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Drops of Heart - Stargazers Award winner

Drops of Heart
by Kira Schlechter at 27 July 2020, 4:27 AM

If Ufa, Russia, is “the industrial, economic, scientific, and cultural center” of the republic of Bashkortostan, as Wikipedia claims, the cultural part of that equation is represented brilliantly by DROPS OF HEART. Melodic death/modern/atmospheric metal completely sung in Russian (which upon reflection that next to German, might just be the best language in which to sing metal), their latest album, “Stargazers,” is a rebirth for the ages. They had split in 2010 after forming two years prior and releasing the EP “Truth Of Closed Eyes”; when they reformed, they put out “New Hope” in 2014.

“Echoes” is as strong an opener as anyone could want. Chiming, bell-like guitars set a simple but beautiful three-note melody that satisfyingly stays put as the drums and heavy riffing begin. Denis may be your classic growler, but the multi-layered chorus resembles TRIVIUM in some ways. The sheer excellence of their songwriting makes the language barrier disappear. Later, we’re stripped down to that same three-note melody and drums before we go back to tempo in a bridge, with suitably atmospheric touches of keyboard. The ultimate fadeout is built on another compelling guitar melody.

“Frost Grip” (with Richard Sjunnesson of The Unguided) is Artem’s master class, going from punch to blast beat to a solid groove with confidence and ease, guitar and piano taking a back seat. The verse lets Denis’ well-enunciated voice come forward with spits and bursts of guitar behind him. Another compelling and brief chorus entwines Vadim’s clean singing with the guttural; they do this often and neither outweighs the other in sonic heft. “Knot” starts with acoustic and piano and delicate cymbal work before the devastatingly precise blasts start. The melody stays throughout the aggression (and it’s such fun to still keep hearing it), then it swings into a propulsive, give-and-take rhythm. The slower solo section is divine, emotional and layered upon layered, building on the guitar melody with harmony, and when it quiets again, it adds more complex drumming and drifts of clean singing. These shifts are without affectation; the guitar melodies are so well drawn and help your ear focus. It borders on prog in its ability to maneuver rhythm and mood, especially toward the end, and the ending is sparse, referencing the beginning.

“Escapist” again begins with acoustic and piano, and their fearlessness to embrace this side of their sensibilities is praise-worthy. The pickup into the main groove is equally melodic, building a little suspense before the rhythmically-dense verse. It levels into clean singing and a drawn-out, lush chorus that’s really stunning as Denis’ growls lengthen and again pair with Vadim’s clean singing. The triplet runs on the guitar, the heavy chugs in the bridge, and the instrumental fadeout are all superior. There’s highlights everywhere, and “Lull” – aptly titled as it’s slower and moodier – is definitely one. It’s so important if lyrics are in another language to have powerful, juicy music, both vocally and instrumentally, to latch on to and these guys deliver – they have an innate knack for it. The verses are just Denis and the barest trace of guitar, creating an unexpected and emotional sound. Each time, Artem’s drumming changes ever so slightly – he is so gifted. The clean-singing chorus is such a payoff, exactly what you want a chorus to be. The melody before the second verse, again just a few notes but perfectly arranged, leads seamlessly into the second verse), and they repeat it again into the solo bridge. The hushed piano section at the end is breathtaking.

“Starlight” (with Bjorn Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra) again showcases Artem’s formidable skills. He leads the way into the second verse, building that tension, as the guitar coils and twists around the vocals. I love their choruses and this one is no different – if you can tear yourself away from the melody, again, catch the drumming because just…wow. The prechorus makes you anticipate the clean singing because there’s a little of it behind Denis. The bridge is layered clean singing and an ear candy of a guitar riff. They are masters of both parts of “melodeath,” favoring neither one nor the other, perfectly balanced at all times.

The effects-laden “Modern Madness” has a fuzzy guitar vibe and a tempo that ebbs and flows delightfully. The verse is rapid-fire and aggressive, with that unmistakable initial melody beneath it – they move between tempos like it’s nothing within it – and it drags appealingly before it launches into yet another hummable chorus. The clean singing, like the acoustic guitar and piano, brings relief in some ways, like a blast of cold air amidst the heat of the heaviness. The solo bridge shows off the strength of their musicianship – as good as the guitars are (and they are excellent), Artem is such a standout. He plays with them but also works against them in cool, unique ways

“Coffin,” powerful, huge-sounding, is set to another grand groove. When it quiets and Denis recites the lyrics in a sinister whisper, it’s such a nice change of pace, and he alternates it with his growl. The keyboard part before the chorus is again just a few well-chosen notes. This is the most frantic track, the “death” part of melodeath and a departure from the rest. The 6/8 solo at the end is everything before that electronica part starts anew (as at the start), and there’s some really unique messing around with percussion – whether it’s organic or a drum machine, it’s great attention to detail.

“Exodus” has a big riff and a heavy tread, the drums then launching into a blast under it. This pairs chanted clean and guttural vocals at the start – they rarely settle into a vocal formula, and good for them. The bare-bones electric solo and ever-so-dainty drifts of cymbals before the bridge is so good, they do it twice. “Discoverers” is almost joyous in a way, the strumming, the billowing drums, the lovely 6/8 stride, and a stunning main guitar melody, then it darkens and leaves that all behind. The chorus is just Denis and an up-and-down-the-scale guitar solo – again, it’s the simplicity of these things that’s striking.b knows when to be tasteful too in his accompaniment in the piano sections. Later, that initial guitar melody takes over again and dissolves into riffing, although it’s still audible – their musical continuity is impressive. The end has that same unbridled joy, the drumming is ridiculous, and when it fades into a single cello, it’s completely unexpected but it just works.

The guitar melody that pings between octaves on “Death Lover” pairs with the hypnotic drone of Vadim’s clean singing. Artem’s artistry again demands your ear separate from everything else to hear him, but it’s not in a bad way, he’s just that good – when his drums lead into the second verse, touched by piano, it’s exquisite. The rollicking bridge then slows into that initial guitar melody. Of course there’s saxophone here, and how AMORPHIS of them – it’s an odd death metal thing lately and somehow, weirdly, it always fits, especially when it’s accompanied by that same chiming guitar. It rolls back up again to a solo section that folds deftly into the chorus.

The title track boasts yet another glorious keyboard/guitar wash of melody and a really satisfying groove (and Artem masters this as much as he does the blast beats). Denis’ growl is hushed and echoing, bouncing off guitar and keyboard effects, building gradually until the release of the chorus. The drama of the guitar spirals leads into the end, which indeed has a starry, ethereal quality to it, as does the erratic percussion of the beginning.  The tracks here require a few listenings to get the most out of them (and just to fully appreciate everything you’re hearing), and that’s a mark of high-quality work. This is a superior effort from a young band to watch – remote Russia cannot hold them for long.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Echoes
2. Frost Grip
3. Knot
4. Escapist
5. Lull
6. Starlight
7. Modern Madness
8. Coffin
9. Exodus
10. Discoverers
11. Death Lover
12. Stargazers
Denis Fahrislamov - Vocals
Vadim Nizamov - Guitar, Vocals, Bass, Keyboards
Igor Barschevskiy - Guitar
Artem Gabbasov - Drums
Record Label: Independent


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