So, I suppose the question is not why I stopped reviewing, I am sure the endless conga line of VVMPYRE releases has made for a valid alibi. I suppose the better question is why return now?
Well, I received an early copy of some projects, and I decided the quality of these projects is amazing enough to where I should give my review and make sure they are given their time in the light.
I didn’t need to tell you that CZARINA’s new album is amazing, and those who were gonna check out AGNIS in the Synth community probably already did. The albums I will be dedicating myself to, whether I received an early copy or not, will be those that are under the radar that I believe should be heard. I won’t have a lot of time, but I want to use my time and my brief return to writing reviews to contribute the most to this community.
Let’s start my comeback with perhaps one of my much more contentious opinions: For as much as I love Darksynth, there are quite a few artists in the main discourse that I do not care about. I don’t dislike them, I just couldn’t care less. This has made it awkward to jump into the discussion on these artists, but I am not the only one to make these observations. But the underground has always shaped a few amazing names in this genre, and there are others I do like outside of it. But among the recent new faces, there is none that quite hold up in a way like Draven.
While the horror influences and giant basses are not the newest trick in the book, Draven’s massive sounds have made him both a celebration among many and a nightmare to mixing and mastering engineers abound. Almost two years worth of releases has resulted in 2 EPs, a couple of singles, and a stellar remix of Synthwave is Dead by We Are Magonia. Speaking of, Frank Sinistra from the group has been relegated to mixing and mastering duties ahead of what has been a highly anticipated debut album. With 2 fantastic singles to his belt, does this debut match the hype?
Well, before we jump into that, I feel I must add a caveat to how I review records and how I address narratives on an album. Generally speaking, it is hard to deliver a concept in an album to an audience. Sometimes, you get The Wall. Other times, you get sort of vague themes and sometimes linear notes elaborating more. Thing is, most listeners won’t get to read these notes, so when I score a concept album, I won’t base it on anything other than what the listener will have first hand. I remember being frustrated by Childish Gambino’s “Because the Internet” due to this method, but thankfully while “Abyssal Arcana” has a similar narrative issue, it has zero effect on my actual enjoyment of the album.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing that is a big highlight with this record is the composition. One of my biggest issues with a ton of Darksynth is the focus on being “bangers'' sacrificing compositional work. Draven’s balance between the brutal bass and the heavy basses are part of the reason why this album works like it does. The massive intro of “BloodGod'', the surprisingly catchy piano and music box melodies of “Cauchemar Noir”, the multiple key changes and switch ups on “Impalent + The Brazen Bull”, these are just the most obvious highlights. The album is filled with dynamics, twists, turns, and a haunting mood that never leaves you.
While most Horrorsynth and Horror-influenced Darksynth takes its pages from the 80’s golden age of horror, sometimes 70’s, Draven trades this book he played out in his first two EPs for roots diving into the 00’s. As if right on time with Gen Z Y2K Revival, Draven pages the phone book for a big influence of Charlie Clouser, who composed amazing scores for movies like Dead Silence and Saw. “Silver Coffin” and “The Horrifying Autopsy of Deamien Raven'' are the closest to a more typical Darksynth track, but even the latter plays into elements of scores like the remakes of Friday the 13th and Psycho of this era and the former has that Saw string lead in the first “drop” section that the track plays off of. These elements are all welcomed, and add to an enjoyable listen.
The production lends itself to these elements, meshing them with brutal basses and massive drums that occasionally play into Metal-esque progressions, into a chaotic and horrific result. These basses on tracks like “Exsanguinated With A Drill” can reach Industrial territory, “Demonic Incantation Blues” even leans into some EBM basses that are reversed and put next to some distorted drums that repurpose them for the horror theme. Theremins also find a surprisingly tasteful use in small but notable parts in the record, “BloodGod” being the best but “The Conjuring” does good as well, as does the additional basses that call to collaborator CONNÖR. The insane nature of the way these tracks go can make even a track like “A Horrorsynth Symphony” that would be a standout in most other projects in this field sound relatively tame and safe.
If I was to pick a small issue, it is that at times the mix can lean into a combination of bass tones that either minimize the leads or make the production sound more thin than it actually is. The latter is most apparent on “The Horrifying Autopsy of Deamien Raven”, and the odd choice of melodies with this one only makes it more apparent, easily the weakest track on here. The former issue does not hurt “Silver Coffin” nearly as much, nor “Children Shouldn’t Play With the Dead”, but I did notice it in my initial review of the track.
“The Intimate Portrait of the Devil” and “Le Vampire du Grand Guignol” are better examples of how the balance works at its best. The careful use of lower basses and stronger leads lends to highlights. “BloodGod” manages to take some of the flaws, however, and with some sharp composition manages to use the sharper basses and heavier mixing to maximize the impact, including some additional arps that I assume go to Dav Dralleon. It’s easily the best track here, a summary of all of the album’s elements in one.
Overall, this album is a milestone in its genre and the type of stellar debut album you rarely ever get. Sure, there is the occasional issue here and there, but the strengths lead for an incredible start to an artist with a whole lot ahead of themselves. Perhaps one day we will see Draven score horror movies and drive forward the spirit of this record, but until then, I am more than happy to hear more from this project. Strong 8 to a Light 9 out of 10, and a must have recommendation for any Darksynth, Horror, or even Industrial fans. Give this a listen, perhaps revisit the EPs, and keep an eye for one of Greece’s hot new composers!
Best: “BloodGod” feat. Dav Dralleon, “Exsanguinated With A Drill”, “The Conjuring” feat. CONNÖR, “Impalent + The Brazen Bull”, “Cauchemar Noir”
Worst: “The Horrifying Autopsy of Deamien Raven”