DRUDKH Handful of Stars

A new Drudkh album rarely follows directly what came before. In that respect, Handful of Stars comes as no surprise. But in the midst of reissued older albums and even the more progressive direction of last year's Microcosmos, the band's latest offering isn't quite what I expected. The shape of the record is typically atypical: two very short atmosphere setters, a nearly 20-minute epic (with a science fiction-y solo part way through) and three tracks hovering on either side of the ten-minute mark. The opening moments are misleadingly gentle, a darkly dramatic piano intro leading into a riff with a nostalgic shoegazer, goth sort of rhythm. Instrumentally, Handful of Stars maintains a fairly soothing texture, but with a persistent uneasiness gnawing under the surface. Throat eviscerations remain the harshest aspect, ripping through the softer pulsing of bass and guitars to bring a sliver of violence into the open. A casual listen reminds a little of early to mid-era Katatonia (before the clean vocals), but as my ears attune more closely to what's going on that comparison begins to come apart. The arrangements feel sparse and the production subtle, seemingly letting every note, drum hit and string ring distinctly on its own. There's a fair bit going on at once, each layer in direct competition, but instead of chaos what comes out is an aliveness that keeps the long passages and monotonous riffs moving compellingly forward. After a brief interlude midway through, the intensity builds and swells even more powerfully, taking increasingly abrupt turns. Handful of Stars finally coasts to a close upon a more jangling, dissonant wave, uneasiness seeping then crashing through. And when it ends there's no resolution. (Season of Mist)