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Perhaps one could sense a bit of flirtation with a more openly melodic and post-rock influenced aesthetic on Microcosmos, but not in a million years would anyone have predicted the follow-up album would sound like this. Handful of Stars will definitely be, in retrospect, the sore thumb, the weird (some would say failed) experiment in Drudkh's discography, the oddball album. In that sense, I'm very grateful Drudkh did this; they have a tendency to recycle themselves quite a bit and there's a fine line between minimal, atmospheric genius and repeating three lazy Slavic BM riffs for ten minutes and Drudkh cross it constantly. This is a nice change of pace, and not only that's it's one of their more involved releases. For better or for worse, at least they shook things up and got people talking.
Come on now, would you really rather listen to their dorky folk music or one of their lazier albums than this? (It's not like that stuff isn't dotted around this album, anyways.) These riffs don't sound much different from past Drudkh material; the only real change is that their post-rock (more specifically, the modern french post-rock stuff like Les Discrets and Alcest) influence is much more apparent. I mean, come on, these guys recorded an album in collaboration with Neige shortly after this album's release; it's obvious that Saenko and company were hanging out with him and trading musical influences and whatnot, this wasn't some sort of bandwagon-hopping onto the recent trend of post-black metal as some have called it. They probably just felt like exploring newer sounds. I'm sure they took into consideration the sub-genre's recent popularity upswing, but something about this feels as though it's much more genuine.
The experiment improves upon Drudkh's sound in certain aspects; they build into riffs and bleed them out as opposed to just playing them repeatedly to generate a static atmosphere and the riffs are ever-so-slightly more detailed and textured, there's a good deal more to pay attention to. This is, of course, all for naught if you're not really a fan of the frenchie post-rock-cum-black-metal style present in the first place; fortunately, I am, so it works out for me just fine. There's still a few things that really get my goat about this album for me though; for one, why in the hell did they think it was a good idea to put the vocals so high in the fucking mix??? I mean, yeah, I guess they are somewhat emotive and occasionally work in certain sections because they have a distinct personality, but otherwise these vocals seriously grind against the music and often sound warbly and shakily delivered. Why not have vocals like these twist and dart around the edges of the album, barely louder than a whisper but traveling right to your core like they did on Autumn Aurora? God, that kind of production would have fit them perfectly.
It does draw attention away from realizing that the riffs, while certainly possessing a lot of novelty and a really smooth sound, don't vary a whole lot from song to song. The band may have leaned just a liiiitle too heavily on the gimmick in order to make up for a lack of ideas. Well, not entirely a lack of ideas- there's a lot of ideas on Handful of Stars, they're all just really similar. Perhaps that is a testament that Drudkh is still Drudkh, faults and all, and as much as I am am fan of the band they do tend to have a lack of variance within an album (aside from the acoustic folk interludes but does anyone actually like those or listen to the band exclusively for them?), it's just how Saenko always writes his music, his takes a couple textures and themes and gets everything he can out of them. The first three main tracks ("Downfall of the Epoch" through "Twilight Aureole") are all fairly similar, but the album's highlight is the closer, "The Day Will Come", which has a great Brave Murder Day vibe mixed with a modern black metal feel going on. My favorite tracks from these types of bands always seem to be the ones where they just play listless, hollow depressive rock-ish stuff.
This is not something I'd recommend to a traditional extreme metal fan- this is an experiment into a genre with a niche audience and I would recommend it heavily to people within that audience. This isn't nearly as bad as some people seem to think; however, it's not quite as good as it could have been, either.