Review By James Hunter
From the outset, I’ll admit that I am a relative newcomer to Darkane‘s music, having first come across the band during my explorations of Peter Wildoer’s back catalogue in 2010. I’d enjoyed his work on James LaBrie’s Static Impulse so much that I simply had to hear more of what he could do. That said, I’ve always kept an eye on the comings and goings of the death metal world, and Darkane, perhaps unfairly lost amongst the deluge of bands that have emerged into the genre in recent years, seemed the next logical step in my musical journey.
And so, up-to-date with the band’s discography, I was very much looking forward to Darkane’s latest offering, The Sinister Supremacy. What made the prospect more exciting for me was the return of original lead vocalist, Lawrence Mackrory, whose last and only contribution was way back in 1998 on debut album, Rusted Angel. It just so happens that, up to this point, it’s my favourite Darkane record. My anticipation to hear what this latest manifestation of the group could offer had reached fever pitch. There is always a sense of concern in the back of one’s mind when a band reverts to its original line-up, lest it result in a rehash of previous efforts, but I’m pleased to report that The Sinister Supremacy is a successful progression of the band’s sound, while remaining true to their thrash metal roots.
First, a quick word on the mix. I have few complaints: the drums are punchy with plenty of kick; the vocals are sufficiently prominent. At times, however, the bass does become slightly lost in the mire of the rhythm guitar. Fortunately, the problem is not severe enough to mar my listening experience.
Superficially, The Sinister Supremacy is a simple proposition. Although punctuated by very welcome orchestral movements, the majority of the record remains loyal to the traditional structure of the rock song. But do not let this fool you; the album might be simple, but it is by no means simplistic. The outstanding musicianship on display – including some dazzlingly complex drumming from Wildoer – ensures that straightforwardness can never be mistaken for monotony. Much of the record is littered with twists and turns that Daedalus would be proud of. Although Darkane on the surface adhere to rock convention, on closer inspection the band flies in its face. There is a clandestine element of unpredictability, even a feeling of dread, that pervades every second of this fifty-seven minute-long aural assault. The phenomenon is exemplified best in the behemoth that is The Decline, a track which is at times reminiscent of the music of Mastodon. This meandering track is a stream of consciousness of aggression – pure anger unleashed. But, crucially, its rhythmic diversity retains the listener’s interest very effectively and keeps the whole thing fresh. I certainly didn’t get bored.
It is the slightly slower pace of The Decline that allows Mackrory’s vocals to come to the fore, but throughout the record he proves what a versatile vocalist he is. If there was ever any doubting whether his recall was a wise move, there should now be none at all. In fact, the album quickly becomes an exhibition of supreme vocal technique, as Mackrory switches effortlessly between a low growl, typical of the death metal school, a harsher scream, and a clean(er) voice. The latter conjures immediate comparisons with Robb Flynn of Machine Head. There emerges a real sense that the recalled singer has an innate ability to combine aggression with melody, all too rare in the metal scene nowadays.
However, it is this versatility that actually brings about my only real criticism of the album. Perhaps a little too often the band employs the well-trodden formula of ‘heavy vocals for verses; clean vocals for the chorus’, so much so that after almost an hour it becomes ever so slightly wearing. In the same way, too many tracks utilize fast-paced thrash metal verses in combination with a more melodic, groove-orientated chorus.
The quality of the music itself makes up for this, however. Of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that this record is not attempting to break new ground, but this is not to its detriment. In fact, by focusing on their strengths, Darkane has produced a streamlined album more accessible than anything else in their back catalogue. In this pursuit of accessibility, the record verges into the domain of more straight-ahead heavy metal in places. This is in no way a problem, since the band succeeds in doing so.
Nevertheless, The Sinister Supremacy does exactly what you might expect from a Darkane album: it delivers a relentless onslaught of high quality hostile thrash/melodic death metal. This is, after all, what Darkane does best. The record is perfect, you might imagine, for that long drive down the coast, or for the dreaded trip to the gym. A surge of adrenaline is guaranteed.
For me, Wildoer is the star performer on this album – he never misses an opportunity to display his chops. How this guy isn’t a bigger name in the drumming world I have no idea. Likewise, with records like this one, Darkane should surely be a bigger player on the metal scene. In summary, The Sinister Supremacy represents a remarkable return to form, and fingers crossed it heralds a sparkling new (or should I say renewed?) era for the band.