Review Summary: A perfect example of thrash metal done correctly; Dark Angel prove on this album that speed and aggression go hand in hand alongside some tight riffing and a monster vocal performance.
Of all the thrash metal acts to spring from out of nowhere throughout the 1980's; Dark Angel was both one of the best and the most influential. They formed in 1983 in California and much of the earliest part of their career was centered around recording demo tapes through which they achieved a cult following. They then sought to develop their fan base a little by releasing their studio demo, appropriately entitled We Have Arrived in 1984. Two years later the band would put out their seminal sophomore album entitled Darkness Descends. Things would never be the same again for the band.
Dubbed the "L.A. Caffeine Machine" for their over-the-top style of thrash metal; Dark Angel took what was considered fast at the time and completely redefined it. Darkness Descends takes a relentless approach with a lot of anger and attitude behind it; characterized by Gene Hoglan's legendary drumming talent and the manic and varied vocals from Don Doty. The riffs are bludgeoning and lightning fast and center around tremolo picking and quick trills and perfectly embody the nonstop approach that truly set the band apart from their peers. Though initially uncredited on the first pressings of the album; Rob Yahn also plays a vital role in the manic sound the band creates by laying down a solid backdrop for the rest of the band with the low end thudding of his bass guitar. Whilst the rest of the band create their mayhem with insanely fast riffs and relentless drumming; it is Yahn's job to ensure that the band has one constant in their sound so as not to alienate the listener; but still allowing the rest of the instruments to truly overwhelm whoever listens.
One would think that an album that moves alone at a consistent pace of faster than two hundred beats per minute would become tiring after a couple of tracks but that would be a misconception. In fact, this is where Dark Angel's real genius comes into play. Every song has stand-out moments that set them apart from the others; be it the demented shriek of the titular words of the opening song Darkness Descends; the crunchy slower riff that opens up Hunger Of The Undead or the mid-paced riffs to the eight minute masterpiece Black Prophecies. Also this album has a knack of luring the listener into a false sense of security with a well timed slower passage so it does not become a snooze-fest before diving back into a seemingly never-ending pool of tremolo picked riffs that feel incredibly creative. It is often debated whether this or Reign In Blood was the fastest album of its day and Darkness Descends wins this hands down; although which was of a better overall quality is a debate for another time.
Another thing that contributes to the masterful show that Darkness Descends puts on is the mood. This release possesses a completely apocalyptic atmosphere, contributed to in no small part by Gene Hoglan's incessant drumming and Don Doty's insane-sounding vocal performance. Hoglan pounds away at his drum kit like there is no tomorrow; creating the feeling that there truly will not be a tomorrow. The beats are savage and fast with a whole lot of rage crammed into them; never sounding hollow or flat due to a crisp production job. Over the top of this Don Doty was left free to go wild with his voice and he accomplishes this in spectacular form. From the aforementioned scream on the song Darkness Descends to the ferocious lines he thrusts out on closing song Perish In Flames; Doty never once stops sounding completely feral when his mouth is open. He has a fine range and proves on here that he is capable of falsettos, screams and demented chanting and with every word you will grow more and more unsettled.
Darkness Descends is a spectacular example of how speed-based thrash metal can be done perfectly. The drumming is chaotic; the vocals could easily have been the voice of a generation of metal musicians and the production job is tight. Who could forget the opening almost military-sounding drum beat to the title track or the water tight riff set to Merciless Death? I know I sure as Hell couldn't. This is an album I highly recommend to almost everybody who is into metal and wants to hear a band that does not know how to slow down enough that so much as one note becomes distinguishable from the rest but still manages to sound absolutely awe-inspiring.