Hello and welcome to another conversational review on yours truly, Everything Is Noise. Today me and Pete are going to delve into the sophomore record of British progressive stalwarts DVNE, Etemen Ænka, which will be out soon on Metal Blade Records.
A few words about the band, for those of you who aren’t familiar, before we get right into it. DVNE is a five-piece progressive rock/metal band from Edinburgh, Scotland. Founded in 2013, the band was then called Dune in reference to Frank Herbert’s masterpiece of the same name; a statement of the band’s mutual obsession for sci-fi and fantasy of all forms, the inspiration of which has continued to influence their music to this day. With highly dynamic compositions venturing from delicate and intricate melodies to crushing and brutal soundscapes, DVNE’s music takes its listeners through a deeply emotional journey filled with dystopian themes, grand narrative, and other-worldly landscapes.
DVNE quickly began to make a name for themselves in the UK and around Europe, with various tours over these territories and support shows of households names such as Eyehategod, Crowbar, Dragged Into Sunlight to name a few. The band sound at the time was already crossing over various music styles including post-metal, progressive rock and sludge metal, but it is with their first full-length album Asheran that the band established further their unique blend of heavy music. Since Asheran’s release, DVNE has toured all over the UK, Europe and North America and appeared at prestigious festivals such as Psycho Las Vegas, Desertfest London, and Inferno Festival Norway to name a few.
Pete: Hey, how are you mate?
Robert: All good, I’ve actually been doing some minor construction work around the house today. I had to put some mortar around, between the wall and the door cause handymen here are fucking useless apparently. How about you mate?
P: Good stuff, I’m just finishing up a day at work, battling upstream versus the global technology markets.
So DVNE, tell me what did you expect from Etemen Ænka? You reviewed the Omega Severer EP in November right?
R: Yeah I sure did, I jumped on it quite fast even if it was just 2 songs (of which only one was actually new), because the prospect of a follow up to Asheran was highly appealing.
I wasn’t disappointed at all, it was quite a journey for such a short pack. I was definitely looking forward to the new record and my hype-meter broke when I heard it’s here. Asheran is an amazing album and it is nothing short of an uncompromising delivery of sheer power, prowess and ambition. So since Asheran was so amazing I had quite the expectations towards this new record. Although, I have to say, my enthusiasm was curbed as soon as I did my first lap around Etemen Ænka.
P: I had much the same reaction to the EP admittedly, although I just went straight ahead an bought it on my first spin, despite not realizing that “Of Blade And Carapace” was actually an existing track! Like you, I was enamored by the upscaling of their production quality, songwriting, and story-telling.
I was lucky enough to review Asheran when we used to be It Djents (although I can’t find the damned review anywhere now!), so my hype has been building since 2017. The sounds contained in Asheran continue to feel like a ‘musical home’ four years down the line, their unique blend of prog-doom is something I’ve yearned for more of for years!
Your initial thoughts on Etemen Ænka are really interesting, because mine are the on the opposite end, despite finding some artistic choices wanting at times. What really hooked you into Asheran that you haven’t found in the new record?
R: Yeah I also mentioned in the review that “Of Blade and Carapace” was an older song, to my surprise. I only discovered Asheran sometime early last year and since then I gave it quite a few spins and it just feels amazing. There are very few metal albums that hold up so well and are done with such a wide grasp within they stylistic blend. I usually don’t go around doom or stoner because there are few examples which draw my appeal. Asheran however was just something else. It’s the kind of record that isn’t simply an album. It’s an experience.
Instead of saying what hooked me in Asheran, I’ll instead give a short run-down of the parts in Etemen Ænka which I felt were lacking.
“Enûma Eliš” starts the record with a fairly energetic pace, although it’s fairly generic with its contents and it has very few outstanding moments. I’ll give it a pass since it does its job properly as an opener. However, the next tracks up to “Omega Severer” just mangle together as an indiscernible mass that doesn’t feel like it has any redeeming characteristics. It just felt like I’m listening to the same one minute loop over and over. Even though there are plenty of diverse deliveries throughout these songs, the mood feels constant and it doesn’t really take me anywhere.
You can imagine that having to have to go halfway through a record and only then to meet a song, which I already knew, for some consolation feels daunting and discouraging.
P: I find that too with Asheran, it holds up really well, and has really set a high bar for other prog-doom bands to hit with me. It also, thanks to the production on the record, has this awesome and slightly B-movie cult feeling to it compared to similar records, which only lends to the appeal.
Interesting take on the start of the record, I found it to be completely different! I get really invested in DVNE‘s talent for story-telling through their music, and found the massive opening track and the subsequent two tracks to really set the scene for the rest of the record. I especially love “Court of the Matriarch”, with the massive groove playing off against synths leading up to the huge vocal climax really blowing the lid off some of their older material.
Do you feel like some of the energy was drained by the interludes between tracks?
Something I found was that if I ever lost attention and my mind wandered elsewhere, it was during the synthy interludes the band have smattered throughout the album.
I also feel like I’m interviewing you hahaha, I’ll stop posing questions.
R: Hahaha, nah it’s fine. But, oh my God the interludes really felt way too long and there were definitely too many of them. I can definitely roll with a story telling type of flow to a record, but, the whole affair felt really lulled out on Etemen Ænka, like stop stalling and give me the goods.
“Weighing of the Heart” is pure filler. There’s no sugar coating this. I feel like it does absolutely nothing the way it was placed there. I have fairly similar thoughts regarding “Asphodel”. “Adræden”‘s saving grace is that it basically raises a bit of tension, while also preparing the terrain for “Sì-XIV”, which is an absolute beast of a track, so given its contents and placement it feels at least natural.
“Sì-XIV” is hands down the most ballsy and epic track off this album. It has everything from amazing grooves to epic atmosphere and that sci-fi transcendental feeling, which I feel is vital to the thematic of the band and implicitly the album at hand. I could easily go on a wild rant about this song and why it’s so amazing but we really don’t have the space for that. “Omega Severer” is also a great tune here, in case that wasn’t already established.
“Mleccha” is the only other highlight besides the aforementioned to me. Together with the rest, it just barely made the album salvageable in my eyes and made listening to it a lot easier. I know it may sound harsh to reduce an entire album down to a few tracks, but that’s how it feels to me.
P: Agreed. I totally appreciate a band telling a story, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the momentum of the record. Making them shorter, more noise-y or experimental would’ve certainly helped with the flow. Yet I cannot agree with the criticism of “Asphodel”. Not only did the lyrics and delivery stick with me for days after my first spin, but I also loved the experimental change of pace from the band, looking beyond their staple sounds. It didn’t feel pointless like “Weighing of the Heart” and made the introduction to “Satuya” even more special.
“Sì-XIV” is definitely one of the best tracks on the album, really showcasing the band’s prowess at building climaxes in multiple ways. The final collision of sounds on the song always gets my head banging, and I feel it was a solid choice to release as a single. It’s bound to attract new listeners to their sound.
I love how good they are at that psychedelic sci-fi sound you mention. There’s a multitude of moments in “Towers” that are laden with synths and cool effects, which help me depart from this earthly plane, conjuring all sorts of vivid images.
I found the guitar work to be much more intricate and interesting this time around. Earlier I mentioned the beginning of “Satuya”, and I felt the opening noodling on that one was very special, not only opening the final chapter of the story, but being damn cool at the same time.
And of course, the major reason for this is the massive uptick in production quality. Asheran sounds fucking great, but like I mentioned, it has that kind of fuzzy 80’s movie feel to it, whilst Etemen Ænka sounds huge, like Spielberg is directing. On everything I’ve listened on it sounds massive. Some of the effects are amazing on the ears, and the breakdowns sound fucking gigantic.
That being said, I found that so much is lost when you play the album quietly. It’s so damn intricate in places, that you lose layers to one another on quiet volumes.
Oh and I forgot to mention – “Omega Severer” is an amazing track. That opening guitar chord is so welcoming.
R: I definitely agree with the fact that the production is great. It’s really top notch and it was one of the few things that let me enjoy this record in any capacity as a whole package.
There’s still a lot of that fuzzy feeling going around, but I do feel like it’s merely for a certain aesthetic rather than for a lack of trying. Similarly, I’d say it goes for the harsh vocals on the record. I personally really don’t like how they’re kind of too cavernous and buried in the mix, however, I assume a specific stylistic choice was made there with a clear vision in mind.
The album is definitely a focused effort which shows that the band has quite the songwriting chops, however it fell massively short when looking back at its predecessor. I think going so hard all out on Asheran may have not been the best idea in this respect. It’s hard to come up with something even on the same level of quality, let alone surpassing it by a landslide.
I don’t necessarily echo the idea that you need to play it loud. I think that a good system/rig/setup will reveal all the details buried throughout the layers. I do however agree you need to pay a good deal of attention while listening to it. There are plenty of details which can be lost if you doze off even a little. In spite of these details, I feel they earn their worth only in a few spots whereas they feel like superfluous ornaments elsewhere.
I think my biggest gripe, aside the rather drab first half, is the ending. “Satuya” should’ve and could’ve been something amazing, a grand closing track. I think that one of the most important aspects of the flow of a record is the way you end it. If the ending is weak, it can make or break a lot of an album. In this case it felt way too dragged on and even redundant for most of its run. It just felt like a very ambient take on some recycled ideas from earlier in the record.
I may be more lenient with a band’s second album, however, DVNE showcased an immense musical maturity and a lot of superlative qualities on their debut, so I can’t really, in good conscience, give any particular slack to Etemen Ænka having such precedent in my mind. I am however, more than satisfied that there are a few songs that absolutely kick ass and are well worth listening to.
P: That is something I like so much about this band, is that signature sound they have. Many prog-doom bands have the tendency to stick to a formula, but DVNE bring a lot of new ideas to their music. I certainly think the vocal criticism comes down to personal taste, I much prefer these kind of vocals which ascend to a furor, but aren’t constantly tearing your skin from your body. Again, some prog-doom bands go too heavy or harsh and end up taking away from the music. They feel really well weighted within the body of music.
Asheran is certainly more relaxed and almost comforting to listen to, whilst I think Etemen Ænka strives in being a complex and grueling story. One is a journey, the other a war smattered with reflection. And in that sense I think they’ve succeeded in changing the formula and growing their talent. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next and if they continue to focus on storytelling or the thundering metal they’ve employed in the record.
To clarify – Quiet is portable speakers or low volume in the car, which is where I feel you lose a lot. The hustle and bustle of life can really strip away a lot from it.
I will agree with the climax of “Satuya”. The first five minutes had me really hooked, but it did drop away towards the end, petering out with synths. It makes me wonder how they might end a live set, potentially cutting part of the song out to finish on a furor of sorts.
I do think the album will translate extremely well in a live setting, the more aggressive guitars and frenetic drums will make for a great show. With the band signing to Metal Blade it’ll be cool to see where they end up after this fucking pandemic is done!
Well, I feel like we’ve covered almost everything on the record, and whilst our opinion is divided, we can agree that it has some monster tracks in it. Have you got anything else to add?
R: Not really, even though I tend to be nitpicky and like to split hairs, I would also agree that the essentials are mapped out. I think it makes for a much better conversation if there are divergences.