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Mid-80’s, what a great time for thrash. Those were the good old times when the subgenre was pure, unadulterated, maybe immature as well, but its nature was genuine and fascinating. No matter who started it all, we’d better forget that debate and rather put attention on those many underrated groups that didn’t get that far, sadly. Fame is a bitch, even among thrashers, some few bands are who achieve all recognition and popularity, while other much memorable languish in obscurity, ignored unfairly. Dark Angel aren’t that forgotten among those fans that really get into the subgenre, trying to find something more than the Big 4. Though when you listen to an album like this, it makes you wonder why on earth these guys didn’t get as far as they deserved.
They perfectly knew what early thrash was all about in those days: speed and aggression, what else? They were also aware of the need to give their music a proper consistency, difficulty. The omnipresent riffs and their alterations during the tunes are the truly essential element, the more the better to make their stuff competent and challenging. Their admirable efforts are proved successful on tremendous anthems like “The Burning Of Sodom” and the opening title-track itself, which are a fine lesson of skills, solidity and musicianship. Riffs are incessantly modified, introducing several alternative composition structures, dynamic breaks that never slow down for a second, well-constructed bridges and a huge bunch of radical tempo changes. The basic ingredients of a sound that reaches a quite decent level of complexity and sonic bestiality, a sound that becomes undoubtedly irresistible for the most die-hard thrash audiences. “Death Is Certain (Life Is Not)” or this much more advanced version of their 1985 debut “We Have Arrived” classic “Merciless Death” provide the ideal soundtrack to headbang to, with their immense extremely sharp riffs and hooks, terrific double bass-drum beats and Doty’s infernal vocals. Those 2 are definitely the most superb cuts of the whole pack, although as I mentioned before, brutality and velocity are constant, never ending, along with the incredible shredding pickin’ parts of Durkin & Meyer. You will easily notice the emphasis these guys put on the guitar solos, a characteristic that demonstrates the influence of the instrumental patterns of classic metal and NWOBHM bands in Dark Angel’s music. The solos take more space, becoming the main attraction during a lengthy sequence, with Hoglan and Yahn supporting guitars discreetly, on the epic final number “Perish In Flames”. A spectacular happy ending for an amazingly violent record, whose strength still sounds so fresh and timeless more than 27 long years after.
In those times when there was a friendly rivalry between all those young promising groups, Dark Angel made a difference from the rest with all that brutality, terminal speed and correct technical efficiency. That was the only way to be remembered and prevail, with serious rivals like Kreator, Possessed, Onslaught, Morbid Saint and Slayer around. However, the lack of maturity, sophistication and inventiveness was pretty typical in that early phase of thrash. This record is predictable, plenty of clichés and far from versatile at times. No variety of sounds or surprising arrangements can be found here, everything seems to be limited to the indispensable velocity and aggression. We must be grateful for that, though, soon that purity of the subgenre would be corrupted by certain album from that same year by 4 guys from L.A./San Francisco. Apart from that absolute uniformity of the L.A. caffeine machine style, the other tolerable weak spot here is the excessively exhausting vocal work in some songs. Especially on “Hunger Of The Undead” and “Black Prophecies”, both instrumentally fine, but featuring a slightly monotonous supremacy of lyrics, while guitars and rhythmic section are relegated to support them in a quite humble way. Their words are so typical, lacking maturity and serious issues to talk about that, luckily, the band would find later. I guess evil, wickedness and death are the themes that fit these cuts intention better on other hand, so all those who don’t take lyrics that seriously will find these certainly entertaining. Now one of the most brilliant characteristics of this record I must comment is the pretty rich balanced production, something that only Randy Burns could get. You can clearly hear Rob’s bass parts, not only guitars and drums that loud. And by the way, Yahn made such a splendid combination with Hoglan’s stunning virtuosism. He’s not the typical dumb bassist, he follows the 6 string section so accurately and performs riffs themselves. There weren’t many bass players like that in the whole subgenre, something kinda remarkable.
In conclusion, this is one of the most astonishing releases in the history of thrash. I still hear most of new wave young guys trying to beat this stuff, attempting to make it as harsh and relentless or even more. But nobody ever reached this intensity yet and I doubt any of those will. Old school had that unique attitude, inspiration and fury that you won’t find nowadays. Albums like this preserve that immortal legacy and magic we can relive again and again, also for those like me, who weren’t even born by the time this was made. And after this one, Dark Angel still offered brilliance in a couple of great studio records, before their inevitable inactivity during the tough 90’s. Fortunately, they’re one of those bands you can say they never did a bad record. I hope they won’t now that they seem to be back...
In 1986 Slayer had a fork in the road. Only two choices could be made. The first choice was to try and push the Hell Awaits formula even farther; to go rawer, faster, and even longer than they had pushed their songwriting with that album. Incidentally, a band actually fully realized this choice and captured it on one of their albums. The second choice was to make a complete 180 and write shorter (not more pop) songs. On the contrary, songs so short that executives and DJ’s would proclaim that the songs are too damn short for their own good and need some more meat on the bones. Traveling down that right hand path gave us Reign In Blood. However if they had gone down the left hand path, they would have gotten this.
If Hell Awaits was the sound of a dead soul descending into hell, this is the sound of the soul being tourtured throughout eternity, the suffering somehow increasing exponentially every moment. If there’s anything shocking about this album other than that this band managed to outdo Reign In Blood, it’s that it features a drummer that instantly elevates to Lombardo’s level. This is Gene Hoglan’s first performance that doesn’t involve being a drum-tech for Slayer, and the apple falls upwards from the tree. Just about everything Hoglan hits on this album is brilliant; the rhythms, the fills the time changes, everything, everything, everything. Gene Hoglan writes most of the lyrics too, and they’re pretty good, when you can be bothered to decipher them. I have no idea what “carnal house ensanguined” is supposed to mean, but I’m pretty sure it makes Human Centipede look like My Little Pony. Then of course there is the wonderful refrain of the title track “Cityisguiltycrimeislifesentenceisdeath darknessdescends” and a surprisingly touching look at being stuck in a coma in Death Is Certain (Life Is Not). Just one of two things Metallica stole from these guys for One (listen to one of the tracks below to discover what the second one is).
Of course when you have a great drummer with a lackluster guitar player...you have Tool. But these guys are not Tool. It’s kind of weird that Dark Angel didn’t come up with the 8 songs, 60 minutes 42069 riffs or whatever it was until Time Does Not Heal, because that would have suited this album just fine. But this album is not just a sequence of many many evil riffs, oh yes there are songs. Behold Burning of Sodom, the fastest non-blast beat song ever recorded. Perish In Flames and the title track aren’t far behind either. You want speed? This shit makes warp factor nine seem like a snails pace. The obligatory "slow song" Black Prophecies, would still be the most intense track on any lesser thrash band's landmark, including some of the greats like Megadeth, Exodus, even Slayer! Aside from maybe Angel of Death, this song alone easily kills anything on Reign In Blood. Kinda sad that most of these guys are all construction worker dads now, but their contribution, this album, to what is now known as extreme metal should never ever be forgotten. Master of Puppets avant garde? Negro Please.
Burning of Sodom
Perish in Flames
Of all the thrash metal acts to spring from out of nowhere throughout the 1980s, Dark Angel was both one of the best and most influential. They formed in 1983 in California and much of the earliest part of their career was centered around recording demo tapes through which they achieved a cult following. They then sought to develop their fan base a little by releasing their studio demo, appropriately entitled We Have Arrived in 1984. Two years later, the band would put out their seminal sophomore album entitled Darkness Descends. Things would never be the same again for the band.
Dubbed the "L.A. Caffeine Machine" for their over-the-top style of thrash metal, Dark Angel took what was considered fast at the time and completely redefined it. Darkness Descends takes a relentless approach with a lot of anger and attitude behind it, characterized by Gene Hoglan's legendary drumming talent and the manic and varied vocals of Don Doty. The riffs are bludgeoning and lightning fast and center around tremolo picking and quick trills and perfectly embody the nonstop approach that truly set the band apart from their peers.
Though initially uncredited on the first pressings of the album, Rob Yahn also plays a vital role in the manic sound the band creates by laying down a solid backdrop for the rest of the band with the low-end thudding of his bass guitar. Whilst the rest of the band create their mayhem with insanely fast riffs and relentless drumming, it is Yahn's job to ensure that the band has one constant in their sound so as not to alienate the listener, but still allowing the rest of the instruments to truly overwhelm whomever listens.
One would think that an album that moves along at a consistent pace of faster than two hundred beats per minute would become tiring after a couple of tracks, but that would be a misconception. In fact, this is where Dark Angel's real genius comes into play. Every song has standout moments that set them apart from the others, be it the demented shriek of the titular words of opening song Darkness Descends, the crunchy slower riff that opens up Hunger Of The Undead, or the mid-paced riffs to the eight minute masterpiece Black Prophecies. Also, this album has a knack of luring the listener into a false sense of security with a well-timed slower passage, so it does not become a snooze-fest before diving back into a seemingly never-ending pool of tremolo-picked riffs that feel incredibly creative. It is often debated whether this or Reign In Blood was the fastest album of its day and Darkness Descends wins this hands down, although which was of a better overall quality is a debate for another time.
Another thing that contributes to the masterful show that Darkness Descends puts on is the mood. This release possesses a completely apocalyptic atmosphere, contributed to in no small part by Gene Hoglan's incessant drumming and Don Doty's insane-sounding vocal performance. Hoglan pounds away at his drum kit like there is no tomorrow, creating the feeling that there truly will not be a tomorrow. The beats are savage and fast with a whole lot of rage crammed into them and never sounding hollow or flat due to a crisp production job. Over the top of this, Don Doty was left free to go wild with his voice and he accomplishes this in spectacular form. From the aforementioned scream on the song Darkness Descends to the ferocious lines he thrusts out on closing song Perish In Flames, Doty never once stops sounding completely feral when his mouth is open. He has a fine range and proves on here that he is capable of falsettos, screams, and demented chanting, and with every word you will grow more and more unsettled.
Darkness Descends is a spectacular example of how speed-based thrash metal can be done perfectly. The drumming is chaotic, the vocals could easily have been the voice of a generation of metal musicians, and the production job is tight. Who could forget the opening almost military-sounding drum beat of the title track or the water-tight riff set to Merciless Death? I know I sure as hell couldn't.
This is an album I highly recommend to almost everybody who is into metal and wants to hear a band that does not know how to slow down enough that so much as one note becomes distinguishable from the rest, but still manages to sound absolutely awe-inspiring.
Reign In Blood? Cute. Pleasure To Kill? Fluff. Bonded By Blood? Basket of cute kittens compared to this monster of yummy thrashy goodness. The only thing keeping me from giving this a full-on 100% is my neck. This album really should come with a coupon good for one free visit to your local chiropractor...trust me, you'll need it.
From the opening riff of Darkness Descends to the last note of Perish In Flames, Dark Fuckin' Angel just doesn't let up. It's just insane thrash riff after insane thrash riff after insane thrash riff after insane thrash riff after insane thrash riff after...you get the point. The solos are pretty much all a nod to Judas Priest's Dissident Aggressor whammy madness, but more Gary Holt shred than Kerry King cat-with-Tourette's. They're noise, but coherent, melodic noise.
Vocalist Don Doty sounds like he's about to get mauled by a pack of wild tigers, and gives one of the most over-the-top performances ever cut to tape. The entire band is cranked up to 11, but Doty's intensity level is pushing 15. Durkin and Meyer pretty much perfected the art of riff transitioning here, as every riff flows into the next. Gene Hoglan gives a very Gene Hoglan-like performance on the drums...tighter than a virgin midget.
Every track here ranges from fast (Merciless Death) to HOLYSHITWE'REGOINGTODIE (Burning Of Sodom), never coming close to "ambient" or even "mid-tempo." Eveything comes in at about the 4 minute range while still being fully developed songs (*glare at Reign In Blood*), other than the 6 minute title track and the 8 and half minute Black Prophecies (which only feels like it's 4 minutes long...no riff goes to waste, and not one second of boring). This is the next logical step from Hell Awaits as far as thrash progression goes...7 songs, 35 minutes, a metric fuckton of riffs, no filler. This is everything Reign In Blood wishes it could be, more violent than anything Kreator could dream of, and more insane and evil than Venom ever were.
This album eats AMAZING albums for breakfast, letting the less-awesome feast on the craptastic "thrash" that bands like Testament and Annihilator put out. 26 years later, and this still hasn't been topped.
The year was 1986. Thrash was just coming into shape. Albums like Ride The Lightning, Kill 'Em All, Feel The Fire had all defined thrash. At that time heavy metal wasn't too much aquainted with speed and brutality at the same time. Few bands like Venom, Kreator, Bathory had tried it befoe with their respecrtive outputs, but none were as convincing as this one. On 17th November 1986, the world was struck down with this heavy, dark, fast, brutal piece of music. At it's release there was practically no album on the planet which could beat this album in terms of extremity and brutality.
As in any thrash metal album, the guitars are the real standouts. The guitarists are technically superb, and the riffs that they churn out are even better. The riffs are heavy, fast, and brutal. The lead work takes a bit of backseat on this album ( compared to the riffs of course ). The drums are lethal (well it's Gene Hoglan what else can you expect ?). This album features the first introduction of Gene Hoglan as a drummer and on this album he makes full utilization of drumming skills. The bass is burried in the drum and guitar fury so we can't hear much of it. The vocals are violent and brutal and in short great for such an album.
The main highlight in this album is the songwriting. The songs are straight-forward, simple and not too complex, but performed with an energy which is never seen before. The songs stick in your head at most by the second listen. Among the songs, the opener title track is the best song off the album. It is straight forward and aggressive track. Lars Ulrich ripped off the machine gun drum fills and the riffs from it for the Metallica song One ( unsuccesfully of course!!! ). Black Prophecies is a slower, and more doomier track. It is almost 9 minutes long and it singlehandedly contains almost 70 riffs. The Burning Of Sodom is a superfast song, almost 280 bmp. Merciless Death is also an enjoyable track, with an excellent catchy chorus. The rest of the songs are also equally good.
This album is highly recomended for anyone listening to thrash metal music. The energy with which this album is performed is just superb. The construction of songs and the way the riffs built upon each other is just outstanding. Further there is the dark and dirty atmosphere brought down by the production. The production assists the song in every possible way. Concluding this is one of the most essential pieces of thrash metal music, so please get it without further delay of time.
Dark Angel's "Darkness Descends" is quite often seen to be some kind of godly masterpiece of this genre, but I beg to differ and I never really understood what's so special about it. It's extreme metal's biggest problem. Any band that's not a popular band develops a cult following full of extreme fanboyism. "Darkness Descends" is essentially Slayer's "Reign in Blood" minus all the good songwriting, lyrics, themes, and vocals. Everything that made Slayer's groundbreaking album memorable is missing here.
I must admit the album does have some merits for what it is. On first hearing it, it's extremely fast and lives up to its hype of being a really fast thrash metal album. This is exactly where Dark Angel lost the plot completely as they got carried away with it and forgot to implement the bare essentials of any good album. The lyrics are horrible and never make any attempt to be taken seriously. The vocalist doesn't quite know what he's doing, resorting to random, aimless screaming over the riffs with the occasional high-pitched scream. They sound tame compared to Tom Araya's hellish, blood curdling screams with Slayer. The vocals are pretty weak by any standards and offer nothing in terms of memorability.
The album's biggest flaw is actually its biggest strength. Yes, it's a technical feat for this genre but has no lasting musical value. The riffs themselves are plenty, but I can't recall a single riff worth remembering. The endless train of fast riffs are indistinguishable from each other and every new riff is just a slight alteration of the previous one. This approach is abused infinitely, creating a false impression of 'variety' for the easily impressed and simple minded folk. Gene Hoglan's drumming is spectacular if only you fancy hearing the same crushing blast-beats pounded over and over again. The man's skill could be and has been used much better in other albums. The band tries its best to mask its shortcomings in the songwriting department by focusing on sheer speed and brutality. This approach loses its novelty quite quickly.
The guitar tone itself is not very interesting compared to other albums like "Pleasure to Kill" or "Persecution Mania", both of which had a visceral, abrasive guitar tone that is lacking here. The drums sound a little better, being a repetitive, endless assault on the senses. "Darkness Descends" and "The Burning of Sodom" are perhaps the album's brightest moments only because they're at the very beginning of the album. As you get to about track 3 or 4, you realize soon enough that the band is a one trick pony, trying to impress you with its inherent 'shock value' like a low-budget, independent zombie gore flick with lots and lots of blood splattering and cheap special effects.
"Hunger of the Undead", "Merciless Death" and "Death is Certain (Life is Not)" are all semi-decent thrashers with one or two good moments. They just don't have the same effect on you as the two tracks at the beginning. The band can only work the same tempo so many times before it gets tedious and repetitive."Black Prophecies" sees the band explore some progressive tendencies. The tight musicianship is commendable but the lack of composition skills and vision is a dead giveaway as the song barely keeps you interested over its 8 minute length. "Black Prophecies" quickly becomes an excursion into boredom. "Perish in Flames" does little to break up the monotony as it can basically be substituted with any other song in the album.
The album falls well short of classics like "Master of Puppets", "Peace Sells" or "Reign in Blood". People have to remember, its inherent quality as a really fast thrash metal album alone doesn't make it a classic. You see, the more thrashier doesn't necessarily mean better. If you're a new listener, it's easy to get carried away by the speed, but give it time, let the nostalgia pass and you'll eventually realize just how mediocre this is. Just like any other genre of music, good songwriting applies to even extreme metal, and that is where this band falters and this is what keeps "Darkness Descends" from being remarkable today or even back in thrash metal's heydays.
This album will have you jumping into chainsaws, hitting your friend with a sledgehammer. It will have you trying to run through walls and thinking throughout the album that the world is going to end.
Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends is a smack in the face and an adrenaline rush in every song. Each song has a moment or two where you reach new heights in your life because your adrenaline is putting you on cloud 9.
The album begins with an introduction that is mid paced and makes the listener built up angst for the mach speed sentiment the album brings, this goes on for about a minute and half before all hell is let loose. Darkness Descends then begins with a fast machine gun riff that will be present between verses, which will make the listener picture war drawn scenes. Following the 2nd chorus the band goes on a solo break with Eric Meyers and Jim Durkin on the guitars. They play with the wah pedal, but the notes they play are distinguishable and are not played rapidly or picked to fast, where it sounds like just bland noise. The song finishes up with a 3rd verse and a war cry at the end of the final chorus from Don Doty. Excellent track to start the album, especially with those machine gun riffs present.
The album continues with “The Burning of Sodom” is by far the fastest song on the album. It begins with a guitar riff that is on par with a chainsaw. Don Doty unleashes a yell that is from beyond this world and Gene Hoglan begins beating on the drums and the metal battalion has arrived. They slow the bridge down and then speed things up as they enter in the 3rd verse. The drum work on this song is exceptional and is played at break-neck speed.
The Hunger of the Undead” is your average Thrash metal song. It begins with that machine gun/chainsaw riff that is present throughout the album. The song is catchy, but the best part is in the bridge where the band slows down for a brief time and picks up their speed 2:39. “Death is Certain, Life is not” is my least favorite track on the album, but it is still a killer song. Typical 3 verse song, but it has those machine gun guitar riffs between verses and present during the chorus.
"Merciless Death” is the epitome of Dark Angel and this song is their rally song. They play the song at uber fast speeds during the verses with more excellent drumming. The chorus has a memorable line with shrieks like a banshee from Doty. The band slows the bridge and guitar solos down and has Doty with his hellish and evil laughs transition to the fast sound that we all love Dark Angel for.
"Black Prophecies” is the longest track on the album and is mid-paced, but this song is an epic.. The lyrics in the song are by the far the best on the album and are relating to Nostradamus and the mistakes of mankind by ignoring his word. In the middle of the song they get into a progressive break, the only one on the album, and the listener is greeted with more Dark Angel guitar riffs that will make you want to split your neck.
The last song is my favorite Thrash/Speed metal song. “Perish in Flames” is everything heavy metal should be. The pre-chorus to this song is ultra fast and will make you want to jump into walls, it is the perfect transition to the chorus, which is also at break neck speed and will make the listener think that buildings are falling and the world is close to an end with the mad drumming on the skins by Gene Hoglan. The band breaks into memorable solos by Eric Meyer and Jim Durkin with their wah pedals going in a frenzy. After the solos Don Doty begins to make demonic beast growls and the band finishes the album with a 3rd verse going at 140 mph. Everything about this song is perfect, as it has everything an excellent Thrash/Speed metal song should have.
This album falls short from perfect. Mostly because they have the same structure throughout the album and because some of the riffs sound recycled. I would highly suggest checking out their other two studio albums; “Leave Scars” and “Time Does Not Heal” The aforementioned albums are more progressive thrash, and are slightly slowed down. Darkness Descends is the fastest and most brutal Dark Angel album and is my favorite one. This album would be the closest album to commence World War III.
1986 was obviously an enormous year for metal music, thrash in particular, with monoliths like Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood collecting and consuming an eager audience like Martian tripods attacking the California landscape. The time was right to strike. The crowds wanted blood with their speed. They wanted crunch. They wanted unshakable violence, raw spectators of gladiatorial combat, and the Golden State was one of the first to heed the call, going on to spawn an enormous number of memorable bands like Sadus, Testament, Vio-Lence, Death Angel, Forbidden, and so forth in the span of only a few years. But one name stands as releasing perhaps the most extreme, intense thrash metal album of its generation, giving even Slayer a run for their money, and that name is Dark Angel, whose second full-length and Combat debut Darkness Descends sends shivers down even the most rugged thrasher's posterior.
This album was important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the emergence of Gene Hoglan as one of the prominent percussion forces in extreme metal. His rampant footwork and consistent bludgeoning are one of the most memorable characteristics here, upping the ante for thrash drummers everywhere as they had their heads spun off their necks in the destructive aftermath. By today's standards, in which the death and black genres have stolen metal music off to the coldest and most unfeeling, mechanistic of climates, this performance might seem like old hat, but for 1986 it was unbelievable, making even Dave Lombardo blink twice. Marrying this concrete precision shit storm was one of the more blazing guitar duos in the US, Eric Meyer and Jim Durkin, who decided that the best approach to writing was throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, directly into your face. Each of the seven compositions here cycles through a good number of cocaine rodeo riff assaults that almost unanimously deliver the ominous environs promised by the iconic cover image.
I can't promise that every one of these riffs sticks, and surely this is one of the few shortcomings of the album that would hold it back from the attention whoring of a Slayer, Megadeth or Metallica, but they are at least effective as a whole. "The Burning of Sodom" is generally cited as the favorite here, and this is an understandable sentiment, because Don Doty's normally pinched vocal aggression takes a spin for a slightly higher pitched, punk/crossover approach which is ironically much closer to his replacement Ron Rinehart (on the subsequent Leave Scars and Time Does Not Heal albums), and the guitars race and crash through a number of bombastic blitzkriegs and chaotic solo splices. However, my own personal preference lies for a number of other pieces, including "Darkness Descends" itself, which heralds its approach with scorching feedback and a biting, apocalyptic belligerence; "Hunger of the Undead", which sounds like Sadus and Nuclear Assault jamming together during a zombie revolt; and "Merciless Death", in which bassist Rob Yahn gets to show off a little in the intro before being smothered in bristling speed/thrash metal.
Doty's vocals were not always on point with me, but I will admit that he, like early Tom Araya, was exemplary at knowing precisely where to lay into a scream. The catty, grating voice he would normally hurl out across the energetic mesh of guitars would occasionally feel too light-hearted for the music, despite the blasphemy and gravitas of the lyrics, but there are certainly a number of lines where he's alight with the blistering menace of the instruments, and it all comes together like a drunk out of cold turkey rehab the first time he re-enters a liquor store. As I mentioned earlier, the riffs fly at you like an out of control pitching machine in some hellish batting cage, but not all of them penetrate the memory equally (I don't remember much of "Black Prophecies", for example). However, they are performed with such a taut intensity, ever on the verge of explosion, that they still sound like an impressive array beyond decades of shelf life, and even for 1986, there was a lot of bang for the buck here when compared to most thrash or speed metal efforts.
Darkness Descends might not be a personal favorite, but it certainly deserves its place among the legendary thrash elite for the simple fact of its existence as a dark, looming sentinel of extremity, a standard against which many brutal thrash or death/thrash records will always be compared. I might be in the minority in claiming to prefer the following albums Leave Scars and Time Does Not Heal, with their wall of text lyrical excavations and increased riffing complexity (which yielded mildly more memorable results), but this sophomore has always remained an enticing, reliable option for a refresher in the pure propulsion this genre once promised, a nuclear celebration of murder and mayhem that very few peers could stand alongside without having their knees broken and skins flayed off.
Thrash metal, in my opinion, is the most misunderstood genre within the metal world. This owes itself not so much to which albums are deemed as legendary, but in how these legendary albums are regarded in contrast to the rest of the scene. There is naturally also the horrid concept of “The Big 4”, a purely media created concept by a bunch of hack journalists in the 80s that created artificial barriers for what is deemed pure thrash, but most of it circles around the opinions of better informed opinions at the innermost circles of its fan base. Through these widely believed dictums, a threshold is set by which one cancels out hybrid styles like death/thrash and power/thrash in an arbitrary manner, if one goes by the nature of the style’s early and mid era albums, and thus we have this illusion of parochial dogmatism that many believe that thrash metal has supposedly lived under since 1986.
The album that this all centers around just happens to be one of the greatest ever put together in this genre, namely Dark Angel’s crowning achievement “Darkness Descends”. It is both ambrosia to all who adore the fast paced, aggressive, grittily produced, formulaic, hyper rhythmic aspects of the style, and the absolute bane of those who wish the genre to be something slower, more polished, more progressive, and more melodic. It outclasses both its contemporary extreme thrash album “Reign In Blood” in rawness and memorable songwriting, while simultaneously building upon a similar model to the one that Slayer had built on their two earlier albums, and it also edges out its German competitor “Pleasure To Kill” in terms of stylistic consistency. It is such a definitive collection of vileness that it can’t help but be everyone’s point of reference in either setting the limits of thrash metal, or in decrying them.
The first thing to understand about this album is that it is a purified version of what is actually a highly varied style of playing. The largely melodic tendencies of the genre’s slightly older cousin speed metal are absent, along with the traditional verse/chorus format that it originally inherited from the NWOBHM. Sections are, instead, determined by rhythmic variations within the various riff sets and occasional breaks in the constancy of the drums’ blinding yet tight speed beats. The atmospheric devices employed through studio vocal and mixing effects as heard on Slayer’s and Bathory’s blackened offerings are mostly avoided, save a introductory swell of guitar noise to kick off the album’s classic title song, and a Steve Harris inspired bass intro on “Merciless Death” accompanied by a distant sounding collection of power chords that then suddenly thrust forward to reveal the great hammer of thrash ready to bludgeon the listener.
This purification of style further manifests itself to include all aspects of the sound, from the most basic fundamentals of the sound to the minutest detail of each guitar solo. The overall production is quite rough, though not really much lower in fidelity of sound than “Hell Awaits”. The guitars come off as distorted and dark, but defined and clear enough to someone who has been weaned off the mechanical nature of modern production practices. The drums are pretty loud in the mix, but balanced just enough to inflict a controlled sense of chaos and not harm the whole of the sound the way that the first edition of “Obsessed By Cruelty” was. The vocal work of Don Doty could be described as intense and extreme, but in a way that avoids both the guttural extremes being explored on “Seven Churches” and the sepulchral goblin-speak of the Bathory debut. At times he resembles Tom Araya, particularly when throwing in those well-timed banshee screams heard during the end of the choruses of “Merciless Death” and “Darkness Descends”, but also resembles the angry shouts Dave Mustaine became known not long before this.
One should not downplay the obvious skill that each instrumentalist brings to this fold either. Rightfully referred to by any and all who love the rapid double bass kick now popularly used by many black and death metal bands as The Atomic Clock, Gene Hoglan basically establishes his credentials here and holds insanely fast beats in perfect time for durations unheard of. No band at this point would have seriously tried to go on for 8 minutes plus in the manner he does on “Black Prophecies”. The lead guitar work on here is also impressive, not so much going for the fluttery feedback and waterfall chromatic scale style of Slayer, nor the formulaic styles of the other 3 in the Big 4, but instead a sort of agitated set of lead passages that work with the song rather than trying to rise above it. The bass work is also pretty prominent, bearing a little bit of similarity to Steve Harris at times, but mostly going for an active yet subdued roll similar to what Dave Ellefson contributed to “Peace Sells”.
The greatest misconception about this album is that it all sounds the same from start to finish, something that only an obtuse listener would conclude from a single sitting. There is a general constancy in the aggression factor and a lack of atmospheric nuance with a few notable exceptions, but within this purified beast there are many intricate outcomes. “Darkness Descends” and “Merciless Death” have fairly drawn out and epic intros that lead into fast paced thrashing sections, perhaps not as drawn out as what is heard on “Hell Awaits” or as theatrical as Possessed’s “The Exorcist”, but highly distinctive and highly memorable. “Black Prophecies” definitely is in the running for greatest epic thrash song, going through a highly varied series of pummeling riffs overtop a flowing line of bass drum triplets and fancy fills. ‘Death Is Certain (Life Is Not)” has a really catchy lead bridge right at the end of the album’s most intense solo that is guaranteed to induce humming along on your second listen. Basically all of these songs are highly intricate, though they rely on percussive and riff contrast rather than melodic development to achieve a sense of variety, which tends to be lost on some that are more inclined towards the mainstream tendencies of better known outfits.
Ultimately, the controversy that this album has caused is a reflection of both its uniqueness and its greatness. It is logical that this be treated as the standard by which thrash metal is measured, and decried by those who would like to see a more varied nature to this style of extreme music. It has a clearly defined identity that can not be mistaken for anything else and it’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the skull. It essentially gave birth to a whole wave of Bay Area bands who were in constant competition with each other to see who could pack more amazing riffs into a 40 to 60 minute duration, including it’s own creators on their final effort “Time Does Not Heal”. Nonetheless, it is folly to assume that because this album set some sort of standard that there is nothing left to do in this style. Taken to its logical conclusion, this ends up being the only thrash album to ever have existed if one insists nitpicking all of the extra elements that exist within both earlier albums that tended closer to the NWOBHM roots of the genre, as well as that of the later evolutionary steps the genre took before branching off into different extreme or melodic styles. Nonetheless, it is also a mistake to assume that stripping the essential characteristics that are on full display on this album can result in the style existing at all, as some fans of Metallica and Machine Head seem to believe. This album is thrash in its rawest form, it is meant to be enjoyed and played at maximum volume, not used as some sort of tool for pigeonholing a sub-genre of heavy metal.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 10, 2009.
Thrash. Metalheads love it, to the extent that anything approaching eighties thrash is often lauded as incredible even when it is merely competent. Modern bands like Evile guarantee respect from 'true' metalheads (as opposed to Machine Head fans, I guess) by simply resurrecting this most stale and overdone of genres. But, at the end of the day, thrash is pretty much spent as a pure musical force. Don't get me wrong - everyone likes a bit of thrash, me included. It's just that the vanilla genre has already been absolutely flogged to death, has gone as far as it ever can or ever will, and is simply incapable of progressing without turning into (or drawing influence from) something else. It has stagnated for too long; it has become set in its ways, a rigid formula that offers some good music but absolutely no artistic freedom. It was all the way back in 1986 that Dark Angel pretty laid down the last word, with the complete monstrosity that is "Darkness Descends"; something that condensed the key elements of the genre into a single cogent, unified blast of obliteration. This album is it. There is, indeed, none more thrash.
Whilst "Reign in Blood" is lauded for its influence on the forthcoming new wave of extreme metal, the speed and angular chaos breaking new boundaries, it is "Darkness Descends" that surely must stand as the ultimate thrash album. For within, Dark Angel take every element of thrash and subject it to a sand-blasting, a refining process that strips away all elements of superfluity and leaves a bludgeoning, destructive core open to surveillance. Here are the very purest elements of thrash exposed and conglomerated into a monster. Rather than innovating, Dark Angel extrapolate on a formula, morphing and moulding their music into an enormous and intractably malevolent monument to what came before. You may cry for help. Do they listen? No! They laugh at such pitiful pleas for clemency, and urinate on the faces of old women. Or so I've been led to believe.
The thick guitars and rumbling bass form a dense wall of sound, a churning maelstrom of relentless riffage that storms eagerly forward with blurringly incessant speed. There is little here which can be called technical, and no attempt at dynamics is made; the riffs are, from first to last, low-end thrashing of the most brutally direct kind. Rather than the twitchy angularity of Slayer, Dark Angel focus on thick, almost drone-like pedals, with the riffs consistently based in and returning to the same chord. This pedal is almost entirely delivered using a lightning fast semi-quaver strum, and gives the music an anchored feel throughout; the use of this device emphasises key changes in the music to enormously profound levels, like a seismic tectonic shift has just taken place in your stereo. Where such techniques are not used, the band takes the opportunity to create moments of tension before releasing into the forceful and sweltering rumble - the opening of "Merciless Death" being a prime example, as the band consecutively ratchet up the tension like turns on a rack before erupting. On the whole, the guitars are essentially a solid wall of sound, rolling over and flattening the listener with primal force.
Drums sit, propped up on the riffage; precise and cutting, surging through the black tide; a demon spreading its malevolent wings. Swift and clean beats are delivered with inch-perfect ferocity, surrounded by the churning mass of guitar like galloping hooves within a suffocating cloud of devastation. Gene Hoglan exhibits by far the most effective use of the tried and tested 'polka beat' ever used, taking a much used element of thrash and turning it into a primal force of nature. The overall sound is forbidding and powerful, simultaneously kinetic yet static; a paradox beautifully realised, as the crushing weight of a deep and intractable solidity settles comfortably up against a rush of furious speed. The music thus seems to be in a constant state of explosion; existing in furious cycles like a whirlpool, the rhythms forming hypnotic and destructive motions within the listener, yet remaining anchored - mired deeply within a dark and malevolent atmosphere.
Soaring, eagle-winged above this grinding process of destruction, the naturally fluid motions of guitar solo and the manic yells and cries of vocalist Don Doty emphasize this monolithic immobility; leaping forth with the liquidity and freedom of pure contrast embodied in sound. An absolute favourite technique of mine on show here is to begin a guitar solo with a sudden moment of total (or comparative) silence, before the band begins anew with the crushing sensation of a mountain dropping on your head - the remorseless heaviness and power of the music emphasized to almost unbearable levels. See "Hunger of the Undead" and the title track for two absolutely magnificent examples.
Even when the band slow down, this precise sense of anchored movement remains to batter and annihilate, tightly wound and furious. "Black Prophecies" (eight and a half minutes of ball-crushing ownage) rarely comes close to the speed of the rest of the album, and yet the almost tidal movement of the riffage perfectly demonstrates the complete mastery inherent in Dark Angel's technique. Case in point: the centrepiece riff, a churning tonic gallop that twists out into fierce and deadly shapes before crashing back into place with a fearsome sense of inevitability.
This album is just such a monster on all levels, so over-the-top and devastating it simultaneously typifies thrash and goes hurtling far beyond it. Here, the scaffolding of thrash is seen to twist and mutate; the fast and aggressive riffs and drums moving to yet another level of speed and rage, swelling into a new entity entirely. It's so good that whenever I try to write a review like a normal person, I start tripping over adjectives and knotty phrases left, right and centre, in a futile attempt to encapsulate this... this THING in a way that makes sense. Somehow 'fuckin kickass THRASH!' doesn't even come close to describing the profound and bellowing carnage, as though a single moment of percussive impact were somehow spread ringingly over 35 minutes. In my book this is a true work of art, and deserves its reputation.
And it doesn't hold back either. This album is thrash metal at its peak in terms of raw speed, anger, and brutality. It easily manages to outdo Pleasure To Kill and Reign In Blood and is probably the best album of 1986… and the best thrash metal album to be released until 1988 when Vio-Lence released Eternal Nightmare.
First of all, I'd like to start with the production. People criticize the production, saying that it is awful, seems rushed etc etc. I'm not going to defend the production by saying that its top notch. But you know what? What was supposed to be the biggest flaw of this album is actually one of the things that make this album what it is. The supposedly flawed production creates an atmosphere that is second to none when compared to the other thrash albums released in the 1985-1987 period. The raw, choppy, and downright filthy guitar tone creates an aura of total confusion and mayhem. And for those inbred delinquents who think that the riffs can’t even be heard need to have hot iron inserted into their ears. The riffs aren’t too audible but they CAN be heard perfectly if you just focus for a second.
Darkness Descends was a huge improvement over We Have Arrived. WHA was a decent album, good on its own but when compared to the other albums released in 1985, it didn’t quite make the cut. We Have Arrived had a juvenile and uncaring attitude as far as the music was concerned, but things changed in Darkness Descends. Yes, it’s sloppy. Yes, it’s “repetitive.” But it’s also focused and determined. This is where Dark Angel got their act together and set out to make an album that would redefine the term “fast.”
Gene Hoglan makes his presence known almost instantly. While the guitar work is praise-worthy, it is Gene Hoglan’s pounding drum work that takes the cake. The drums are a bit higher in the mix as compared to We Have Arrived, and this causes the riffs to get drowned in Hoglan’s furious drumming. 99% of the time, this alone could take the enjoyment factor away from most albums but not on this album. When the drums kick in, in the opening track, you can feel the earth shake beneath your feet. Hoglan’s drumming causes this album to have a crushing and pulverizing sound. Far more sick and twisted than everything else released in 1986. The most vivid example of the album’s trademark sound is the song Merciless Death. Just compare it to the original version of the song that featured in We Have Arrived.
The guitar work is not to be taken lightly. The riffs sound primitive and immature at first glance, but they also lend a strangely epic feel to the album. Every song seems to be leading up to a high climax, similar to most power metal albums. But unlike most power metal, the chord progression is swift and unrelenting, and doesn’t even give you room to breath. The climax I spoke of never actually comes. In fact, the entire album seems to be building up to something which never really comes. This is actually a major plus point, because it adds to the album’s replay value. A good way to describe this album would be a masturbating session (!). Every song ends just before you are about to experience an earth shattering orgasm, after which your organ shrinks and you have to start over again.
The bass is very audible in the mix, like most 80’s thrash albums. There is nothing like the driving sound of the bass guitar to pick up a song, and the bass work in Darkness Descends blends in perfectly with the music. The bass has a clunky sound which I really dig, and this adds to the charming sloppiness of the album.
The only song on the album which deviates from the album’s structure somewhat, is the imposing 8 minute composition, Black Prophecies. It has the album’s signature sound which I described already in this review, but it is not as fast. It may not be the best song from the album, but it stands out because of its length and its slightly slower tempo.
There isn’t really anything else to say other than what I’ve said and other than what the other reviewers have said. I’ve always felt that a perfect album is not that which is perfect in every possible way, but is an album which sucks you in and keeps you in its realm. And Darkness Descends does exactly that. One of the best thrash metal albums ever made, and the first thrash metal album to deserve a perfect score. Even though it isn’t as fun as Eternal Nightmare or as tight as Rust In Peace, but Darkness Descends is in a league of its own. Recommended to fans of thrash metal. Fans of early death metal might find something to enjoy too in this album.
As most reading this should know, Darkness Descends is widely hailed by 99% of thrashers as a crowning glory of the genre, a pinnacle, a perfect example of incredible thrash. In truth, this is one of the biggest exaggerations in metal. What it really is is a massively over-rated, dull, boring, childish piece of tripe.
I listen to a lot of thrash, and I love the majority of it. But this album is an utter low point, it embodies everything that can go wrong with thrash, it’s actually the perfect example of how NOT to do thrash metal.
The primary, over-riding criticism is how repetitive it is. Every element of the music almost never varies or changes, so the whole album blends into one big mess of down-tuned, indistinguishable riffs and poor vocals. Intentionally raw production is generally a good point in thrash, but here it’s taken too far. The guitars just sound like a never-ending stream of buzz-saw noise, and however impressive those riffs might be they’re no good if you can’t hear the damn things. It’s just a constant stream of the band trying to show how fast they can play, but the end result is simply noise.
The rest is no different. The vocals are equally bad. It's to make out a single damn word being said here, and this isn't due to something excusable like the poor production: the vocalist is terrible, it’s as simple as that. Looking at the lyrics, it’s no big loss, they’re nothing special. Your basic low-grade thrash fodder, belted out at high speed in an attempt to sound extreme. The solos are reasonable, but nothing to write home about, and usually I found I’ve fallen asleep before it gets to them.
Same for the drum work too. Gene Hoglan is a true god of drums, but he’s really not put to good use here. As with the vox and riffage, it all sounds exactly the same, just a constant beat that almost never changes. All these elements together conspire to make an insipid, uninspired mess. Pick any moment of any song and you’re likely to hear the same thing: constant “Dzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” of the guitars, constant “dc-ka, dc-ka, dc-ka, dc-ka!” of the drums, and constant yelling over it all. Totally bland and lifeless.
It may seem brutal and amazing at first, but it very swiftly wears thin. There are, in it’s defense, odd moments of awesomeness: the middle of “Burning of Sodom”, the intro to “Merciless Death”, but they’re very rare and scattered, and the only reason I gave this album any points at all. That and "Black Prophecies", which actually stands out a bit, the only real highlight. Other than that, I can’t talk much about individual tracks or sections specifically, as they all sound identical. It’s a shame really, because the band would go on to produce the absolute masterpiece Time Does Not Heal. There is a truly great thrash album, one that was vicious and aggressive when it wanted to be but didn’t rely on solely that and extremity to get it by. It had variation and intelligence, and most importantly the band knew how to write an actual song by that point, rather than an irritating stream of noise.
On Darkness Descends, sure they might thrash like fuck, but they haven’t a clue about variety, song structure, pacing or melody. Without those aspects, it comes across as stupid and trying much too hard. There are so many bands that do this brand of thrash better: Morbid Saint, Torture, Rigor Mortis, Destruction, Sodom, the list goes on.
This isn’t amazing thrash. Good thrash shouldn't put the listener to sleep. The style they use to death might work for one track, but a whole album? No thanks. All the songs follow the exact same structure, without anything to break up the monotony. It pleases many metalheads because it’s fast-paced and aggressive. But it’s also about as dull as it gets.
No shit! Gene said it himself in the liner notes for Time Does Not Heal, to wit: "...my mom has my copy of Darkness, she likes 'Perish in Flames' so much!" Well then, she must be the most metal mom since Jane S. (if you don't know her, please assume the fetal position and quietly die in a corner.) So what do you expect from a 'mom's favorite album'? Brutality, apparently and riffs down yer fuckin' throat!
Let's analyze one by one shall we:
1)Don 'Fucking' Doty, the madman on vox. Without a doubt, he is the best singer D.F.A ever had. Yeah, Rinehart has his moments but he ain't got nothin' on Doty's frenetic, possessed delivery. Check out "The Burning of Sodom," how the hell does he remember the lyrics? I mean, the lyrics were penned by Hoglan. How does he remember the lyrics AND sing that fast? I don't know, but it's a shame he didn't stay for the band's future efforts.
2)The twin guitar blenders Meyer and Durkin, they are frickin' machines! Throughout the album, the tempo never drops below 'too fast my ass' and dammit, these guys just keep on going! The riffwork is absolutely fantastic, check out the pre-verse riff of the title track, the one after the part Metallica stole, oh lord in heaven! The instant I heard that, I just headbang and windmill until my neck hurts like a bitch! And just when you think the guitars can't be any better, here comes the solos! Sure, technicality and overall tonality need not apply and when you take them out of context, it sounds like some doofus 'shredding' at 240 bpm. But personally, I'd rather listen to the solo in "Death is Certain (Life is Not)" than say...Necrophagist.
3)Rob 'Flamin' Yahn plays bass here (although Gonzales was already in the band at that point,) and boy can he play! You can actually listen to him throughout the entire album, he's mixed louder and clearer than the guitar for some reason. His playing is pretty damn great, check out the intro to "Merciless Death" and the double bass part in the title track. You know this man means business! Yahn is definitely the kind of guy metal needs.
4)Last, but most definitely not least, is Gene 'Atomic Clock' Hoglan. You know what? I think Hoglan is kind of like the Terminator. Only, instead of killing people with weapons, he kills people with serious drumming skills. He is a robot sent from the future to make sure that any album he's involved with owns. Hoglan's drumming pretty much kills whatever everyone was doing at the time (too bad he only did lights for slayer, imagine if Hoglan was in Reign in Blood!), need proof? "The Burning of Sodom," "Hunger of the Undead," "Death is Certain (Life is Not)" and frickin' "Perish in Flames!"
The production in this album is simultaneously flawed and perfect. Flawed because everything is so damned muddy and it sounds like it was mixed in a hurry. Perfect because in spite of that, there is nothing wrong with it. You can hear all the instruments clearly and it fits the mood of the album. I'd consider this album for one of the best produced metal albums. Yessir! It's that good.
So is this the best brutal thrash album ever? Yep! Should you get it? No shit! Get the Century Media re-release, it's got live cuts of "Merciless Death" and the special two-for-one "Perish in Flames/Darkness Descends." Both with Rinehart on vox. This is D.F.A., nay thrash, at their most awesometastic(tm).
The year 1986 is something that any thrash metal fan will bring with him in his heart I think. At the time I was one year old but through albums like Reign In Blood, Master Of Puppets and this awesome Darkness Descends, I can still feel those emotions for a genre that was reaching the top in inspiration, technique and violence. Really, if bands like Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth were more melodic; Slayer and Dark Angel in that year were like two bulldozers at full speed towards hell. The power of this band is unbelievable, at the point of having lots of discussions about the supremacy of Slayer or Dark Angel in this field.
Me too, I don’t know which one I can choose because they are both great albums. If we talk about the technique, Dark Angel are superior thanks also to their demonstration on Time Does Not Heal, but for the sheer attack, I really don’t know. The Dark Angel’s songs anyway are far more complex and structured, not so short like in Reign In Blood. They don’t have so many punk/hardcore influences and the whole CD sounds more death metal for impact and attitude. Still nowadays it’s regarded as a milestone and inspiration for the extreme movement.
This is also the very first Gene Hoglan album, that after a tour as a simple technician with Slayer, decided to play the drums in Dark Angel. His style is already recognizable and personal with lots of powerful up tempo and fucking fast beats with his double kicks. The title track, after a small dark march is an explosion of anger and malevolence. What always astonished me is the guitars riffage: it’s completely restless and totally intricate. I mean, how could they play lots of notes so fast?! The bass is hammering behind that wall of brutality done by the drums.
The lyrics are about violence, darkness and the music is the perfect soundtrack for a band that doesn’t want to slow down even a bit. “The Burning Of Sodom” is even faster with the main schizophrenic riffage and the Doty’s vocals at the top with lots of screams and rough tonalities. Forget completely the speed metal tones we found in their debut. This is thrash metal with balls. “Hunger Of The Undead” is remarkable especially for the excellent and fast continue bass drum work and the sudden up tempo.
“Merciless Death”, being a song from the previous album, sounds a bit different but not too much, because the group’s new malevolence builds new structures on it to transform this song in another brutal assault with faster drums and less melody. The bass part at the beginning is famous. In “Death is Certain, Life Is Not” Gene is inhuman. The way he play the drums is unreal. To continue the long journey to hell, we can find a tribute to Nostradamus and his prophecies, this time even gloomier and real thanks to this brutal sound.
“Perish In Flames” (Gene's mum favourite Dark Angel song!) is the black seal that ends an album to remember. This song shows different approaches, from the most brutal ones to the gloomiest. The wha wha solo on it is awesome. All in all, a fucking brutal album recommended to those who still don’t know it, especially to the new, younger metalheads that always listen to –core stuff. This is brutal and this is where it all began.
So I suppose I'd better add to the already brimming pile of Darkness Descends reviews, but what to add that hasn't already been drooled over?
Well even a cursory glance over the review titles below will convey the reputation of this album, and musically this is wholly worthwile. Certainly the cherry on the cake of the legendary thrash releases of '86 (wow what a metaphor!), and yes that does mean over the mediocre Master of Puppets, and undoubtedly one of the genre's crowning acheivements.
What needs to be said of the sheer riff madness crammed in to this record can be read at length in several other reviews, and I would echo every word in that this is perhaps one of the most flattening bludgeons of metal riffage that will ever invade your ears.
It should also be reiterated, if said before, that combined with the sheer ferocity of the songs instrumentally, they are also deceptively catchy and memorable, both in the riffs department and the vocals as well. Of course, it would be enough of a gift to have a non-stop battering ram of brutality, but I prefer to listen to things that have some melody and catchiness also, even in the area of raw thrash metal, and thankfully this is another marked attribute here - after just a few listens you will be able to remember a lot of the vocal lines as well of course as some of the legendary riffs, like the opening riff of the title track - how much more iconic can you get? So surprisingly enough there is melody and memorability fused with the aggression, which for me and I'm sure many others is important.
So all this being said, I should mention my only gripe with this record, which is actually quite a significant one. That is, I really cannot get used to the production! I've tried to convince myself that its "raw" nature is to be expected from the genre, and yet I don't get half the same disappointed feeling when listening to other albums like Pleasure to Kill, whose rough and raw production I love.
On Darkness Descends however, there is a certain lack which I find it hard to get used to, and it actually damages the amount of plays this record receives, which is a big shame. The guitar tone is not eye opening at all, indeed little short of flat and distant, the vocals are ok but sometimes lack power, and overall the whole seems too much of a blur of echoy sound to convey the full riff mayhem that deserves to be conveyed. Even though the brutal aggression might differ, I would prefer more crisp production like that on Bonded By Blood or Coma of Souls, if only to fully appreciate the amazing guitar work. Even so, my point about good raw production regarding Pleasure to Kill suggests that this isn't the issue.
My main dissapointment production wise is the drums, whose bass drums I can rarely discern - a big flaw because again Gene Hoglan's performance deserves to be enjoyed in full in-your-face battering ram style, not buried somewhere between the bass and the fuzzy guitars.
Now most people will probably tell my to stop whining like an In Flames pussy, and largely I agree - I try not to let the production affect my appreciation of this album, as it is one of the best thrash metal releases of all time. I would only ask that other people try to do the same, and enjoy the songs and the riffs and the utter THRASH FUCKING METAL regardless of any perfectionist production gripes.
I suppose I really have shamed myself by chipping at this album's megalithic surface, and for that I only hope that more Dark Angel headbanging will be my redemption! Enjoy the album, enjoy it in its entirity, and try to ignore the sloppy production!
“…falling from the heavens, angels lie decayed, burning city of Sodom, one by one the sinners paid…”
It’s the mid-80s. The glam movement, especially in L.A., is in ultra-full swing. The smog index is about 2% hairspray. Tight cheetah and leopard pattern spandex seems to be painted on every girl and guy, fat or skinny, and songs about sex and riding really fast in your car choke the airwaves. Trapped in the glam capital is Dark Angel, a five-piece who would carve a path from obscurity to the forefront of the underground with their debut demo (’82) and ep (’85) We Have Arrived, first on Axekiller Records, then Metalstorm. This was just a rough taste of what the band was offering, and with the release of Darkness Descends, helped bulldoze glam out of the way (and hopefully off a cliff).
Produced by Randy Burns (Megadeth, Nuclear Assault), the production has just the right amount of distortion and fuzz without sounding under produced, and the heaviness drops like an anvil. “Darkness Descends” squeals from silence with a heavy methodical gait, almost a primordial warning, until discipline collapses to savagery and the main riff, mighty chorus, and verbose lyrics flatten all around. “The Burning of Sodom”, originally presented on the Combat compilation Bullets Vol. 1 without the scream at the beginning, is hallmark; monstrous thrash with pummeling drum work via man mountain Gene Hoglan and Don Doty’s throaty vocals. The assailing “Hunger of the Undead” does nothing to diminish the fevered pace, and sets the stage for the vicious riff-monger “Merciless Death”. The subtle bass line leading the track is the calm before the storm, then the sky breaks and the pounding chorus rattles speakers off perches everywhere. Side two opens with the driving “Death Is Certain (Life is Not)”, giving way to the lengthier and progressive “Black Prophecies”, a track aimed at more careful songwriting and structures than pure thrash. The pure thrash would come with “Perish In Flames”, the blistering finale with all the delicacy of a tragic blimp accident.
It would be three years before Dark Angel releases their third offering, Leave Scars, and in that time the beefier Ron Rinehart would replace vocalist Don Doty. Though a strong lp and with several afterward, it would never be the same. Drummer Gene Hoglan would later help reinvent Death and back Strapping Young Lad, while guitarist Jim Durkin would stint with early speed merchants Hirax during the early part of the century. All in all, darkness had definitely blackened all the earth on that day in ’86.
WITH A SPORK
Every once in a while, I enter a 'down' phase of my life, where I contemplate killing myself, or perhaps wearing those asinine black-rimmed glasses and listening to Opeth... then I put this album, and I realise just why life is worth living.
Okay, not quite, but still... holy FUCKING shit.
This right here is THE thrash album to end all thrash albums. Brutality, heaviness, songwriting skill, and of course more of a riffs onslaught than any FIVE other brutal thrash classics... you pick 'em, this'll lay them flat and stab them in the chest repeatedly. Kreator... Slayer... Sepultura... Torture Squad... all of those are amazing bands that have put out metal classics in their own right, but all of them are complete excrement compared to THIS blast of complete fucking over-the-top insanity.
I don't give out 99 ratings like some sort of overvalued party favour - if it weren't for Priest in the East, this would be THE BEST metal album of all time. It's that fucking monkey-smashing good. It is so completely be-all-end-all genre-defining and amazing, that I feel unworthy as a human being simply because I don't rape and kill (not necessarily in that order) 30 of my fellow humans and send the bodies to Gene Hoglan every morning, just as a thank-you gift for this album... this album commands that much fucking respect.
This is the sound of armageddon right here... from the intro of pure concentrated distortion, to when the drums kick in, then the guitar riffage, oh my goodness this is riffage to end all riffage - it comes, riff after riff, and it is a complete mindfuck. You will not make linear sense of this. This transcends ordinary "Coma of Souls" thrash, where each riff is distinctly identified as music, and carries the weight of its past, from Sabbath to Priest... this is the album that takes all of those predecessors and treats them as something to build on... from the grimness of Venom and Bathory and even Hellhammer, rises THIS beast. This is not Kreator - such blaspheming tracks as Pestilence or Flag of Hate are rendered useless under the sheer Absolute Power of THE CITY IS GUILTY, THE CRIME IS LIFE, THE SENTENCE IS DEATH... DARKNESS DESCENDS.
Thrash, you worthless, ignorant sluts. When you look deep down inside, this is a thrash album... it's just so buried in ugliness and filth and decay that it may take three spins to figure it out. The riffs alternate fast and slow similar to any other - Slayer, for instance, or the aforementioned Kreator - it's just that slow is fast, and fast is "too fast my ass". Check out the TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE beats per minute of The Burning of Sodom, then compare with the relatively mild 190-200 of the middle section of Black Prophecies, which is the closest thing this comes to doom introspection... fifty fucking riffs, each more triumphant than the last, morphing into each other in the middle of this song. Then of course the classic fucking "never slow down, just switch it up" thrash breaks of Perish in Flames, Hunger of the Undead, et al... cunting fuck, yes this is of course a thrash album, but it basically takes any question - offered or otherwise - about thrash and quickly comes up with an answer.
People ask me ... how can we possibly live the heaviest life ever? Just look here, kids. This thing takes Hellhammer and Possessed out behind the woodshed, and teaches them a thing or two about evil. And that's saying something because Hellhammer and Possessed aren't exactly shit bands... see the malevolence of Burning in Hell or mankind's fucking Massacra, and then take a good long look at Hunger of the Undead... check out fucking Stained Class, then Show no Mercy, and then tell me that Death is Certain (Life is Not) is not the logical conclusion of all that...
The world stands ancient, showing her age... and when it ends, it will go like this, in a maelstrom of furious drumwork, enough riffs to lay waste to Bathory and Sodom (two GOOD bands, again, mind you) using only its left-hand little finger, and Don Doty's frenetic, apocalyptic vocal insanity.
There is none higher than this... this is such a blast of hyperkinetic fast thrash, heavier than Suffocation, more brutal than any of your dime-a-dozen late 90s grindcore bands... you think you're big-time? You're gonna fucking DIE, big-time. Here comes the pain. Marduk, suck your Panzer Division Feces out your ass, because Merciless Death is heavier and faster and harder and more over-the-top than you, and doesn't even resort to self-parody to do it. Fucken A, that's accomplishment right there.
Damn fucking right, this is metal... this is directly traceable back to its influences, from Black Sabbath to Sodom to Judas Priest to Venom to that fucking Overkill "Feel the Fire" demo from '84, this shows it, combines it in new bizarre forms, and comes out with a mutant beast of destruction that is the highlight of that Ultimate Year of Metal, 1986. Many have tried, and many have come close, and made lasting, classic impressions nonetheless... but there is Pleasure to Kill... and there is Reign in Blood. Then, on a completely different plane of existence, there is Darkness Fucking Descends. This must be taken to a new context, that of the Genre Definer... from Seven Churches to Sabotage to Black Sabbath itself - this album is that important, and that fucking raging. Nothing since has come close. Not Panzer Division Norsecore. Not actually enjoyable albums like Death's Scream Bloody Gore, Torture Squad's Pandemonium, or Demilich's Nespithe - all excellent albums, but Darkness Descends predicted, preceded, and generally made those albums obsolete even before they began.
Riffs! Riffs! Who's got the most riffs? Black Prophecies, that's who - listen to that middle section, with the well-timed slow (okay, only 160 bpm) part, where each riff carefully morphs into the next one, while your upper spine region contemplates armed insurrection against the atrocities inflicted on it.
This album is so extreme in a lot of well-defined ways, from the extremely high-pitched (2000Hz) shriek of WE'LLGIVEYOUMERCILESS DEATH!!! to the hyper-lightning-blast of Burning of Sodom... then in so many non-quantitative ways, like the PERFECT fucking thrash break on GODSOFWARHAVEGONEINSANE!!!! That's Perish in Flames for those keeping track at home.
This is not a pretty album. There is precisely one melodic passage, precisely one nod to Judas Priest and past restraints and normal human sanity - and that is the solo in Death is Certain, Life is Not. The rest is ugly, and makes Reign in Blood sound like leftist hippie rock. And Reign in Blood is a GOOD album. This is the album by which you go and kill your political enemies... when you drive down the highway listening to this, you must go at least 350 miles an hour. When you listen in the privacy of your own home, you will light things on fire and flagellate yourself with your refrigerator. It is that insanely extreme.
Holy excretal cuntmass of the ritualistic inverted Jesus, as he is defiled repeatedly by a thousand boners of thrash. It gets no higher than this. I got this album several years ago, and since then I have not found a single reason to NOT pronounce this the best fucking thrash album of all time.
the unholy trinity of 1986:
Pleasure to Kill
Reign in Blood
and this one, the crown jewel of them all
...that the plants outside my window all withered and died after I got this album? Someone in the neighboring appartement building actually asked me if I needed any help because I had the album turned up and they thought people were robbing and ransacking my flat. This starts you off with one of those evil screeching guitar intros followed by one of my favorite riffs of all time, the intro riff to the title track. That dark-sounding introduction is probably the calmest part of the whole album, and while you slowly nod your head back and forth to it, be thankful for the final seconds of your life where you neck is still healthy. After that, the riffs start pounding unbelievably fast, one after the other, and if you were actually to headbang to the pace of the music there is a very high chance that you would break or strain your neck. Even in your wildest headbanging moods you'll still sort of lag behind the beat of the songs! Part of this is due to the unholy drumming ability of Gene Hoglan, probably one of the best drummers in history. Not only can he demolish his drumkit without breaking a sweat, but he also contributed a lot of the riffing and lyrical ideas to all of the Dark Angel albums he worked on. I think his mission and that of the whole band on here was to push the envelope for how fast and aggressive you can make music while retaining its musical qualities. Yes, there have been faster releases since. Rigor Mortis (the thrash band, not the pre-Immolation band) could shred their riffs a bit faster than any on here, and of course some of you must know the legend of the demo version of Russian speed metal band Kruiz's "The Last Dawn" recorded at a mind numbing 318 bpm (by contrast Darkness Descends peaks at around 250-260). The guitar work is a bit undecipherable at times, simply because it's too fast for the production standards of the time (unless you're a multi-platinum band with a lot of funds at your disposal) to record clearly.
Don Doty's vocals are no letdown by any means. Kind of like Tom Araya, his growl sounds somewhat like a normal voice, as if he's just saying things while trying to sound as fast and intimidating as he can, although he can also peak at some shrill screams from time to time (my favorite is when he screams DARKNESS DESCEEEEEEEEEEEENDS!!! the last time he repeats the chorus of that song). All of the tracks are good but if I had to choose I'd pick the title track, Perish In Flames (even Gene Hoglan's mother loves this song...seriously!), and Death Is Certain (Life Is Not). The only letdown for this is that even as a metalhead, you won't fully enjoy this unless you're in the mood for it. The first time you hear it it will sort of shock your system, even if you're a veteran headbanger. ...And nobody can always be in the mood for this, unless they're on speed or something. There will be times when this album is just too much speed and aggression for you, whether you're a death metal fan, a rookie thrasher, or whatever. But when I get into an energetic mood and have nothing to do, I just put this on and press play and then thrash until my throat is sore, my neck stiff, and my ears ringing louder than the damn liberty bell! Buy or die!!!!
P.S. The version with the two extra live tracks isn't a must, but I do recommend it over the original version (unless you come across a rare first edition of it).
What do you know about Dark Angel? The only thing many metal fans know of Dark Angel is their drummer Gene Hoglan has since pounded the skins for numerous other bands like Strapping Young Lad, Death and Testament.
Dark Angel were once the only band in the world who could scare the shit out of Slayer. Heavier, at times faster and more technical, and definitely darker than the Slaytanic ones, Dark Angel missed the bus to the relative big time by being too damn difficult for most thrash fans to handle. You see, there were none of the friendly riffs Metallica and their clones produced, no soaring or sing along vocals a la Anthrax or Helloween, and definitely no power ballads like "Fade To Black" or "Armed and Dangerous".
Instead, listeners are assaulted with a maelstrom of riffs, machine gun drumming and straightforward shouts punctuated with piercing screams. On first listen, it's a jarring, caustic blur, almost too daunting to consider a second airing. It's almost impossible to keep up with vocalist Don Doty, even when following the lyric sheet. So many riffs fly past it's impossible to take them all in first time. The drum patterns are what we now come to expect from Gene Hoglan– surprisingly complex for the speed he plays at. And the speed is utterly unrelenting. Each track seems to be faster than the one before.
Speed is also the band's undoing. While there's no doubt they were tight, they were just too fast and too heavy for 1986 production values. A lot of the riffs get lost in the mix because of a sound that is nowhere near thick enough. It gives the finished product a slightly watered down feel.
While Hoglan is now a hired gun of sorts, back in his Dark Angel days he proved himself an excellent songwriter, a rare thing for drummers especially in the 80s. He had a hand in the best tracks on the album, co–writing most tracks with guitarist Jim Durkin. Lyrically, he wrote what would have been 10 minute epics, or they would have been if the band played at a more casual tempo. At a time when the average thrash fare was comic book Satanism or over exaggerated violence, Hoglan was penning more thoughtful works. "The Burning Of Sodom" is a reworking of the biblical tale of the fabled city destroyed because of depravity and perversion, which would scare six shades of shit out of your Sunday school teacher. "Darkness Descends" is a tale of the end of the world, seeing nuclear holocaust as the biblical version of Armageddon. Just when you start to think the album is all bible stories, along comes "Hunger Of The Undead". It's a simple tale. A soul dies, but then finds out there's no heaven or hell, because there is no God. "Black Prophecies" takes an in–depth look at Nostradamus' prophecies, and "Death Is Certain (Life Is Not)" beat Metallica to the punch when it came to a mind trapped in an immobile, uncommunicative body.
If you think "Reign In Blood" is the final word in thrash metal, listen to this and be prepared to have the foundations on which that belief is built crumble.
That's a pretty accurate description of what you get on Darkness Descends. This, the greatest thrash album EVER, is one giant beast of noise ready to rip your spine out and shove it down your throat. Every riff in every song is like a thousand nuclear explosions simultaneously converging upon the listener, viciously bludgeoning them with brutal riff, after riff, after riff, after riff. After riff, even. There are so damn many riffs on this album it becomes difficult to remember them all.
Such technicality may sound like it would be incoherant, but it isn't at all.The riffs are flattening but crystal clear, even melodic at times. Even when the band is at their most brutal you can still make sense of it all, and headbang until your head falls off. And thats what a thrash album should be, folks. Rust In Peace was damn good, but even Mustaine and company couldn't have this kind of heaviness mixed in with melody. They, ultimately, went with melody over all-out heaviness, and while it did work very well, well, why settle for a glass of milk when the whole pitcher is free is what I'm saying.
Granted, the above paragraphs didn't really tell you much about the musicianship expressed here. First, I must talk about drum and lyric master Gene Hoglan, who, as always, pounds his kit into utter oblivion. This is the kind of thrashing I was talking about in my Terria review. The guitarists? Oh fuck yeah, total thrash riffmeisters. You would be hard-pressed to find guys as talented and creative as these. The bassist is great too. Nothing like, say, Steve DiGiorgio, but definitely a passable job, too say the least. Our singer is good too. Now, in '80s thrash, there were almost no good singers. Sure, Tom Araya could scream, and Chuck Billy was harsh as hell, but this guy really brings a sense of pure EVIL to the music, and it complements it perfectly.
Highlights? Everything! But especially Black Prophecies, The Burning Of Sodom, Merciless Death, and of course the exquisite title track. But everything totally slays. This is truly the best thrash album ever created and a metal classic, one of which that should not be missed.