In the midst of all the darkness, morbidity, and evil espoused by so many bands that dot these pages, there’s something to be said about a group that can just get your adrenaline going the old-fashioned way. I’m talking with glorious guitars, great melodies, and drama-filled stories, with the songs getting stuck in your head and you going back to visit over and over again to take the ride all over.
I always felt that way about Northern Irish metal band Darkest Era, a criminally underappreciated group that mixes classic heavy metal with power and Celtic energy, always finding ways to make catchy songs that have great sweet spots. Their debut record “The Last Caress of Light,” released by Metal Blade in 2011, was one of my favorite records of that year, one with great spirit and rousing anthems that sounded arena-ready but also kept a foot in the underground with the heathens. The fact that record didn’t catch on astonished me because it was just so damn infectious. It’s insane more people don’t know about it or this band. Maybe their first record came a little too early, and perhaps with the way a band like Atlantean Kodex has been embraced by the extreme metal community that the time is just right for Darkest Era’s second platter “Severance,” being released by Cruz del Sur (a very fitting home). Plus, it’s just a damn good true metal record, and it deserves heavy accolades.
The band has a knack for those Iron Maiden/Thin Lizzy-style galloping melodies, thanks to their two killer guitarists Ade Mulgrew and Sarah Weighell, as well as their powerfully solid rhythm section of bassist Daniel O’Toole and drummer Cameron Ahslund-Glass. They make for a formidable unit that injects so much energy, darkness when they need to, and storming emotion into their music, it’s impossible not to get caught up and swept away by what they do. Fronting the band is their dynamic frontman Krum, whose soulful singing really sells the hell out of their Celtic tales and really makes this group into something truly special. In a time when so many eschew great singing for growling and shrieking, he stands in a corner of his own, and the closest comparison I can draw is Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill of Primordial. He’s just excellent and one of my favorite modern vocalists in metal.
“Sorrow’s Boundless Realm” opens the record cleanly, solemnly at first, perfectly setting the stage for what’s ahead. The vocals swell and soar above the adventurous music, with strong guitar work and every member matching the intensity being displayed by everyone else in the band. It’s a great first dose. “Songs of God and Men” is a dark one, with foreboding history and death in the air, but it’s also a damn catchy one, with Krum ruling, “Light a candle for the dead,” and later, “Raise a glass to Caesar,” as the band catches fire and drives this song to a righteous finish. This song is unreal, and probably my favorite track on here. “The Serpent and the Shadow” has compelling drama and a true old-school power metal feel, with a gigantic, intense chorus, and the soloing on this one just scorches all the hair on your arms. This is another burner. “Beyond the Grey Veil” pulls everything back a bit, with ceremonial playing, slower tempos, and danger afoot, with Krum noting, “All is lost in earthly fire.” The song is full of darkness and sadness, like a major wound dealt eons ago that still is felt ages later.
“Trapped in the Hourglass” gets things back in high gear, with speedier guitars opening the track, then things settle into a more controlled tempo. You can sense the loss of control being conveyed by the song, as Krum admits, “I’m falling fast, trapped in the hourglass,” and as the song goes along, it gets darker and darker. “The Scavenger” feels like a Maiden classic, as it has a great thread of storytelling woven through it, with Krum declaring, “The silence is broken.” The song goes from classic metal fire to Celtic-style folk melodies, with the tempo shoving forward the dropping back a few times, just to keep you on the edge of your seat. Then there’s a smoldering finish that caps this track off right. “A Thousand Screaming Souls” has energetic riffs and a great show of force, and it’s a cinematic, raucous track that has what you’ve already come to expect from the band—killer guitar leads, a low end that’ll blast you, and singing that keeps you engaged and following every step. Closer “Blood, Sand, and Stone” has a cold start, making you think you’re in for a purposely foggy cut, but then the thing ignites, getting explosive and thorny in a hurry. The singing is as soulful as ever, and the tempos go back and forth over this 8:08-long epic, with compelling melodies, slower sections that let everything breathe, and some fantastic soloing by the two tremendous guitar players, who are as strong of storytellers as their amazing vocalist. The band gives you just enough on this record and certainly leaves you wanting more.
It was ridiculous that Darkest Era’s debut record got swallowed and forgotten like it did, but this band didn’t take that lying down. They’ve come back with just as great an album in “Severance,” a collection that should light the fires of anyone who hungers for classic heavy metal and is searching high and low for bands that pay proper respect to the roots but have designs on the future. This group has the potential to be a huge one, and if that comes to pass, we might look back on this record as the first step on their path to domination.
For more on the band, go here: http://darkestera.net/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/