Another high water mark: another Irish metal band signed to no less an institution than Metal Blade.
I have to admit to a little incredulity on first hearing the news. This band’s demos were solid, both as Nemesis and later Darkest Era – but surely not interesting enough to warrant the attentions of an international record titan.
A legion of more established, more appropriate bands could reasonably have been expected to be at the front of the class with their hands up in expectation.
Yet through the good offices of a local agent provocateur, Slagel’s crew have taken notice. That’s heartening in a time when many bands are only getting picked up off the back of thanklessly touring every stinking, graffitied toilet in the land. It means the music really must be good.
Darkest Era have come a long way in their short existence, not only in terms of who’s paying attention to them, but in terms of the music they’re writing.
There is a depth now that wasn’t necessarily there before – I might even go so far as to say a yearning quality. Unsurprisingly given their new patronage, it’s a sonic line that comes directly from Primordial.
Many of the tracks here hark successfully to them. Chordally and rhythmically, tracks like ‘Beneath The Frozen Sky’ and ‘An Ancient Fire Burns’ hark to the ‘Spirit The Earth Aflame’ era of their forbears. Longtime Irish metalheads will recognise the feel in these tracks almost instinctively.
There are of course other influences. A deep feeling for the modal Thin Lizzy twin guitar line runs through here, which leads immediately to influence from, on some occasions, Solstice and on others the mighty Slough Feg.
This album’s best track is ‘Heathen Burial’.
Its verse is strident, purposeful and dignified. Its harmonised chorus has the feeling of wind blasting into you hair, while that invigorating, powerful and haunting brace of lyrics – ‘By the will of the Gods may it be / The dead are cast to the sea’ – just oozes class. It’s a phrasing and an atmosphere that bands like Tyr have tried for aeons to catch, and only done so in snatches.
Beautiful chorally, superb harmonically and powerful atmospherically, it’s a track many bigger bands would kill to have on their books.
The album’s speedier and more familiarly metallic numbers – ‘Morrigan’ and ‘Visions Of The Dawn’ – are also great. Harking solidly to everything thats great about two guitars, double kick and a story, they’re emphatic and charging. I guess a slightly criticism is that vocalist Krum stays round about the same note a lot of the time, particularly in ‘Morrigan’, but it’s not a problem of any kind.
Besides, the rest of the vocal performance on here is a huge boon for the band. Particularly in the straining harmonies of ‘An Ancient Fire Burns’.
It’s an album of variety both in pace and timbre. Hear ‘Poem To The Gael’, which despite its close to cloying title actually paints from perhaps the same palette as Opeth’s ‘Apostle In Triumph’ from ‘Orchid’. That’s down to more good chord work. Nice.
So it’s an album of almost exceptional metal maturity from a band who’ve clearly busted their balls both in practise, songwriting and recording – even the girls.
And that’s a note I’d like to leave this review on, because I feel it’s particularly noteworthy.
Drummer Lisa Howe deserves special mention. Let’s speak plainly – girls don’t get it easy in metal bands, meaning they either feel they have to tart up (every Napalm band) or just basically become a boy (Cerebral Bore). Neither situation is ideal.
To bring this review back to the start, much of the reason this band are now sounding nearly as good as Primordial is Lisa’s drumming. When I said that older heads will recognise the feel, a huge amount of that is because of her drumming. It takes huge influence from the signature style of Simon O’Laighoire, and I’d be extremely surprised if Lisa hadn’t put in a lot of time engrossed in it.
The open hi-hat accents are in just the right places, while the typical viking/pagan metal lilting gallop is handled with total confidence, including great kick work.
So in a genre that neither supports nor talks to ladies on any kind of equal level, Darkest Era are a fantastic example simply for being themselves – and for the girls providing the lynch pins of the whole sound, as opposed to simple vocal confetti.
All of the above means that they have a great future. But mostly the music. It’s an album of quality tone, confident songwriting and real character. Also, it’s unashamedly and uncomplicatedly metal.
Could you want for more, Irish metalheads?
4.6 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 20/02/11