Matt versus Dragoncorpse: The Drakketh Saga Review

From premise to name, Dragoncorpse is not a band that exactly begs to be taken seriously. The elevator pitch of “power deathcore” gives you an honest and clear idea of what to expect: a gimmicky juxtaposition of two genres that are generally gimmicky to begin with. (Leading off the album with a guest appearance by a member of Brojob doesn’t help matters.) They’ve taken the “Dragon-” prefix that is necessarily required to indicate your power metal status. My friends and I half-started a joke band called Dragondragon more than a decade ago mocking this very phenomenon. Toss on “-corpse” to emphasize the gritty deathcore half and call it a day. Now they just need some tunes to flesh out the gimmick.

There’s just one tiny problem:

These guys accidentally wrote tunes that are way too good not to take seriously.

I pressed play on The Drakketh Saga EP fully expecting to laugh at its ludicrousness, and while the novelty did indeed bring out a chuckle or two, my attitude rapidly shifted from amusement to awe. Dragoncorpse managed to synthesize the best parts of two corny styles, cut the fat from each, and produce something that transcends the sum of its parts. At the center of their sound, the part of the Venn diagram where power and deathcore overlap, is a Swedish melodeath foundation not unlike Soilwork or Scar Symmetry. From this core, they are flexibly able to stretch more toward epic power metal choruses or churning deathcore breakdowns as the song calls for. The aplomb with which they pull this off is truly startling, nowhere finer than in the EP’s middle track, “Terror Eternal”. This song opens firmly on the power metal end of the spectrum with layered clean vocals and harmonized guitar leads, while its verses spelunk the most brutal depths of deathcore explored anywhere on this release. After a perfunctory solo, the band drops a unique deathcore section that twists the power metal vocal approach into an unexpected high shriek. The song’s final chorus repetition, building to its intense climax, is probably the most memorable moment on the album.

Perhaps most impressive is the diversity of sounds they’re able to finesse out of their simple musical conceit. “Sunlover” opens the album with a gentle acoustic passage before launching into symphonic deathcore blasts. The chorus provides one of the album’s highlights with its soaring and catchy clean vocals over midtempo, melodic $$\frac{6}{8}$$ heaviness. The second verse swings all the way into deathcore (20 years ago, those bends would have been pinch harmonics), and the remainder of the song oscillates between these poles before closing with more acoustic and synth strings. “Blood and Stones” nails the melodeath niche I indicated above, with just the deeper growls distinguishing it from its ilk. Yes, there’s another epic chorus to be found within, and a massive vocal crescendo late in the song, just before it drops a slowed-down deathcore breakdown to close. After “Terror Eternal”, discussed above, we get “From the Sky”, a short and fairly textbook melodeath/thrash number with power and death frills. This feels like one of the earliest-written pieces, a fleeting taste of the style’s potential that has a few slick riffs but ultimately blends in with the other songs. Closing track “Undying” has yet another potent chorus with sweet guitar leads, and tilts toward the power side, relishing in its riffs before dropping a massive deathcore section in its second act. The song’s climax is a perfect fusion of their styles, with desperate power metal vocals blending with triplet double bass and guttural growls to put a gleaming bow on a surprising and stunning debut release.

Lest I embarrass myself by overhyping this band, there are some flaws worth mentioning. The drums on the recording are quite clearly programmed, though there are some studio videos indicating a real percussionist has come on board. Most of the time, the programmed drum parts sound pretty human, with a few exceptions of hyper-clean blasts or double bass, but not enough to distract or detract from the enjoyment of the music. Other than a couple of moments in “Terror Eternal”, there’s a distinct lack of epic solos one might expect from a power metal powerhouse; perhaps with more recognition, they can snag a few extra guests for the next release. The EP is padded out with four “interludes” in which a growling draconic voice provides some narrative exposition; while I generally respect this technique, recalling albums like Blind Guardian’s “Nightfall in Middle-Earth”, here I found it consumed too much of the album’s short runtime and deleted them from my playlist after the initial listen in order to seamlessly slide from banger to banger. And that leads to my final complaint: this music is so good, I’m upset there’s not more of it. The EP serves as a beautiful proof-of-concept that “power deathcore” is more than just a gimmick. Now please follow up on it with a true full length that delivers on the potential of the style. Godspeed on your epic quest, gentlemen.

On January 30 2023, this entry was posted and

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