Draven – Abyssal Arcana


Hamburg-based Greek artist, Deamien Raven, is a metalhead with a passion for synthwave and horror film imagery. Like anyone with FL Studio, a MIDI controller, and a decent laptop, he can dream of macabre worlds where violence and mysticism intertwine like hydrogen and water. In Draven’s case, the man behind the music is all that stands between the salvation of the citizens of Necropolis and the pernicious regime governed by the notorious VampZ. How many other artists write a heroic part for themselves in a concept album?

The first thing we must do is distinguish between Draven’s horrorsynth music and the popular synthwave movement centred around France. Draven ignores the sexual lust and high-octane fuel of the latter, yet his beats remain constant and locked in a 1980s retro world. Like French duo, Justice, the music here is unapologetic in its pomposity and its embrace of stadium rock clichés through the prism of synthesisers instead of guitars. Indeed, ‘The Horrifying Autopsy of Deamien Raven’, takes sinister string bows and dramatic percussion accents for its intro and incorporates Aphex Twin glitches among the gothic pianos and square bass samples. Substitute the synth hooks for guitars and you’d have a chugging metal track.

Carpenter Brut fans will enjoy the glistening thrust and wide-eyed sci-fi worship of ‘Cauchemar Noir’, just as they’ll want to raise their fists for the two-beat drum sequence. Draven’s music can speed through the highway yet zap through the stratosphere like a comet in the next modulation. When you think of the word ‘gothic’ in musical culture, you think overblown and romantic to an absurd degree of morbidity. Draven is no stranger to these two identifiers on the likes of ‘Silver Coffin’ and ‘Le Vampire du Grand Guignol’, although he colours the latter with a vintage Human League synth melody when things start to become predictable. Very clever.

You’d assume that a forty-nine-minute album with a horror film aesthetic would grant you the patience you need to see it to the end. Unfortunately, this is not the experience on first and second listen. The limitations of horrorsynth become apparent at the halfway mark when you realise this micro-genre relies too much on pounding snares and bubbling synth basslines to maintain tension and suspense. This leaves little room for ambience and subtlety – two things that would appeal to your patience rather than diminish it. Only on the third listen, will you recognise the sophistication inherent in these songs. ‘Demonic Incarnation Blues’ thrives on a keyboard sequence like the one from Halloween III but subsists on a simple bass hook holding it together and supporting the gothic choirs in the background. ‘Impalement & The Brazen Bull’ is the closest Draven comes to the unique darkness of Perturbator but with the ghoulish perspective of a Danny Elfman soundtrack from the late 1980s. And, of course, let’s not forget the ubiquitous John Carpenter influence on this music. ‘The Conjuring’ could be on the Escape From New York soundtrack if not for the ambitious acid synth progression near the end that will remind you of the intro to Depeche Mode’s live version of ‘World in My Eyes’ from their 1993 Devotional world tour.

Ultimately, Abyssal Arcana is too long for its own good, and this stops it from achieving its true potential. Recycling the same two-note bass sequence throughout the album does not help. See if you can distinguish the riff on closing track, ‘Exsanguinated with a Drill’, from any of the first six songs. ‘A Horrorsynth Symphony’ is nothing but three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of superfluous posturing. This record would be a strong seven out of ten if it finished at track ten, but the extra three songs at the end reduce it to a comfortable six.

Draven will return stronger and more disciplined on the next record. Let’s hope the man behind the music can also take horrorsynth into new territory with more emphasis on minimalist atmospherics and less reliance on bone-headed drumbeats.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 29/04/2022

Record Label: Self Released

Standout tracks: Demonic Incantation Blues, Impalement & The Brazen Bull, The Conjuring

Suggested Further Listening: Carpenter Brut – Blood Machines OST (2020), Justice – Cross (2007), Volkor X – This is Our Planet Now (2020)