Testament’s iconic guitarist, Eric Peterson’s black metal side project, Dragonlord, have released their 3rd album called Dominion. Dominion was released on the 21st of September via Universal or Spinefarm, depending on where you live in the world.
Dragonlord have existed as a project since 2001 with the release of the first album, Rapture. This was followed up with the 2005 album, Black Wings of Destiny and then silence. After around 5 years of silence, Peterson announced a possible release for a new album in 2011 but his busy schedule with Testament meant that proved impossible. Not longer after this he released a sweeping statement that included the line “Anyone who knows me will respect my honesty and I can tell you Dragonlord doesn’t have a future. We would like to make another album but the metal scene is difficult to flourish in. Dragon definitely withstands no chance.” Fast forward a few years and here we are. Who knows, maybe for the last ever time.
Being a side project, Dragonlord has always been Peterson and a rotating selection of other members. Passed members include fellow Testament bandmate, Steve Di Giorgio, Steve Smyth from Nevermore and Jon Allen of Sadus. Dragonlord today are, of course, Eric Peterson on vocals, guitars and bass. Lyle Livingston (ex Psypheria) joins him on the keys while the haunting, female vocals come from Leah. The final piece of the puzzle comes from Alex Bent (Trivium) on drums. So, has it been worth the wait?
Dominion is 8 songs or 44 minutes of blazing, fantastical metal and starts off with a track called Entrance. Entrance is an instrumental intro but does a good job of setting the album up and giving a new listener an idea of what is to come. Atmospheric sampling, choir chants, symphonic instrumentation all get joined by thunderous drum rhythms and a blackened riff. It is kind of like a sub 3 minute trailer for almost everything you are going to hear, minus the vocals and a couple of curveballs.
The predominant sound of the whole of Dominion is atmospheric, symphonic black metal. If I had to compare them to a band, I guess I would put them near Cradle of Filth musically and Dimmu Borgir in arrangements and vocally. Not a bad collection of bands to be compared to at all. There is a whole lot to like on Dominion. Big, blackened riffs with intense drumming. Growled, black metal vocals, a thick bass line and lots of symphonic instruments and choirs. There are regular switches in direction within the songs too, moving from a ripping metal section to a sudden slowdown to allow the creepy choirs in. It makes for a fascinating listen and a grandiose sound.
The title track, Dominion, is a great example of all these elements. It starts with a simple riff that stops and starts with a choir chant in the background and stop start drumming. After this stopping intro, it all joins up together to create a big sound as the vocals jump in. The vocals are demonic, not too deep, snarled and spat out venomously. With the female backing and the strong riff, you can’t help but be instantly hooked. As the song progresses you start to get some of the change-ups coming through. A sudden stop for a symphonic keys section throws you off a little before a glorious, clean ringing solo takes over. After this we move into a pure symphonic section with keys front and centre and the vocals change to clean singing. This leads to another excellent solo before returning to the blacker sound from the start.
Dragonlord are obviously a band full of ideas and seem keen to chuck as many as they can into each song. While this could end up making things feel a little disjointed, it actually flows really well. Lamia throws more ideas at the wall and they pretty much all stick. Heavily led by symphonic arrangements, the guitars are more of a foundation this time round. The trade off vocals between choir and growls are excellent and there is a lovely section of female vocals that leads into a scream and then a deeper toned solo.
Northlanders has plenty of strong riffing and probably the best solo on the album while flitting between intense black metal and atmospheric symphony. The drum intensity on this one particularly stands out. The ending two tracks, The Discord of Melkor and Serpents of Fire both use a similar structure in blistering black metal blasts with visceral vocals before a switch to choir backing and clean guitars. Cracking solos, before building up to powerful endings. Serpents of Fire really stands out well. It reminds me of the kind of arrangements and diversions used by Cradle fo Filth, a band I love. It is also probably my favourite track on a cracking album.
There is a song that sticks to a more standard structure with less flights of fancy. Ominous Premonition has a darker riff and blistering drum speed. The vocals stay menacing throughout and while there is choir backing, the symphonic elements sit slightly behind the guitars and allow the track to be a fast and furious black metal track.
Then there is the curveball, which I really like, but man does it stand out on the album as being different. This could be a different band completely. It is called Love of the Damned. It starts off with choir backing a crunchy riff before settling into a melodic sounding, clean guitar. The vocals are cleanly sung throughout which is probably why it stands out so much and have a little more of a rock vibe to their delivery. It is a decent song. It breaks the album up but it also disrupts the flow and makes you question the thought process to chuck it into the mix. One too many ideas perhaps?
Love of the Damned aside, Dominion is an absolute corker of an album. I do actually like that song too but just don’t really understand it’s place on the album. Complex arrangements, punishing black metal, symphonic leys, choirs, glorious solos all working together in dark, atmospheric harmony. Dragonlord have put out a blinder here with what may well be the best symphonic black metal album you will hear this year.
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Dominion is available now on the usual streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify. You can grab a physical copy from the Amazon links above or from the band’s website, here. Keep up to date with any future news on Dragonlord at their website, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Dominion by Dragonlord (Universal/Spinefarm)
The Final Score - 8.5/10