Review Summary: Relative unknown Swedish quintet's cohesive, ass-kicking fifth record re-establishes and reinvigorates their technical, genre-bending identity in the metal world.
Diagnosing Darkane's perceived lack of popularity in the metal realm might prove difficult, especially when the laundry-list of melodic death metal acts in their native Sweden includes juggernauts In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and Scar Symmetry as well as metal favorites Opeth and Meshuggah. For fear of omitting other important bands or passively writing a blanket statement about Swedish bands in general, it's best to pinpoint precisely why Darkane hasn't been synonymous with the aforementioned artists. For whatever reason, be it the customary "creative differences" rationalization or family commitments back home, bands go through line-up changes, especially when it comes to vocalists (take for instance Scar Symmetry, as one of the more recent examples), but Darkane have had four vocalists in a decade: Soilwork's Speed Strid, Forcefeed/Seethings' Lawrence Mackroy, Andreas Sydow of Helsingborg, and Construcdead/The Defaced's Jens Broman. How can a band develop any sense of consistency or congruity as a bunch of jigsaw pieces? Each of their previous albums were crushingly heavy interspersed with bouts of melody, but upon listening to them, there is no identifiable link across 1999's Rusted Angel
to 2005's Layer of Lies
, even with mainstays Cristofer Malmström, Klas Ideberg, Jörgen Löfberg, and Peter Wildoer; instead, we have four separate albums by what sounds like four different bands.
The next issue that needs to be addressed is elucidating why Demonic Art
is the album that will thrust Darkane into the spotlight if this is Broman's first studio record with the band. It may be premature to call Demonic Art
the zenith of their careers, but Darkane are firing on all cylinders creatively with aggressive, technical musicianship, competent lyricism, and an aggressive, passionate vocal performance from Broman. Eleven seconds into "Leaving Existence," Broman's higher-ranged shouts rip into both channels, complemented by a brutal instrumental assault ("As I travel deep down below further and further until I reach the bottom of this endless well, memories that never existed and words never spoken / Not recognizing what should be the essence of being") that segues masterfully into a throat-ripping chorus, where drummer Wildoer delivers a devastatingly heavy double-bass and tom fill over Broman's shrieks ("On broken wings I travel, searching resistance / A fragile trip into the unknown, leaving existence"). "Leaving Existence" is the first full Darkane track on Demonic Art
(excusing "Variations of an Eye Crush," an atmospheric, ninety-second instrumental opener that sounds akin to Tim Burton conducting a symphonic orchestra), and Malmström's and Ideberg's three leads are undeniably gorgeous over the merciless rhythm section.
Right from the onset, Darkane inculcate listeners to their rejuvenated identity, and this continues into the album's title track, a nearly five-minute affair that begins moderately with distorted guitars and pulsating drumming before tearing into a thrashy, barbaric tempo. Like Meshuggah's Tomas Haake, Cannibal Corpse's Paul Mazurkiewicz, and Psycroptic's David Haley, Wildoer pulls double-duty as the band's primary lyricist and drummer, and his writing themes on Demonic Art
revolve around intrinsic motivation, personal growth, and introspection; essentially, Wildoer wishes to communicate to you that you should recognize your strengths and weaknesses and use your own working knowledge to dictate your path in life. One sterling example in "Demonic Art" is through a painting motif ("Is there a way to finish my work of art? / Will I find the pieces to accomplish my work? When imprisoned there is nothing but time / . . . I might be limited in here, but my mind is outside / Harvesting the souls of the weak, get rid of this human waste"), vicariously communicated by an assertive Broman. While Wildoer has some questionable lines ("Life's too short to walk around pissed" seems horribly misplaced on a metal record, for instance) here-and-there on the record, his writing is both personal and able to reach multiple listeners from all walks of life. As a group, the band's affinity to include allusions to classical music and arrangements surfaces beautifully on Demonic Art
Throughout the record, Malmström and Ideberg alternate on solos that would leave most air guitarists seeking help for carpal tunnel. Malmström's solo in "Absolution," his somber lead to kick off "Execution 44," and his interplay on "Still in Progress" with Ideberg is spectacular. While Malmström takes on more leads and solos on the record, they are not always of superior quality, as evidenced on Ideberg's solo in album highlight "Impetuous Constant Chaos." A lot of attention has been paid to the leads and solos, but the rhythm guitar parts and the bass are what should be expected on a fierce, domineering metal record, and there truly are no shocking surprises to be heard. Any underwhelmed feelings are quickly vanquished, however, when the band is at their most cohesive, and their collective identity truly crystallizes on Demonic Art
It is easy to get excited about a revamped Darkane as heard on Demonic Art
, but a couple album issues do stand out. Most notably, Broman's sepulchral growls are still very flat and glacial, even with his improvements in his middle and upper registers in his shouted and clean vocals. "The Killing of I" sports promising lyricism but runs too long and the effect-laden vocals prior to the split solos are awful. Conversely, the instrumentation on "Sole Survivor" is above-average, but not even Broman can deliver an acceptable vocal performance with such bizarre, Byzantine lyrics from Wildoer. The two transition tracks (the aforementioned "Variations of an Eye Crush" and the ambient, guitar-driven "Wrong Grave") serve their purpose well, but the latter feels very underdeveloped, as if Malmström couldn't flesh his initial idea out further but wanted it included on Demonic Art
because it sounded good as-is.
Even with these criticisms, the full-on assault in the opening and closing minutes of album closer "Wrath Connection," the title track, "Leaving Existence," and "Impetuous Constant Chaos" are all noteworthy album highlights, both from an individual musician's perspective and under "the whole in the sum of its parts" inspection. Demonic Art
is an excellent album and should elevate Darkane to the spotlight due to their palpable evolution as a genre-bending, vehemently acerbic quintet. Most impressive on the record is Wildoer's double-duty as lyricist-drummer, and his repertoire (frenetic double bass, emphasis on bruising toms, thrashing cymbals) may not be as complex as Haake, but Wildoer is more than adequate behind the kit. Broman also warrants accolades for a brilliant vocal debut, as his guttural shouts and higher shrieks provide for a unique, trademark delivery that should be permanently associated with Darkane's technical, chaotic, and ferocious sound. Together, Malmström and Ideberg have persevered over the years, and their stalwart effort on Demonic Art
is without question their best performance to date. An intelligently-constructed album with an enormous array of diverse influences, Demonic Art
will ensure that the metal community no longer views Darkane as a little runt compared to their Swedish brethren.
Impetuous Constant Chaos