Waters is the production. It’s crystal clear and dynamic, leaving enough room even for the quieter instruments like the piano and the mandolin to sit comfortably in the mix, and – more importantly – be heard. Weirdly, the fluidity of the tones and the overall sound reminds me a bit of late 90’s black metal production: slightly frigid (for lack of a better term) and reverberant. Yet, it has a warm retro quality to it, much befitting the more doom/psychedelic tendencies present on the album.
You might have noticed that when it comes to the actual songs, I have been rather vague in this review. That is because I don’t want to give away too much beforehand, so that you may have as much of an unaffected first encounter with A Wake In Sacred Waves as possible. With what Dreadnought themselves refer to as their ‘water album’, they created a beautiful and enthralling work of art, and my words shouldn’t influence your perception of it in any way, shape or form. Again, this is a magical journey through many different styles of music, and you’d be a fool to pass up on it.
Notable Tracks: Just listen to the whole damn album.
FFO: Ulver, Camel, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull