Using darkness to see the light

Swedish band Draconian is looking forward to its next appearance in Israel, where it has earned a respectable spot in the metal subculture

draconian (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An integration of melody and metal, opera and distortion, heaven and hell - that description of the upcoming doom metal/gothic rock show by Swedish head bangers Draconian may sound enticing to some, torture to others. But to front man Anders Jacobsson, it's life. A poet who has dabbled in film studies, the 33-year-old resident of the small Swedish town of Saffle has been writing and performing his epic anthems since he was 17. Utilizing the same beauty and the beast dichotomy which more mainstream bands like Evanescence have taken to the top of the charts, Draconian features the Hades-like growl of Jacobsson contrasted with the bell-like operatic serenity of covocalist Lisa Johansson. Together, over a sludgy Howitzer musical attack, they tackle themes of alienation, separation and death, as well as love, magic and the supernatural. According to Jacobsson, it doesn't really matter what the music is called, it's more about how it feels. "I'm not sure how to explain it to someone who doesn't know all these sub-genres, maybe dark atmospheric metal. But if someone doesn't know the difference, it doesn't matter, they can still enjoy it," he says from his home, in a soft-spoken voice that belies his guttural yowls when he sings. "We don't really describe our music as doom metal - it's more like a combination of gothic and doom metal. We've been traveling on both musical directions ever since we started. It was after the Millennium when we started focusing on more of a slower, doomier sound. But we're getting back to our goth roots." Originally formed in 1994, Draconian has always been about emotion, and the band's fourth album Turning Season Within reflects its ability to combine ornate passages featuring Johansson's vocals with walls of darkish riffs and violent vocal interludes to create a fusion that is as jarring as it is enticing. On the band's Web site, Jacobsson describes the focus of the album as being about "failing and hopeless love relationships, as well as how we deal with them." "Pain is a topic that never grows old in musical themes. Some people seem to forget that love can be the greatest hell you have to manage, while remaining vital to our existence. In this way, I think that our music, with both the harsh and tender moments, fits these lyrics extremely well. The disparate dispositions define our emotional world, and love can be both heaven and hell." Love, flowery lyrics and female vocals don't seem like natural partners for ear-blasting doom metal, but Johansson sees it all as being complementary. "I don't think it's unusual that our lyrics are poetic and about love, because the music is very deep and atmospheric, and has so many abstract qualities, just like love," he says. "We try to write about many facets of life, and it's nice it includes symbolism and is not too direct. I love to play around with language. Anyway, the classic gothic bands often use romantic poetic expressions. It's one of the reasons I love this music so much. Some of the lyrics read like they could be taken directly from 1800s England." ONE LISTENER who was taken in by the overpowering music on the album was Israeli metalist, concert promoter and head of metal record label Raven Music, Yishai Schwartz, who says that the music affected him so personally - as he was going through a breakup - that he was unable to listen to it for six months. "I have no words to describe the pain and suffering that accompanies a breakup with someone you thought was the love of your life. Their album came out at the height of my own troubles I went through, and it was so real, I couldn't listen to it. Only a few months later when I had come to terms with the pain could I experience their music again which drills deep inside your soul," says Schwartz. Schwartz, who brought Draconian to Israel for the first time in 2007, is hosting them again on February 27 at the Barby Club. Backing up the band will be two local metal bands - Distorted and Desert. "I decided to bring Draconian here in the winter because there's no better band suited to winter and rain than them," explains the promoter. For his part, Jacobsson is psyched to return to Tel Aviv, where the band has developed a strong following among the solid Israeli metal subculture. "The first time we came to Israel, we were very surprised at how popular our kind of music was. We didn't expect so many people. We weren't the headliners, so we don't know how many people came for us, but we were amazed at the reaction," says Jacobsson. "After the show, we went out into the crowd, talked to people, took photos and hung out for hours. For me, that was the best part of the whole evening. We've kept in touch with quite a few people we met." Jacobsson was also impressed by the quality of Israeli metal bands, although he was aware of them for years before arriving here. "We've been listening to Israeli bands since the mid-'90s. Salem, the whole underground metal scene. I think Orphan Land is the band I like the best. "Israeli bands have great reputations in Europe, but I think there is some discrimination against them because of the situation in Israel with the Palestinians. I've talked to the guys in Distorted and they said they've had problems getting bookings because they're from Israel. It amazes me because everything I've heard from Israel has been high quality," he says. QUALITY IS something Jacobsson cares deeply about, especially when it comes to Draconian. The band and its music has been the focus of his life, until recently, sometimes to the detriment of other aspects. In the band's bio, Jacobsson is listed as "single and confused," a tag that he chuckles at. That hasn't been updated in a long time. I'm not single anymore. That was a period when I had been alone for a long time, and I was tired of it, and a little confused," he says. Admitting that the band doesn't provide enough income to make a living, Jacobsson said that he's unemployed, collecting the Swedish equivalent of a government disability payment for an unnamed ailment. "We all need to do other things. I'm unemployed because I'm lazy," he jokes, "but I am looking for a job. Our drummer works in a sports equipment store repairing bikes, other band members work in music stores and Lisa has her own business as a florist." Johansson joined the band in 2002, when it was looking for a female vocalist to sing on a demo it was recording. "We had been using another female vocalist, but she wasn't available, and we were looking for someone a little more professional. And she was close at hand, because she was going out with our drummer. You know how it is, in a small town, everyone is friends," explains Jacobsson. "I knew right away we had to get her for the band. She's got an amazing voice and it exactly fits in with my own vocals." And exactly how does Jacobsson achieve the throat-shredding effect his vocals suggest without actually shredding his throat? It's all about technique and exercise. "I really can't explain how I do it, even though I've been singing this way since 1992," he says. "Especially if you're going through a period of not rehearsing or performing, you need to practice constantly to keep your voice in shape. It always hurts at first, but then the vocal cords adapt. It's just a matter of perfecting the technique so it doesn't ruin your throat." Besides providing most of the lyrics and image for the band, Jacobsson also coined Draconian's name, thanks to his interest in the world of magic. "I used to practice magic at the beginning of the '90s, when I was doing lots of soul searching. I was playing around with dark and light and meditation, working on self-awareness. I've fallen out of practice, but I still consider myself a spiritual person," he explains. "The name Draconian came out of my interest in magic - draconian magic is where you use darkness to help you find the light. If you go into a dark room, you don't see anything else. It's the best way to discover what's inside of you. If you're always in the light, its makes it hard to look inside. That's why people fear the dark, it's the fear of getting to know yourself. I think it's something that should be confronted, not escaped from. That's the philosophy of draconian magic." Using darkness to help find the light is as fitting a metaphor as any to describe Draconian's music, an observer noticed. Jacobsson gives a chuckle and his voice lightens up when he realizes it - "That's right, I never thought about that. That's very cool." And for a moment anyway, he's seeing more light than dark.