Despite exuding all the traits that make for a solid Black Metal band, I have never found myself on board the DRUDKH bandwagon. Sure, I’ve got copies of “Autumn Aurora” and “The Swan Road” kicking around my collection and while they each provide a pleasant distraction now and then I can’t say that they’ve ever truly left more than a passing impression on me. I thus approached the Ukrainians’ latest effort with little to no expectation. Just as well, because “A Handful Of Stars” played out just like every other DRUDKH album, with the songs neither amazing nor annoying yours truly.
Advance word on the album has been less than favorable, what with the band’s decision to dip their toes in the post-Rock/Shoegaze pool raising the ire of the elitists. Actually they didn’t just dip their toes – this time around the band went the whole nine yards, with every song having a much more contemporary and rhythmical feel than the works of yore. Gone are the cold tremolo-picked riffs and soothing nature sounds of their first few albums, and in are lots of AMESOEURS (and by default JOY DIVISION) type riffs, a few sporadic solos (many having a peculiar psychedelic touch), occasional lapses into dark ambient, and a generally slow tempo that never really picks up the pace. So yeah, this is definitely “The Swan Road Pt II.”
The problem I have with “A Handful Of Stars” is not its experimental nature but rather the way the band went about implementing these changes. DRUDKH’s music has always been a bit on the repetitive side but it worked (however slightly) on their earlier releases. The monotone riffs and haunting nature sounds created a bleak yet mystical vibe that fit this type of Slavonic BM like a glove. They’ve kept this approach on the new album, but here the constant repetition and overbearing slowness of the songs induce nothing but boredom. Either they’re not fully committed to this post-modern BM sound or they’re just not very good at it, but this whole album just comes off as half-baked and unconvincing. Yeah, some songs can be quite moody (and I did like the solos), but none of them ever really peak – there’s nothing here than can rival the ethereal beauty of something like ALCEST or the like.
If you liked their recent works like “Estrangement” and “Microcosmos” then you’ll surely love “Handful Of Stars." They’ve clearly entered the second phase of their career, and while this album is not quite up to scratch I still feel that they might have a decent album or two left in them if they’d just write songs a tad more dynamic than what we have on here.
(Online December 9, 2010)