My first exposure to DVNE came late in the cycle for their sophomore album Asheran, but it was enough to put their crushing blend of sludge and progressive rock/metal onto my end of year list for 2017. It took a few years before appetites were whetted with the Omega Severer single/EP, and now we have the proper follow-up in the form of Etemen Ænka. This one is a little more of a grower, the songs more up front and in your face, but as things start to expand (particularly on the second half) all the reasons I came to love the band in the first place begin to flower.
The album opens up with “Enûma Eliš” and for me it’s maybe the biggest hurdle to get over. I wasn’t prepared for how much more compressed and intense the music was going to be, harkening back to early Mastodon (a comparison you can’t help but make as you wind your way through the album’s many riffs) and that band’s center-focused sonic onslaught. “Towers” is the first of a few epics on Etemen Ænka, and after a punishing opening assault those progressive touches start to really come in, tapped melodies and a vicious riff at the halfway point changing the direction and focus of the song to something more left of center. It never fails to capture my attention, and hints as some of the great surprises to come.
Both “Court of the Matriarch” and the previously released “Omega Severer” continue the trend of slowly opening the progressive door more and more. A small but minor complaint is the sequencing of two relatively short interlude pieces: “Weighing of the Heart” half-heartedly segues the aforementioned tracks while the more engaging “Adræden” uses its synth-heavy moments to bring us to the second half of Etemen Ænka, where things definitely begin to pick up.
For me it all starts with the stellar “Sì-XIV”; sic and a half minutes of push and pull tension, soaring clean vocals that hint at more anthemic intentions, and some serious groove in their sludge. The bridge section brings in some keen solo work, and that riff was just built to make heads roll. The highlight of the album, though, is the expansive and orbital “Mleccha”. It continues the second half’s trend of backing off the up front fury and settling into a more open and wide soundscape. Even in its heavier moments, the songs feels like its above, around and surrounding you. When that driving attack comes at around the three minute mark, you see the full potential of this band unleashed.
After that cycle, your ears may need to strain to pick up the subtitles of “Asphodel” and the stirring guest vocals of Lissa Robertson before jumping into the final 11-minute epic closer “Satuya.” Without the benefit of a lyrics sheet I can’t attest to how DVNE have followed up on their deep world building and SF concepts, except to say that if the themes and ideas match the adventurousness of the music contained on Etemen Ænka you’re going to be in for an even bigger treat. By taking chances and moving in some new directions DVNE have proven to a band to consistently get excited for. Dig in and have at it.