Review: Stielas Storhett – 'Drownwards'

Stielas Storhett’s homeland, Russia, is not a country renowned for being heaving with humour, or much in the way of laughs. Its history is one of immense endurance, hardship, violence, and corruption, and, one would assume, a fertile ground for rage. Though these environmental elements cause terrible pain and suffering, the conviction and artistry born of such volatility can be redemptive, and it is with this hope that I put on WormholeDeath Records’ latest.

Having served in The Unhallowed, where he was responsible for much black metal, mainman Damian TG has decided to make ‘Drownwards’ his own solo project. Though the press release mentions post-black metal, there’s little to don your spikes over; opener ‘Gasp For Change’ starts with uncharacteristic smoothness before the dirty great down-tuned guitars enter and the record takes on a surprisingly beat-down flavoured feel.

‘Drownwards’ covers some very non-black metal ground, and though the screaming and blasting is there, tracks like ‘Playfield Of The Gods’ are closer to metal and deathcore than anything else. Certainly, if Damian was aiming for this, it’s well executed, and as the work of one man, this is truly impressive. One-man projects are very common in BM, but seldom with this level of production, which reminds me a little bit of Soilwork in places, both early and latter-day. ‘Null(The Last Journey)’ is much more elegant. Its slower tempo and female vocals giving the track a Evanescence-if-they’d-been-worth-investigating lilt.

The whole record has a driven, purposeful air, with every instrument – particularly the drums – giving it plenty, and fans of The Devil Wears Prada and modern-day metal will find much to like here. ‘Drownwards’ appears to have been written as a full album, rather than a collection of tracks, and flows professionally from one track to another. ‘Just Walking Around’ is positively rocking, with a tickle more restraint than posited elsewhere. The guitars sound massive but not blown out, with a tight, focused punch to them. Damian’s vocals are truly aggressive, and through singing in English rather than his native Russian, the inflections of these two disparate tongues gives the whole thing much more punctuation and weight than if the words had been intoned by a native English speaker, which is wonderful.

‘Constant’ recalls Dobermann-era Dark Tranquility, all shuffling stomp and widescreen vocal harmonies, and stands to the fore as one of the album’s highlights. Should live performance be in Stielas Storhett’s future, this will no doubt be a rallying call, its stop-start grandeur all bunched muscles and bare teeth. The clean vocals are a little more sad-Patton-y than I was expecting, but this is by no means a bad thing.

I loved the sharpness of this, and being able to listen to it on proper cans, crappy speakers and a beast-huge home stereo system, I can report that the beef and meatiness of the whole piece carries between these media. The claustrophobic essence of the album means that there’s little relaxation, even in the quieter sections, something that was no doubt deliberate.

‘Drownwards’ is pretty able the whole way through, with plenty of girth on tap, and acts, if one were to be truly objective, as a greatest hits of metal styles from the last few years, with some nice off-kilter blasting occurring effortlessly on ‘Spyglass’, djent rearing its head on ‘Backdoor Mate’, and more commercial styles being represented by the initial few tracks. Final track, ‘TMS’ is, perhaps, the direction in which Stielas Storhett is headed; creeping, whispered vocals and palpable tension winding the finale to a dense, potent conclusion.

Not just a bloody good, solid record, but an exciting indication of the artist’s development. Stielas Storhett can be proud of this, and their next release should be quite something.

Review – John Tron Davidson

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