'WidowMaker' - Dragged into Sunlight (6/10)
Although there was good reason why Dragged into Sunlight never received much (if any) mainstream attention for their debut, “Hatred for Mankind” was a shaker for the underground. Although negativity and pessimism is nothing new for extreme metal, this pack of Englishmen’s sincerity to the mood and atmosphere was undeniable. Arguably doing with dark atmosphere what Motorhead did with volume, Dragged into Sunlight’s first album was something of an underground gem, and even a couple of years since first hearing it, it’s still as vicious as it ever was. Although there’s no doubt that many listeners will find it disappointing that the band have distanced themselves from their original black metal sound with “WidowMaker”, I should start by saying there wasn’t much these guys could have done to expand upon “Hatred for Mankind”. With ‘misanthropic demon-birth black metal’ fully actualized in one fell swoop, Dragged into Sunlight have found a new realm of sound to fuel their sonic assault. “WidowMaker” is a much more meditative offering than what the band’s done before, but the noxious atmosphere is cut from the same cloth. The end result is something that doesn’t quite match the visceral intensity of the debut, but allows for a fresh experience of its own.
There’s no doubt that Dragged into Sunlight intended to reinvent themselves here with “WidowMaker”. Although split into three parts (presumably for the sake of navigation), it’s a single album-length composition. The band has never been a stranger to longer song structures, but there is the sense of further liberation from time constraints and ‘concise’ songwriting. This more longwinded doctrine is applied most explicitly on the album’s first part, which acts essentially as an introduction for the rest of the music. Relying on a few minimalistic guitar motifs, ambient recordings and a gradual violin, the opening to “WidowMaker” is about as musically distant from the sonic chaos of “Hatred for Mankind” as could be imagined. The deliberately paced ambiance and creeping composition of Godspeed You! Black Emperor may be a suitable way to describe the sound here. It’s both an eerie way to introduce an album and a major middle finger to any fan looking for a more familiar black metal palette. At fifteen minutes however, there’s no doubt that the introduction ambles on for far too long, and repeated listens only exacerbate the fact. Although there were good intentions here, the concept of the apocalyptic, mellow intro is dragged far past the point it should have been taken.
Although the first portion of “WidowMaker” is an ambivalent success, the near-two thirds that remain enjoy a more familiar sense of aggression and rawness that first put Dragged into Sunlight on the map. It’s no surprise however that the metal aspect has been largely altered as well. Instead of a bestial black/death combination, “WidowMaker”s heavy element appears more comfortable in the waters of doom, sludge, and even post-metal. I’ll admit that Cult of Luna and even Isis came to mind here, and given the context of the debut, this comes off as quite a musical surprise. The riffs and musical ideas are more drawn out here, and less outright aggressive than they have been in the past. A stalwart exception in this case are the primal howls and grunts of the vocalist known as T, who sounds just as sincerely disturbed as he did on “Hatred for Mankind”. There are no blistering guitar solos or unexpected changes of pace in the album’s second half, but the music gains a solid sense of momentum. Moreover, the production sounds organic and suitably chaotic, in spite of the minimalistic composition. The occasional flourish of violin and serial killer samples bring the atmosphere of “WidowMaker” full circle. Dragged into Sunlight do not lose hold of the sludgy intensity once they have found it, although given the overdrawn lengths they went to introducing the album, it’s nevertheless a disappointment that “WidowMaker” lacks a fitting finale or memorable close.
Some things about Dragged into Sunlight’s sophomore are incredibly promising, and there remains a powerful sense of sincerity and atmosphere on “WidowMaker” that shouldn’t be underestimated, in spite of the style change. It took some balls on account of the band eschewing a style they had been received so well with, and going for something new. I can appreciate that fully, but the more drawn out, post metal sound of “WidowMaker” does not grab me nearly as much, nor does it create much of an impression after the record has ended. Although it’s not even forty minutes long, “WidowMaker” feels longer and more drawn out than it rightly should have been. Dragged into Sunlight made an ambitious leap here, but it’s turned out to be something of a mixed success. Repeated listens don’t make the album much more satisfying than it is on the first count, but there’s no doubt that Dragged into Sunlight remain as much a mystery as they ever have. Knowing now that they so eager to explore new territory, it will be very interesting to see where they go next, in spite of “WidowMaker”s ambivalent success.