There’s no two ways about it, 2010’s “Handful of Stars” was awful; a blatant attempt to cash in on the current ‘Post’ Black Metal trend that was all the rage then. In what could basically be described as a blatant, utterly asinine and toothless attempt to jump upon the ALCEST bandwagon, DRUDKH hit the lowest ebb in their career. If it didn’t bear the DRUDKH name then it would have been hard to believe that it was the same band who released such atmospheric Black Metal opuses as “The Swan Road” or “Forgotten Legends”. So when I heard news that they were releasing a new album which claimed they were returning to their roots I was relieved yet quietly doubtful at the same time. Why? Because they were at least dropping the whole ‘Shoegaze’ facade, yet the couple of albums directly prior to “Handful of Stars” weren’t the strongest either, and how they’d fare after such obvious back peddling and the hammering that album took critically remained to be seen.
“Eternal Turn of the Wheel” is anything but poor though, and with it they have managed to claw back some pride after the abortion that was their last release and banish it to the dark recesses of the mind. It’s essentially DRUDKH doing what they do best, and that’s harsh and unforgiving Black Metal swathed in atmosphere. They’re masters of that enduring hypnotic swirl which sucks you into a trance and into a journey through the elements. So in accustomed DRUDKH fashion the first track is an acoustic intro, a scene setter of sorts which lays out the foundations for the rest of release, nothing more or nothing less.
The first proper track is "Breath of Cold Black Soil" and is the initial turn of the wheel starting from March. It’s intense pretty much from beginning to end and a well received blast of fury which harks back to previous efforts. The guitar maintains the traditional crunchy chord progressions and mesmeric riffs of old and Thurios’ vocals are back to their vicious, Slavic shaded best. It does tend to drag after a while though and a bit more variation in the guitar wouldn’t have gone amiss as it seems a bit flat overall, but nonetheless it’s a vast improvement at least on the previous material. And so the wheel slowly rolls round to August with Autumn’s dark hand on the back of your neck. "When Gods Leave Their Emerald Halls" follows the same basic pattern as "Breath..." with its crisp, primal guitar work and incessant beating drums perpetually chipping away at you like a bitter wind. About three minutes from the end there is a beautifully calm and serene interlude, a lull before the storm of blasting and ferocious guitar work which moves in at the end of the track. It’s moments like this that I absolutely love about DRUDKH.
So round we go to October and the "Farewell to Autumn’s Sorrowful Birds" and its slightly more restrained face compared to the previous two, an expansive number awash with isolation and yearning reinforced by Roman’s excellent sombre guitar work. Blanketed by Winter’s harsh embrace, the extravagantly titled "Night Woven of Snow, Winds and Grey-Haired Stars" completes the revolution. Amidst a backdrop of lustrous synths and abrasive drumming, enveloped by a hypnotic swell of guitar which is nothing short of majestic, i can easily cite this as one of the best tracks DRUDKH have penned to date. It’s utterly beguiling. And so the year ends and the cycle begins once again.
“Eternal Turn of the Wheel” is thankfully a great return to form by these Ukrainians. Ok, it isn’t flawless; it does have a tendency to drag, most notably in the first two songs, and a certain spark is missing that was present on their classics. Let’s face it, they’re probably never going to produce another release to rival the quality of “Autumn Aurora” or “Forgotten Legends” again, but this does show glimpses of that brilliance and is at least a damn fine effort and a more than befitting return to form for a band who I thought had lost themselves down a one way street. To those new to DRUDKH, there are better albums to begin with, and for those who were disgusted by the previous effort then fear not for their brand earthy, wind shorn Black Metal is back. Now let’s just hope this wheel doesn’t seize up again...
(Online March 21, 2012)