Review Summary: 9 songs, 67 minutes, 246 riffs... the excesses of this record are what makes it intriguing at times and underwhelming at others. This is also a chance to hear drummer Gene Hoglan before he reached legendary status with a wider audience.
I became acquainted with Dark Angel
thanks to a musician friend of mine. Because the guy was a damn good technical guitarist, I knew Time Does Not Heal
would probably contain some interesting performances but in some ways, it surpassed my expectations.
First a little bit of history. Dark Angel is a Californian act which was spawned by the Thrash movement that took place in the early 80s. They withstood several lineup changes throughout their short tenure and never met much success. TDNH
was their fourth and last album after which they closed shop. In many ways, it was their most ambitious record and it deserves some exposure to metal fans. The band is notorious for featuring the amazing Gene Hoglan in his first recordings behind a drum kit. This particular album has received a lot of praise as a technical thrash achievement at the time. It came with a sticker advertising its 67 minute playing time and the 246 riffs on display. So, how does it sound?
The album begins with the title track. Time Does Not Heal
features a nice acoustic guitar melody interspersed with good old electric guitar chugging but very soon, the acoustic guitar disappears and you can throw out the window any notion that Dark Angel will use gimmicky quiet moments on this record. This is one very, very dense song, like the rest of the record. Within the first 60 seconds, the intro evolves and you already marvel at the riffing on display and notice the drumming... and just when you think the song will finally settle, it just fades out and morphs into something else, a second intro, vaguely reminiscent of a military march where Hoglan just keeps on impressing. It was quite something in 1991 and I can totally understand why soon after this release, Chuck Schuldiner asked "Gene the Machine" to join Death. It takes quite some time into this song for singer Ron Rinehart to show up but when he finally does, it's disappointing to say the least.
Rinehart's tone and delivery is not unlike a mix of Belladonna and Souza in their quieter moments but unlike these guys, he is monotonous to the extreme and... sounds like he's tone deaf more often than not. There are several instances throughout the record where his "melodies" are completely off and clash with the brilliant instrumentation. And unfortunately, his place in the mix is pretty upfront, making it difficult to ignore him. Something a lot of unsuccessful thrash band misunderstood is the role of vocals in the genre. Thrash was (correctly) seen as a counterpoint to "trad metal" and NWOBHM who often featured accomplished singers wailing prominently in the mix and were "the face" of their band. By comparison, the pioneers of thrash put every instrument at the forefront and added grit to the overall delivery. But many thrash bands that followed Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and co. seemed to think that less emphasis on traditional metal singing prowess meant not paying attention to the vocals at all when it came to their band. This was mostly the case for North American acts, who often featured a guy who can't really sing but tries
to. The result of that can be disastrous and Rinehart is one of the best examples around. In comparison, the Teutonic thrash bands wisely elected not to pretend they could sing like Halford or Sean Harris and instead went all the way into harsh, gritty vocals. It works fine for bands like Kreator and Destruction. All this to say, Rinehart is quite painful on this record.
Fortunately, the music makes up for it. Several of the songs are as good as the opener, if a little less catchy. I have to repeat how dense the music is. I don't know if the album truly contains 246 riffs as advertised (someone, feel free to count and get back to me) but it certainly packs a ton of them. So much so that in some cases you wonder if they didn't go overboard. Most of the songs are over 7 minutes long, several pass the 8 minute mark and although there are great headbanging moments, the overall song construction lacks focus. Sure, the riffs are tight and nice but the overall songs themselves never reach the brilliance of the top acts in the genre. Some have labelled this album progressive thrash but I wouldn't go that far. There is certainly a focus on the technical side and as such, it may particularly appeal to rhythm guitarists (the solos are underwhelming) and drummers but this is a thrash record through and through.
I think the album features enough interesting tracks to be at least worth a listen. Standout songs other than the title track include Psychosexuality
, which borrows the old traditional song Misirlou
for its intro and album closer A Subtle Induction
which starts innocently but soon evolves into pure chaotic thrash bliss. It's also fun to hear Gene Hoglan at that stage of his career. While he would go on to do even better with several top bands later on, this is a very energetic and inspired performance.