In past years we’ve written extensively about the music of the Belfast-based solo black metal project Dratna, following their course across four EPs and a 2022 debut album (Fear Gorta & Tales of the Undead) since the first release in 2018. It has been a remarkable excursion, and one that has fueled increasingly high expectations for each new release.
We didn’t expect another Dratna album so soon, but that is what we have — a new full-length named Fomóraigh that will be released on May 26th by the distinctive NY label Fiadh Productions. Maybe expectations were a bit tempered given the relative speed of this follow-up, but that trepidation only made the new record even more astonishing to hear.
In its inspirations and themes the new album draws on Irish mythology and the landscape of The Mourne Mountians. In its music, to use the rudest form of summing up, it interweaves atmospheric and raw black metal with folk music performed on a wide array of instruments, rich symphonic overlays, and hints of doom. It unfolds like a head-spinning, eye-popping musical pageant, one that seems to have one foot in an age lost to the millennia and another in the hear-and-now.
It has become very tempting to write about the album track by track, because each one has its own individual character, and in each one Dratna manages to bring in new instrumental accents and different moods. There is no song without its own surprises, and its own power to pull and pluck at the heart-strings as if listeners were human-shaped lutes, or… banjos.
Sounds of rain, wind, and waves open “Indech the Treacherous“, slowly joined by a swelling collage of mesmerizing tones, which might remind you of an ancient horn, church organs, a harpsichord, the ripple of an acoustic guitar, the dance of a piano. As Dratna layers in these sounds, the music grows in grandeur and glory, and seems to build a bridge across many centuries (one that fans of dungeon synth will appreciate).
Without forsaking the infectious melody traced through that opening, the song also catches fire, through racing and hammering drums, boiling riffage, and vocal tirades that are terrorizing in their scorching intensity. All in all, this opener provides a captivating amalgam of elegance and ferocity, of reverent remembrance of ages past and harrowing modernity.
The mentally searing effect of those white-hot vocals is a nearly ever-present factor throughout the album, even as the music changes. And change it does. Instrumentally, “Summon the Morrígan” matches the fear factor of the vocals in storms of thunderous percussion that rapidly rumbles the earth and enveloping waves of gale-force incendiary guitars.
The song’s warlike assaults are breathtaking in their intensity, but Dratna also works in hard-rocking beats and a head-hooking riff that pulses like a fiery heart — as well as a sudden classically influenced piano instrumental, joined by a soulful and sad fiddle tune.
“Summon the Morrígan” is worth the mention because it’s such a good example of how multi-faceted and surprising Dratna‘s songwriting is, especially following on the heels of the variety already exposed through “Indech the Treacherous“. Of course, it’s not alone in that regard.
For example, in the midst of its own sonic typhoon “Riders of The Sidhe” sounds like a joyous peasant dance, bringing in even more instrumental accents, including what might be an accordion or pump organ and dervish-like riffing in which the guitar sounds like a blazing fiddle (or maybe it is one), and the somber acoustic-guitar and piano strains at the outset of “Echoes of Mourne” lead into an experience that’s both longing in its mood (even heart-breaking) and sweeping in its scale.
Earlier we observed that listening to the the album is like witnessing a magnificent time-spanning pageant, a mythic history wrought in sound. Partly that’s because the songs begin to seem like new acts and scenes rather than a progression that follows a steady course. And so “Fomóraigh Reign” brings forward not only melancholy and tension-filled symphonic melodies but also vivid drum-pulses, feral slashing riffs, bracing war charges, the haunting ring of celestial keyboards, and the even more haunting wail of a violin.
There’s a feeling of fierce defiance in that song, but it seems even more like a vision of tragedy, a feeling that carries over into the haunted opening of the album’s longest track, “Ships From The Nordland“, which (to use an overworked term) is an extravagant journey all its own, with still more instrumental accents joining in. Lots of the music on this album sounds warlike, but this one especially sounds like a barbaric invading march toward conflict in a by-gone age, and the adrenaline-fueled battle that then ensues. By now it’s not as much of a surprise that the song also changes suddenly into more pastoral and grieving moods before the end, even though eventually underlain by a big drum punch.
The pageantry continues with the thoroughly engrossing instrumental track “Goiltaie From The Harp Of The Dagda“, which despite its relative brevity is almost as much of a musical kaleidoscope as anything else here.
You’ll probably be left wondering how an album as remarkably varied as this one will be brought to an end. The answer comes in “Moytura Conquest“, where a piercing flute melody takes the lead over soft and expansive symphonic synths — eventually joined in an increasingly glorious display by piano, bagpipes, banjo, and one last vocal napalm blast. Oh hell yes, a banjo, and it lifts the heart way high.
There are lots of reasons why I was sorry this album had to end. Certainly one of them is that even after 8 tracks and 40 minutes Dratna still found ways to bring in new moods and new instrumental accents. What might he have done on a 9th or 10th track?
Well, I’ve gotten all that off my chest, and if you actually stayed with me, thank you. Now you’re ready for a very big treat:
To get and keep the album for yourselves, it will soon be available for order on cassette tape via Fiadh and digitally from the band via the links below. Credit for the striking cover art goes to Sean Fitzgerald Art.
DRATNA SOCIALS AND STREAMS: