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Dark Angel - Darkness Descends (1986, Combat) - 92%

Gutterscream, February 18th, 2005

“…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.