One of my favorite discoveries this year was Denver based Dreadnought. In the progressive music world, I get lots of albums daily that are technically impressive, or lyrically interesting, but it’s more unusual for me to hear a band that is truly unique. I was able to catch them live at the Best Friend Bar in Lexington, Kentucky, and I was totally impressed with their unique sound and impressive technical abilities. And if I wasn’t already enamored with their sound, about halfway through, the drummer and singer/guitarist whipped out a saxophone and flute (respectively) and did a psychedelic jam. They managed to jump from prog metal to folk to black metal to doom metal, without sounding like a novelty. As a matter of fact, all of their artistic choices made sense within their musical context, and coalesced into a particular sound. I learned afterwards from bassist/lyricist Kevin Handlon that they were releasing a new album soon, A Wake In Sacred Waves.
Dreadnought’s music is powerful and earthy and visceral. I remember years ago, when I was wondering how to appreciate black metal, someone recommended that I go sit on a stump in the forest in winter with some headphones and just absorb the scenery and the music. When I hear Dreadnought’s music, it makes me think of nature, but specifically, those moments when you experience sublimity- when you see a vista that is overwhelming and huge and takes time to absorb. Dreadnought’s albums are very much tied to nature, as Kelly Schilling said in an interview: “Each album is loosely based on an element…Lifewoven was earth, Bridging Realms was ether, and this is our water album. You could think of them like Zelda temples.” A Wake in Sacred Waves, is their “water temple”.
Maybe the most identifiable sonic element that can be found is a feeling of volatility and unpredictability, which is embodied by the alternatively delicate and intense passages throughout the album. Dreadnought will very quickly go from serene and psychedelic to heavy. It’s the sonic equivalent of one of my greatest fears: being stuck in a storm on a boat in the ocean. As we in the United States are reeling from the destructive power of water in several states, one is reminded that the oceans are huge and vast and unforgiving.
A quick aside regarding screaming vocals, which may be a turn-off to some: When I first began listening to metal, I had a harder time with vocal styles other than just singing. However, after some concerted effort on my part, I began to acclimate to the variety of Opeth taught me to appreciate the growl, Alcest taught me to appreciate a well placed blast beat and black metal screech. Devin Townsend taught me that, well, sometimes a well placed scream can say much more than any series of notes can (see: “Deadhead”). All of this is important to consider when listening to Dreadnought- they feature about an equal balance of harsh vocals and clean vocals, provided by Kelly Schilling (who is also the guitarist and flutist) and Lauren Vieira (who plays keys and sings harmonies). If screams are a turn off to you, I understand that. But I’ve grown to view singing styles as something akin to brushes used while painting, and screaming/growling are just additional tools to express feelings.
On to the music. The first song on this album, “Vacant Sea”, introduces the main character of this album- a sea creature that, after being chased into a trench, gradually becomes the apex predator in its new ecosystem. The story begins with a tender a capella line, which is quickly joined by cymbal swells and understated tom work. The track, however, wastes no time, as it swells into the trademark black metal washes and Kelly Schilling’s facemelting screeches. This incredible 17 minute opener prepares the listener for the identifiable musical characteristics of this album- each song features moments that progressively grow in intensity and power, and then fade away again. Crescendos and decrescendos, like waves and tides, create a musical ebb and flow that makes the album an incredibly dynamic album.
“Within Chanting Waters” starts with what sounds like a battle between beasts, with dizzying blasts on the drums and heavy, fuzzy, atmospheric guitar and bass work. The strong start ebbs and flows throughout the rest of the song, as the song dips into a mellow midsection that features entrancing interplay between Jordan Clancy’s saxophone work and Kelly Schilling’s delicate flute passages. Dreadnought’s music has often been described as ‘psychedelic’ at times, and this section is a great example of that.
The next song, “To Luminous Scale” begins with the gorgeous trademark harmonies. Kelly’s harsh vocals and Lauren and Kelly’s harmonies blend with the atmospheric, post/black/psych metal style that Dreadnought has created so well that you wonder if it could possibly work any other way. Kelly Schilling, when speaking about what , said “By virtue of being women, we add a different dynamic, femininity, and perhaps more balance to this genre…Our voices are a color, timbre, and sound that’s unfamiliar and unique.” Each time Kelly and Lauren sing, it adds a beautiful, ephemeral timbre to the mix, and is one of the best and most defining characteristics of this very talented band.
The last song, “A Drifting Reign”, features the inevitable death of our apex predator, as she is destroyed by the fellow members of her species and ecosystems. The song is full of shifts and turns, creating the feeling of an epic battle. Kelly’s impassioned screams at the end are the creature’s eulogy. The song slowly fades out, and returns to how it starts- an a cappela female voice. At this point, I’d recommend you take a few deep breaths.
A Wake In Sacred Waves is an impressive artistic statement. While I have enjoyed the music and dynamics of the previous albums, this album is superior in almost every way: the intense moments are heavier and more brutal, the subdued moments are more ponderous and tender, the production is more polished, the instrumental passages are more entrancing and impressive. And maybe the highest praise I can give for a good progressive record: this album is less of a collection of songs, and more of an intense, powerful, and beautiful musical experience.
Dreadnought’s latest album, A Wake In Sacred Waves, will be out on October 6, 2017. Pre-order it here. Also, catch them live if you can! You won’t regret it.