Review Summary: Unnecessary and something of a downgrade from the original, but the content is good enough regardless.
Vader's fascination with re-releases makes sense when you consider how formulaic a lot of their songwriting is. The structures of their songs has not made any huge progress since their first album, The Ultimate Incantation. Dark Age is a rerecording of that album, and on paper that isn't a bad idea to try out; the production on the original was very brittle for what sound it was trying to communicate, and the songs themselves are classics of their discography. However, given XXV came out not that long ago, this album seems weaker and less necessary as a result.
The tracks here are almost all death metal classics; Final Massacre
, Dark Age
and Vicious Circle
are probably the best of the bunch and are probably among the first Vader songs one might hear, but even some of the songs that don't make the live cut from here are very strong. One Step to Salvation
is nice and pacey, with a nice Angel of Death-esque groove in the middle that works fantastically, and a slower second half that is reminiscent of later tracks like Reborn in Flames. Demon's Wind
starts far too sluggishly, but is one of the few tracks to benefit from the re-recording, thanks to the added low end giving its slow start a bit more impact; once the tempo picks up, its standard Vader. Decapitated Saints
, which must be the most re-recorded Vader song at this point, packs its unusual rushed feel along with some great grooves and weird, slicing palm mutes. Breath of Centuries
is a fantastic thrasher as well, with a much better pace than Demon's Wind
despite the same broad structure.
So, safe to say, the tracks are not the problem, which is unsurprising given how long Vader had to refine them even before the original release of the album. The issues mostly come from the production. The guitar tuning is now a fair bit lower, which works for some tracks pretty well, but does lead to a slight drop in tempo to compensate, leaving some tracks feeling a bit less aggressive. The biggest problem is the mastering and drum mixing; the album feels quite heavily compressed, with the drums never feeling very dynamic and the kick drums being lost amongst the action sometimes. This does present one of the big conceits of the album: what was the point? XXV rerecorded most of these same songs, and with a better, meatier production job, so Dark Age ends up feeling relatively pointless, regardless of how solid the content is.
In any case, the strengths of the material here outweigh the problems that are flagged up by their rerecording, but Dark Age is largely a pointless effort for the band. Not much is added, but, to be fair, not much is lost through the translation to modernized production. However, with XXV doing the same thing, and better, this album is left without much justification.