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Drudkh - Handful of Stars

Drudkh’s last album, Microcosm, was a worthy heir to Drukh’s buzzed out, low-fi early work. Like 2003's Forgotten Legends, Microcosmos kept the same fierce soul while polishing the surface production till it gleamed. The result was a vicious collision between black metal, shoegaze, and buried folk tunes. Dense, unrelenting, idiosyncratic, and sublime, it was one of the best album’s of 2009, bar genre — and, I firmly believe, one of the great black metal albums of all time.

After that, Handful of Stars is a serious comedown. At first listen, little seems to have changed — dense, yes, shoegazy, yes, buzzing, still there more or less. But it’s all been smoothed out. There’s nothing here to compare, for example, to the endless detuned drag of Microcosmos’ “Decadence,” which sounded like Joe Perry strapped to a Jesus and Mary Chain amp and force-fed Quaaludes. There’s no “Distant Cry of Cranes” with an acoustic folk tune transformed into a few bars of bizarre spiky metal funk that struggles and bucks beneath the remorseless weight of a black metal dirge.

And what do we have instead? Competent, intelligent music for folks who are just a little bit nervous around the metal.

Not that it’s irredeemably bad or anything. I dig the sweep of “Twilight Aureole” and its thoughtfully placed minor key sections to break things up. I like the sweep of “Towards the Light,” which is given a kick by propulsive drums reminiscent of some of their early releases.

I like the sweep of the rest of the album, too. It retains harsher vocals, but overall it sounds like Agalloch — black metal as music by which to pan across fijords and contemplate trees. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I like Agalloch, I really do. I like fijords and trees, for that matter. I’m all for comforting trance music.

But when Drudkh is on its game, it’s got something more to offer. Not a friendly sylvan reverie, but a fugue where the silent druids float out of the woods and tear off your face with their teeth. In the past, nature for Drudkh has been God-like; awesome, dangerous, to be worshiped for its cruelty and indifference more than for its beauty. But as its title indicates, Handful of Stars presents a more conventionally touchable landscape. It’s a Drudkh album for those who don’t like Drudkh albums. But if, like me, they’re back catalog is some of your favorite music of all time, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

Recommended Tracks: “Twilight Auereole,” “Towards the Light,” “The Day Will Come”

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