DRAGHKAR – At the Crossroads of Infinity (2020)REVIEW

The known, the common, the cheap and instantaneously familiar are a plague for the overstimulated mind as prosopagnosic symptom sets in amidst the blur of weekly music releases. Nothing wears a goddamned face, only crude masks. Most say next to nothing with their music despite the bar being set low for redeeming social value and even lower for truly antisocial artists, who manage a certain bleakness for the sake of how tender and amorphous they are. Dry and brittle bullshit, most of it. How the jaw hungers for the blood of its teeth, the rap of a knuckle set across a soon-bent nose, when everyone has each hand willingly tied behind their back. Heavy metal has always been intended as the remedy, the blood and flesh on bones of screaming defiance — A message that aging, complacent generations have failed to instill in youths they’d forget to try and understand. The ol’ dragon ears snap open with a pop when the real thing sparks ’em and in this case Los Angeles, California conceived and United States spread epic death metal entity Draghkar represent the old ways repurposed as imposing narrative and thoughtful menace. Mercurial in vitro and now a rapturous, blackfire-blessed brandish full-grown, ‘At the Crossroads of Infinity‘ offers a commanding presence intent upon shearing off all typified waste; A heavy metal act whirling all manner of mangled yet entirely virtuous influences, all of which have been cajoled to fight as one after four years of unclear identity.

I’d be the first to admit I didn’t see any logical ties between the doom-tinged old school death metal Draghkar that put out ‘World Unraveled‘ demo in 2017 and the The Chasm-esque Draghkar that put out ‘The Endless Howling Abyss‘ EP in 2018. Seeing a lot of journalists familiar with the artist’s influences plugging in two of my favorite (death metal) bands, Gorement and Sentenced, just did not add up to what that EP was doing and the beast continued to mutate beyond that point. Comparisons to early Mortuary Drape were a good start yet there is more to consider these days as we see the full scope of line-up changes and how additional hands have shaped Draghkar into a functional monstrosity. Founder, guitarist, and sometimes vocalist Brandon Corsair‘s (Azath, Serpent Rider) taste lies in a certain sweet spot where classic heavy metal influence touches 90’s death metal innovation: The Chasm (’98-’04), Mi’gauss, Arghoslent, Armoured Angel, Sacriphyx and perhaps the list could go on… but this is the most succinct way to delineate a number of sensibilities feeding into what ‘At the Crossroads of Infinity’ actually sounds like. This all’d been clarified with the ‘Beyond Despair, the Dawn of Rebirth‘ demo last year: Classic 80’s heavy metal arrangements, bounding and spirited a la mid-80’s Germany meets Mercyful Fate‘s best. Classic death metal rhythms, ornate and just short of progressive in flair. And perhaps the most important final touch for this sound was distinct lead guitar work from K.S. Kuciemba (Drawn and Quartered) who brings both otherworldly swipes and screaming mid-80’s speed metal grinds to each song.

Oh, and riffs. No shit, I mean that’d be the main point outright if the album wasn’t even more interesting for its melodic development throughout. This is where the comparison to Mi’gauss really becomes important when recommending ‘At the Crossroads of Infinity’, you’d think the average “heavy metal influenced death metal” gig has a good chance of being a tired turd until you’ve grasped the epic potential of it and only ‘Open Season‘ has ever done it this well before. Opener “The First Death” communicates this rumbling, speed metallic, blackened, epic death metal jog as it kicks off, uncannily channeling Quo Vadis‘ (Poland) late 80’s demo days and echoing the intent of Draghkar‘s 2018 EP and 2019 demo in a final draft form. As the soldier-stomped bassline kicks in at the 2.5 minute mark and harmonized guitar parts really start to fly off I finally understand what this project was trying to figure out during their formative phase, it’d all amounted to finding that distinct trad metal voice and applying it to death metal worth a shit. “Beyond Despair, The Dawn of Rebirth” compounds holistically formed Draghkar sound into something powerful, memorable and satisfyingly dark with its infectious main riff and collapsing strands towards the end. A six song, 35 minute death metal album of traditional ilk is rarely this densely packed with ideas, deliriously ornate yet thematically sound.

I’d probably been on my third spin and first sitting beyond previews with ‘At the Crossroads of Infinity’ before I’d take a closer ear to “An Erosion of the Eternal Soul” and thought “Hey, this guy sounds like guy from Vastum.” and sure enough, all of the vocals on the album are from Daniel Butler (Vastum, Acephalix) who shows a different range of expression here without going as far as some of the off-kilter stuff Corsair did on ‘The Endless Howling Abyss’. Corsair does offer some clean vocals here (“Seeking Oblivion”) to set up the Candlemass-esque intro to the song but as far as I know that is the only instance beyond the opener’s hymnal breaks. I suppose this album deserves a “Hold on, man.” moment at this point for the sake of taking stock. One enthusiastic journalist & musician getting folks from high-revered death metal bands (and fine artist Karmazid) together is not an everyday feat, much less making an actual band of it with music that is beyond worth hearing… Bigger picture, not that wild a thought, but I still can’t help but be impressed that it amounted to anything worth a damn and so quickly. Some of the supporting cast deserves accolades, too, as Phil from Ecferus/Desekryptor and bassist Cameron Fisher (ex-Iconoclasm) are an important foundation for the record’s sound, especially Fisher‘s performances on a few key songs.

At the very least it takes a perfectionist with a love of raw edges to make an album like ‘At the Crossroads of Infinity’ happen. The many faces of Draghkar combine into one chiseled jaw and stern brow on this debut, a knowable and darkly enthralling hybrid that works like magic from start to finish. The appeal holds great crossover appeal with consideration for newer death metal fans who’ve little experience with outliers and traditional heavy metal influence; I’ve listed relevant bands prior and fans of ’em will be most inclined but if you’re like me and you could swing from ‘The Deluge’ to ‘North From Here’ without blinking, this is especially your gig. Glazed over in admiration as I am, I see some potential room for growth in Draghkar‘s future; The leads could swing bigger and in different directions, the sheer number of layers are occasionally overdone and some guitar lines represent wild hairs at times. I also missed some of the wilder vocal expressions used on earlier releases but frankly there isn’t much of anything I’d ask of a band capable of this rare breed of sub-genre sorcery. A high recommendation.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:At the Crossroads of Infinity
LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe Records
RELEASE DATE:July 31st, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRES:Death Metal,
Melodic Death Metal,
Trad. Heavy/Death Metal

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