Concepts like “demos” or “pre-album singles” might have changed in some ways in modern heavy metal compared to the older times, but if there is one thing they are still very good at is giving you enough context to see how a band’s sound has matured.
After very early releases under Draghkar and a couple other acts, mainly playing with the idea of writing his own music with direct influences from older scenes, Brandon Corsair is ready to share the debut full-length of Draghkar with the world. This time he is joined by a group of people with good metal experience under their belt including members of death metal bands such as Vastum, Acephalix, and Drawn and Quartered or black metal bands such as Ecferus of Iku-Turso.
Unlike the very early Draghkar songs which were more or less directly influenced by the thick slab of Finnish death metal, this time around they brought in a wider variety of influences and these really helped the band to flesh out a certain sound for themselves. Amorphis or Sentenced-like Finnish melodies are still of interest for the band but now, just like the name of the album, the band’s sound now sits at the crossroads of paths opened by different old guards and pioneers. It is easy to find the traces of melodic death metal bands like Eucharist or Gorement, old school Greek death metal bands like Horrified or early Septic Flesh (pretty much a forgotten branch of death metal nowadays…), old school black metal bands like Mortuary Drape, and the ever present traditional heavy metal influences.
With the bouncy intro riff on “The First Death” come vocals in a very Mortuary Drape fashion. Even though Daniel Butler mainly does vocals in the death metal sphere, occasional similarities to Drape like the first song work well with the underlying occult black/death metal tone of this album. The rest of it follows how the first song opens the album: very smooth and bouncy leads (which are the highlight of the album), solos that don’t overstay their welcome, and overall good song crafting. The way “Seeking Oblivion” opens feels like a direct tribute to Necros Christos, and speaking of which, the small but strong Mark Shelton tribute on the closer title track (look out for “The Ninth Wave” riff…) shows that the influence and inspiration of Manilla Road goes way beyond traditional heavy metal bands.
Overall At the Crossroads of Infinity is an album that falls somewhere between “a death metal album written purely with traditional heavy metal influences” (similar to Arghoslent in that sense) and “a death metal album with a big focus on melody like The Chasm”. In a way it reminds me of the death metal equivalent of The Crowning Quietus, the latest album of Inconcessus Lux Lucis, which also was somewhere between “black metal written with a traditional heavy metal mindset with Maiden-like gallops” and “melodic black metal like Dissection”.
I can recommend this album to the readers not because Brandon is one of the Ride Into Glory authors, but it is objectively good and worth listening and it is a huge step up from the demos in the right direction. You can listen to Draghkar’s debut At the Crossroads of Infinity in its entirety here as a Ride Into Glory exclusive and read an interview with Brandon Corsair.
At the Crossroads of Infinity officially releases July 27th via Unspeakable Axe Records.
The below interview was conducted by Marco.
Hi Brandon – first off congratulations on the release and thanks for taking the time to join me today! It’s always a pleasure to chat.
Draghkar has completely changed in several ways since its inception; the songwriting style, aesthetic, and line-up are all completely different from the earliest days. Can you tell me more about the line-up you’ve assembled here for At the Crossroads of Infinity?
Hello Marco, thank you for handling the premiere for the album! There’s nobody I’d rather work with to share our debut album with the world. Yes, we’ve had quite a few changes over the years, and I’ve had a lot of trouble holding down a lineup. I am the main songwriter and responsible for all of the aesthetic direction and lyricism for the band. As I’ve moved more and more away from pure death metal for our music, I’ve had increasing difficulty finding local musicians to hold down instruments I can’t play, and I think because I am not particularly democratic with the direction of the band, it can be hard to convince people to stay long-term because they want to be able to have more creative control. Add that onto the difficulty of maintaining a lineup that’s geographically quite spread out and I’ve had to find replacements for every possible role in the band multiple times! All of that said, I am perfectly happy to let other people in the band write their own parts, riffs, or even entire songs as long as they understand what I’m trying to do with the band and can fit their contributions within that. The current lineup is the first one to really align 100% with me and what I am doing, and I’m extremely happy to be able to work with all of them.
The current lineup includes myself on rhythm guitar and whatever limited clean singing there is in the band, Dan Butler on lead vocals, K.S. Kuciemba on lead guitar, Cameron Fisher on bass, and Phil Segitho on drums. I won’t give a full breakdown on how everyone came to be in the band, but they’re all here for the right reasons, and everyone is excited about the direction of the band and the music we’re making together. Dan’s vocals are much more dynamic, catchy, and well-written than anything I could have done, and it was clearly the right reason to step down from lead vocals and bring him in instead. Dan’s been listening to a lot of our influences for decades and it’s obvious in the way he approaches the music, and his experience is also obvious in what a killer, unique approach he brings to the music. Similarly Kelly is an infinitely better musician than I am on nearly every level, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about playing and writing interesting melodies and harmonies just from studying the parts that he writes to accompany the rhythm guitar I write. As with Dan, Kelly’s been doing this for a very long time, and actually started off playing in heavy metal bands in the ’80s before he made the move to death metal, so I think coming back to a more traditional place has been a natural move for him. Phil aims at all times to replicate ’80s heavy metal and early death metal when he writes his drums for Draghkar and understands our material better than any drummer we’ve had previously, and Cameron’s very rooted in thrash and heavy metal, which lends itself very well to filling out our sound. I feel very lucky to have Cameron and feel very strongly that he’s one of the best bassists active right now in extreme music.
The band name Draghkar comes from the Wheel of Time series and your other project, Azath, derives its name from the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It’s pretty clear fantasy is a focal point for your lyrics. Is that still the case with this latest album?
Yes, always. I’m of the strong opinion that there’s no point writing lyrics that I cannot identify with. Though I love a strong call to Satan or gore-y lyrics as much as anyone, I am not a Satanist and I don’t watch horror movies, so Draghkar’s lyrical and aesthetical focus was never going to be on those topics. The biggest deviation is that where Azath’s music is all based on Malazan, as you pointed out, and earlier Draghkar releases are all based on individual fantasy worlds, At the Crossroads of Infinity is centered around a completely original fictional universe. All of Draghkar’s releases have been conceptual- even our split with Desekryptor served as a prequel to The Endless Howling Abyss– and for me to do the album as a concept album around a more personal story had been an idea bouncing around in my head for years before I even started writing the music. I won’t spoil it, but the album’s story is based around a novel I was writing before college that ended up being unfinished, and it felt right to finally tie in the story of a man who kept coming back from death with Draghkar’s first full length.
Speaking of recurring themes…Karmazid’s artwork has adorned each and every one of Draghkar’s releases as well as the recent fanzine you released (The Highway Corsair). What draws you into his work specifically?
There’s a lot at play. First and foremost, Karmazid is just the best in the game. Nobody else can compete with him on pen and paper drawings because of his creativity, singular vision for artwork, and his extraordinarily high level of skill and attention to detail. I’d fallen in love with his art long before ever talking to him, and he was a very natural choice from day one. Continuing with him made sense because he always understands better than I do what I want for my covers, and I like the power of having a continued aesthetic across my releases. Equally important, Karmazid became a good friend of mine before I ever recorded music, and has been an important source of support for me since before the first sloppy demos I ever put on tape. We met and bonded in forums talking about heavy metal, and as with members of the band, it’s important to me that he understands what I’m doing and where I’m coming from in a way no other artist I’ve ever talked to does. While I may work with other people in other bands, or occasionally on minor releases if he just doesn’t have time to help us out, Karmazid is and hopefully always will be the face of Draghkar when it counts.
Draghkar has changed its sound from the World Unraveled demo to The Endless Howling Abyss and now again At the Crossroads of Infinity. How did you arrive at the current Draghkar sound?
I feel like the progression from our first demo to where we are now has been pretty organic. Our first demo was a sloppy and raw take on the more death metal side of my influences- lots of Autopsy, Cartilage, and Abhorrence riffs, tempered a lot by my lack of ability to actually play guitar well, the fact that I hadn’t yet discovered the importance of metronomes, and the fact that I was too new to playing in bands to know how to put my foot down. Our first drummer (who didn’t even end up sticking around to the recording of World Unraveled!) was very against me adding in heavy metal influence, and even left the band because of a perceived lack of death metal to our burgeoning sound. After he was gone I resolved to just follow my heart, and as I got better at writing the stuff I hear in my head, Draghkar gradually got more atmospheric, more melodic, and less traditionally death metal – it should be obvious even from our earliest interviews that I was and am very influenced by heavy metal, doom metal, and speed metal, and as I’ve been better able to express those elements, they’ve been more represented in my songwriting. The Endless Howling Abyss was written as an EP instead of as a full length primarily for the reason of figuring out exactly how to incorporate my various influences, and is really just a more stripped down version of the music that would later appear on the full length. I knew I wasn’t ready to debut, and you only get one first album; it felt wiser to take my time developing my sound than to rush and get it wrong. By the end of 2018 I had a large portion of At the Crossroads of Infinity written on rhythm guitar, and by the time I finished the arrangements for the album a few months later I knew I’d made the right choice.
Draghkar’s style of melodic and bouncy death metal is atypical in the current scene. What type of influences go into your songwriting and what makes them important to you?
I am absolutely obsessed with a variety of sounds that just don’t exist in modern death metal. There are a million clones of Autopsy, or Incantation, or Pestilence, but where are the bands that sound like Horrified, Molested, Eucharist, or Cartilage? Outside of some obvious big names like Deceased, Stargazer, or The Chasm, where are the bands picking up where Mercyful Fate left off while still worshipping at the altar of death? I read an excellent interview with Rob from Vomitor that deeply resonated with me the other year where he said, paraphrasing, that he writes music so that he can listen to it. I write music that I want to hear, and there’s a void for me in modern death metal of some of my favorite sounds; as much as I love a lot of the current death metal scene, I need to be able to listen to the sort of music I write with Draghkar. Draghkar is and will always be anti-trend because Draghkar’s music is written as a very personal love letter to an era of extreme metal that no longer exists, and mixes a bunch of influences that were never popular outside their own scene even back in the day.
When I was writing At the Crossroads, I exclusively listened to the music I wanted to influence the album. The mid-’90s were my hard cutoff for almost everything, with only a few exceptions (A Mind Confused, Mortuary Drape, Deceased, Kaamos). As I usually do I listened to tremendous amounts of Trouble, Mercyful Fate, Candlemass, Manilla Road, and other heavy metal bands and intentionally upped my consumption of Greek black and death metal. I didn’t keep any bands out of my rotation as long as they fit with the timeframe, but I was in a mindset that led to a lot of Finnish and Swedish bands, and with a focus on the more catchy and melodic ones. The end result is what can be heard on the album. While this music may not mesh with people that only want knockoffs of Cianide or Demilich, I hope that there’s a little bit on the album that can appeal to anyone that loves the same sorts of heavy metal, black metal, and death metal that I do.
If I had to name just a few of the absolute biggest influences on my songwriting, I would point to Demigod, Manilla Road, Mercyful Fate, Trouble, Mortuary Drape, Iron Maiden, Eucharist, Molested, and Cartilage.
You’ve been writing about metal in some capacity, including many articles here at Ride into Glory, for a few years now. Do you feel like your involvement in heavy metal journalism has influenced your music in Draghkar. Conversely, do you feel like your experiences as a musician have changed how you approach writing?
Admittedly, heavy metal journalism is pretty self-serving for me; I use it to promote bands that I like, and to interview musicians that inspire me! Rather than being something I would say is an influence, my forays into writing are a reflection of what I do as a musician, and both the writing and songwriting are just extensions of my love for metal music. That being said, writing about music over the years has enabled me to describe what I like or want in a release far more eloquently and accurately than I could before I started doing it, which lets me communicate with both bandmates and audio engineers more effectively- so even if I can’t say that writing influences my own songwriting, it’s definitely led to some changes in the music! The flip side is that I certainly write based on my perspective as a musician, and that’s an inescapable fact. Production choices, aesthetic, and to an extent individual songwriting choices are something that I criticize from the perspective of having made the same choices, mistakes, or wish I’d thought of certain things; my enjoyment of a release and my being a musician are fairly unrelated, I think, but the things I choose to analyze and how I analyze them when I write reviews certainly come from that place. Similarly, interview questions are often things I wish that people would ask me, or come from professional curiosity, which I think gives me a leg-up trying to think of interesting questions over someone that’s never held an instrument or practiced singing.
Anything else you’d like to say to the readers here at Ride into Glory?
Heavy metal will never die! Marco, thanks again for your commitment to heavy metal music, for your thoughtful questions in this interview, and for hosting us here today. I’ll leave with a short playlist of what I’ve been listening to this morning:
- Acerus – The Tertiary Rite
- Cartilage – The Fragile Concept of Affection
- Runemagick – Enter the Realm of Death
- Funeral Leech – Death Meditation
- The Wizar’d – Subterranean Exile
Disclaimer: Brandon Corsair, the primary songwriter of Draghkar, is a writer for Ride into Glory