Review: Dark Angel “Darkness Descends” [Combat Records]

Review: Dark Angel “Darkness Descends” [Combat Records]

- in Reviews
Rating 73%
Summary
Lesser known death metal precursor
73 %
User Rating : 4.5 (2 votes)
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Dark Angel are one of the lesser known yet recognized influential bands among death metallers like Cannibal Corpse (Alex Webster mentioning them as a direct influence) and it’s apparent why on this album, released as early as 1986, a blessed year for thrash metal in particular with genre defining monuments ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Reign in Blood’ at the forefront of the scene. ‘Darkness Descends’ here would qualify as a more obscure version of the latter, not quite as widely popular but as the title suggests very much in that vein of extra aggressive thrash with a latent death metal element at least in tone within the music and on a thematic level.

The riffs are particularly heavy and dark, the soloing more chaotic and vicious than the standard pentatonic outpourings associated with the genre at the time. The power chord and shredded riff sequences dwell in a more macabre realm globally and trade the mischievous exuberance of regular thrash for a more subversive atmosphere; moving from emancipated to full-on rogue, and transforming hard grit into cruel barbarity. The sheer speed of the guitars, drums and vocals feels more punishing and closer to an early manifestation of extreme metal than most of their contemporaries. The vocals carry a meaner energy to them with a more distorted drive; in particular on some of those suspended dramatic screams; that genuinely hint at death metal albeit in its seminal form, as their loathing demeanor somewhat aligns with the contemptuous vociferation heard in later bands.

For the fan who hasn’t heard this yet, give a listen to the title-track opener ‘Darkness Descends’ if you thought Metallica had come up with the 16th note double kick onslaught marked by a stop at the end on the track ‘One’. Hint: this came out two years before the ‘Justice’ album. Gene Hoglan generally does a fantastic job on the drums throughout the record and clearly shows why he’s widely regarded as a heavyweight and forerunner in metal. Some of the stuff he’s pulling off here sounds like it’s ahead of its time by a good 3-4 years, which is quite substantial during this period of metal’s exponential development. That riff over the double kicks here should also crack a smile on the faces of modern death metallers as it bears the recognizable signature of what would become an overused technique in the style: the rapid hammer-on/pull-off in a descending chromatic motion. A backbone of aforementioned Cannibal Corpse’s fret work, incidentally.

The music as a whole fosters a sort of anarchy at its core too violent in spirit and musical momentum to be merely labeled thrash. The songs overflow with a brutal rage that feels like they’re barely being contained within their frames. They’re wild bouts of the most furious thrash, pushing the genre to its very limits before it spills into a more extreme style (which wouldn’t have had a name back then). They sometimes feel like overly distorted and out-of-control punk, possibly even early grindcore, as the tracks go into those savage tantrums of abrupt rock noise with chunky distortion over drum clinics bringing about that unruly temperament proper to the record. The song titles and lyrics, coupled with the album cover art, are also obviously of a more sinister variety if compared to common thrash.

A comparison, naturally, is regularly drawn with ‘Reign in Blood’. The most notable difference between the two would be ‘Darkness Descends’ focuses so much on blistering speed and bludgeoning the listener with its merciless aggression it forgets the essential dimension of being well-defined individual units of song and feels more like a cluster of equally frantic outbursts with basically one speed the whole way. Some riffs stand out, but only too rarely, and Slayer’s album that same year showed more maturity and the ability for each song to be remembered as a separate entity rather than just a reiteration of the same concept. As wild and brutal as this is, it doesn’t have a track on par with ‘Angel of Death’ or ‘Raining Blood’.

Release date: November 17th, 1986

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