As aural the gates to Dominion creak open on “Entrance,” a cold and rainy night is upon you. A backwards guitar churns out a most commanding riff—it takes hold, phasing back and forth as an unholy chorus builds, leading you down the left-hand path. You’ve descended into the dark world of Dragonlord and there’s no turning back. Things escalate: The pummeling begins with the title track, “Dominion,” welcoming all who dare enter into an “eternity of misfortune.” Then it’s into “Ominous Premonition,” which has been likened to like “the soundtrack to the gates of hell.” You’re helplessly possessed by Dragonlord’s beautiful grasp of darkness, as Dominion’s eight songs create a deep and heady musical journey rife with meaning and menace, from the blackest—and loudest--recesses of singer/guitarist/bassist Eric Peterson’s mind.
If Dragonlord’s long-awaited third album explores themes of “darkness owning and influencing these times we now live in, and things that have come to pass,” it also delves into other eras, real and imagined. “The Northlanders” is about brutal 11th century Northmen, while “The Discord of Melkor” will thrill LOTR fans with an untold tale-- “my take on Tolkien’s “Silmarillion,” the first age of the “Lord of the Rings” saga genesis,” says Peterson. Then there’s the surprise of the slower, Black Sabbath-influenced duet with “my amazing Celtic vocalist friend and collaborator Leah,” Peterson explains about “Love of the Damned,” an abstract piece that still explores a love story-- with the devil, of course. “Almost like a switch-up story of if Beatrice from “Dante’s Inferno” did fall for the Prince of Darkness!”
Peterson formed Dragonlord in 2000 as its singer and guitarist (with keyboardist Lyle Livingston and now-ex-members Steve DiGiorgio of Testament and Jon Allen of Sadus), and notes that the growth from Dragonlord’s first two records to the cinematic triumph and brutal blast-beats of Dominion has been immense. “It’s still a dark mystical fantasy place to go, but we feel liberated and beholden only to our own expectations of musical and listening enjoyment.” If the road to Dominion was long, it’s only because Peterson strives for perfection—plus, he tours and records constantly with legendary Bay Area thrashers Testament, the band he formed in 1983—and he remains its only constant member.
Peterson’s a creative lyricist, larger-than-life sagas arising from equally epic musicality. Dragonlord’s journey began with 2001’s acclaimed Rapture, then 2005’s Black Wings of Destiny, and now, at last, Dominion. Creating the new opus was Peterson on vocals, guitar and bass; Livingston on orchestrated keys and pianos; Alex Bent on drums; and Leah on female vocals and choirs. Dominion’s stellar, complex, brutally symphonic metal is triumphant in its execution, bringing together layers of meaning and musicality into an unholy whole.
Peterson’s storytelling—and the striking design of the CD cover and booklet that illustrates the songs--depicts the intricacies of Dominion’s historical and fantastical musical tales. In fact, the booklet, drawn by Christian Sloan Hall, is graphic novel-type art that’s spawned a character for a soon-to-be released black metal comic called “The Burner.”) The haunting album and back cover art was realized by Berlin-based artist Eliran Kantor, who has done illustrations for Testament, Sigh, Satan & Flesh God Apocalypse.
Recorded at Trident Studios near Peterson’s Northern California home, Dominion took about four years to complete, between Testament tours and albums. Peterson produced it, with an assist from engineer/mixer Juan Urteaga. “The biggest obstacle was getting the vocal patterns and lyrics right; telling the story of the music,” says Peterson. “Maybe I was a little too picky, but at the end of the day I’m glad we didn’t settle for things that I wasn’t feeling right about.” With up to six-part choir harmonies and chants, the vocals were no easy task. Lyle often handles the choirs with his keyboards, but “then I was thinking of Leah and her angelic voice, so I invited her to give it go on some choir parts,” Peterson says. “It was so amazing we ended up redoing the whole record! Once did one, we just looked at each other and knew we needed to do the whole damn record this way! By day four Leah was pretty beat up, as I’m pretty intense, but we ended it on a killer note…totally meant to be!”
Then came the bass parts. Peterson, a “closet bass player,” was thrilled to track bass for his songs on Dominion: “I’ve always been buying basses and playing at home.” His influences? Geezer Butler, Steve Harris, Geddy Lee and Cronos. Guitar-wise, Peterson’s playing was influenced early on by the twin-guitar attack of Judas Priest’s KK Downing and Glen Tipton, as well as early Iron Maiden, not to mention Michael Schenker (UFO/The Scorpions) and Uli John Roth. In Dragonlord, Peterson faced some serious guitar challenges: “I used a lot of different guitars to get various sounds. I didn’t want my tone to be too close to Testament, but wanted to still maintain my signature sound.” He’s tuned to E Flat on Dominion, and used his two favorite Les Pauls for rhythm and some solos; his Ritchie Blackmore Fender Strat for other solos, as well as his signature Dean Old Skull Flying V. He IS the Dragonlord on his scorching solos: “I really felt I needed to lay down the kinda stuff I do on my own--but not necessarily on records,” he explains. “I’m pretty stoked of the outcome on the soloing end.” Drum-wise, Bent (Trivium), a “20-year-old kid known for specializing in double bass and blast beats,” still brings the groove and old-school vibe that’s so crucial to the Dragonlord sound.
While both a changing record industry and Peterson’s Testament commitments delayed the creation of the third Dragonlord album by about, oh, a decade, the band’s devotees never forgot. “The fanatic DL fans never went away though, always asking “when’s the next one coming?”
For now, Dominion will more than satisfy the legions greedy for Dragonlord’s beautifully pulverizing metal. Within the highly detail-driven but heavy-as-hell band, Peterson has total dominion. In Dragonlord, “I don’t have to answer to anyone; it’s all part of my rock ‘n roll fantasy,” Peterson laughs. “I can also write about topics that are more escapism from the real world; it’s my Middle Earth!” And he’s inviting everyone along for the ride.