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Italian sextet Darkend is one of the more uprising bands within the symphonic black metal genre. They formed in 2007 from Reggio Emilia and has since released two full-length records, the first in 2007, “Damned Woman and a Carcass”, and the next in 2010, “Assassine”. Afterwards, they released their third album in 2012 entitled “Grand Guignol – Book I”. As proven by this album, it’s clear that this group knows its way around creating enjoyably destructive metal.
To begin, the musicianship showcased in this album is very good, starting with the vocals. They are well-performed even though the high-pitched vocals tend to sound a little too squeaky, but that thankfully is a flaw that surfaces rarely. On top of that, the rest of the vocal work is very solid in terms of lower and higher-pitched black metal ranging. The guitars are also great, boasting a surplus of gripping melodies and riffs, and the drums, while sounding a little bit drowned out at times, are played greatly nonetheless. Despite the flaws, the things that are good in the musicianship are too good to come across as unsuccessful.
The sound production plays its role nicely as well. Even though, as stated earlier, it does make the drums sound a little too quiet on occasion and it does far more help than harm. The mixing makes the music sound quite raw, which leads to the music having more power because of its black metal-esque atmosphere. As a result, the tracks sound gigantic and vacuums the audience further into engagement. This type of raw production is perfect for this type of metal sound, and, all in all, it’s stellar.
“Grand Guignol – Book I” is composed of explosive symphonic black metal and it is planned and executed excellently. The music is very theatrical thanks to the atmospheric production and, most importantly, the symphonic effects which are the main highlight of this album. They are so resonant and powerful that upon first listen one could have sworn that he or she has walked into an orchestra stage. And overall, the metal played here is incredibly raw, engaging, and vigorous, and there is much to take a liking to in this album.
Overall, Darkend has done quite an impressive job with “Grand Guignol – Book I”. Despite the issues, everything from the musicianship to the music itself is great, in both performance and planning. It’s a very solid symphonic metal record, but the best track in here would probably be “Bereavement: a Multitude in Martyrized Flesh”, as it is the most vibrant and engaging. Symphonic black metal fans will likely take deep pleasure in this album and hence the cover, the music breathes fire.
Originally posted on: http://metaljerky.blogspot.com/
It's funny how symphonic black metal isn't played by that many bands, and yet there are several very well known bands to emerge from that scene. I suppose the mix of easily accessible melody mixed with the extremity of black metal makes it a good combo for many people. One might argue that the reason there aren't that many bands in the genre is because of the needed musicianship. To create good symphonic black metal you can't just write up simple melodies in shitty classical VSTs over equally shoddy black metal riffs, you need to actually be able to write captivating and preferably eerie symphonies that also fit together with, again preferably, complex black metal.
A band that perfectly encompasses what I described lastly is Italy's Dark End. Having just toured with large names like Cradle of Filth, God Seed and Rotting Christ, one my say they have their work cut out for them. Can they dethrone bands like Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth or Emperor? In 2012 Dark End released their third album, entitled "Grand Guignol - Book I", and while I haven't heard their previous material I feel safe in saying that they could very well be the next big thing in the genre.
The Italian band aren't doing much out of the ordinary, but by playing a genre that doesn't have a lot of bands there's a certain imbalance in supply and demand. That said, Dark End aren't just resting on their laurels - Grand Guignol: Book I is a phenomenal album. Animæ's characteristic vocals go in perfect unison with Antarktica conveyance of classical symphony, which in turn fit perfectly with the black metal parts vomited forth by Ashes, Nothingness, Specter and Valentz. You can tell that Darkend is a band that wants something with their music. There is absolutely nothing half-assed about Grand Guignol - Book I. It's extremely well-executed and thorough in almost every aspect, and it just seems so... complete. One of the things I like the most about Dark End is their take on the genre: Not as extreme or fearsome as Anorexia Nervosa, not as dark and esoteric as Limbonic Art, but way more catatonically climactic and immersive than Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir.
Whilst writing the review I thought to myself that Dark End would be a great alternative to Dimmu Borgir. Then it occured to me that a band such as Dark End are probably sick and tired of being compared to that band, and while Dark End don't possess the same pop-ish easy listening "qualities" as Dimmu Borgir, their styles are alot alike. Especially in songs like "Spiritism: The Transmigration Passage" and "Dawn: Black Sun Rises" does this become apparent when the parts with clean vocals much like the way Dimmu Borgir utilized those of ICS Vortex come in. But Dark End just make it work so well. So much so that I've been listening to Spiritism almost non stop since I noticed it. That shit is CATCHY!
If you don't like symphonic black metal, I don't think Dark End will be the band to change your mind. They're great, and Grand Guignol - Book I is something truly special, and if you're into that kind of stuff I strongly recommend it, as it is probably the strongest album to emerge from the genre in years. Even if Dark End aren't bringing anything new to the table they still managed to create a masterpiece of symphonic black metal where you can actually still hear the black metal elements, which is more than you can say about Dimmu Borgir's latest albums.
Originally posted on http://gouls-crypt.blogspot.com/
Obscure and symphonic horror metal is what Italy’s Dark End promises, and with their third full length album, Grand Guignol – Book I, they have certainly achieved that. With their first 2 albums being extremely highly acclaimed releases, the band has really set the benchmark really high for Grand Guignol – Book I and it remains rather interesting to see how Dark End will manage to continue to impress followers of the band so far.
The heavy orchestral emphasis of the band is immediately shown on the intro of the album, Descent/Ascent (II Movement), immediately engaging the attention of the listener with the cinematic, epic feel that is brought forth through the orchestrations on the track. And once the setting for the battlefield is properly set up, the band begins their onslaught with Æinsoph: Flashforward to Obscurity, and similarities to such symphonic extreme metal bands as Dimmu Borgir can be drawn, though admittedly the material on Grand Guignol definitely surpasses those of the material of the aforementioned that I have encountered thus far, with the perfect balance between symphony, melody, aggression and pure heaviness. Chants are aplenty throughout the album, often serving to reinforce that somewhat trance-inducing effects that certain segments of the album have, contrasting the chaos that goes on around them.
The production on the album is stellar as well, with none of the instruments being buried in the mix despite the extremely heavy emphasis on the symphonic aspects of the music. Guitarists Ashes and Nothingness handle their instrument well, and rather than simply using the lead segments given to them to show off their technical prowess, these are often used to further bring out the emotions on the tracks with the often soaring and melodic lines. Drummer Valentz provides most of the energy on the record as well, with the constant double bass pedal fury that goes on at the background complementing the crushing riffs that are unleashed by the axe-wielding duo. Aniemae is also very versatile as a vocalist, easily going from savage growls to haunting, skin-crawling gruff whispers to enhance the feel of the music. The clean singing of guest vocalist Fearbringer on tracks like Spiritism: The Transmigration Passage, coupled with the strong symphonic tendencies further brings the listener back to the Medieval era, and is some of the most epic moments on the album.
There is a constantly shifting mood on the album, with the band constantly alternating between pure aggressive and heavy segments to some that are driven by the symphony alone, bringing about a somewhat melancholic feel with them, and on moments like on Doom: And Then Death Scythed symphonic bands such as Taiwan’s Anthelion are brought to mind. If one were looking for a nice fix of epic, symphonic metal, there is no need to look much further as Dark End‘s Grand Guignol – Book I is sure to more than satisfy that craving.
With symphonic black metal having outlived its expansive glory and now almost eroded by its own gods and a myriad of more or less noteworthy copies, it is hard to believe that this style may still have unexplored and exciting territories. Thus, it must be even harder for an up and coming symphonic black metal band to prove itself and show that, just like in any other art space, the creative possibilities are endless here, too; it’s all about the right combination of old and new, in good measure and with a proper dose of surprise.
And the surprise element is exactly what makes Dark End’s latest effort, “Grand Guignol – Book I”, stand out in the scene: a multilayered, asymmetrical, yet fully balanced concept album where everything is meant to progressively come together like the pieces of a grand puzzle – only in a way that you would never expect, because, with no warning, songs tend to turn from soothingly atmospheric into a savage onslaught and vice versa! Add to that an impeccable instrumentation and varied vocal renditions under a top notch production and you’re hooked for quite some time!
For 10 tracks packed in 72 minutes (the hint to the 72 names of God seems to be intended indeed...), there’s a lot going on in this album. Built on the “terror & fear” aesthetics of the Parisian ‘Big Puppet Show’, it sets to music some real horror tales from the Nazi era with Heinrich Himmler as main protagonist, whose actions are shockingly mirrored back into the volatility of right and wrong, with morality and spirituality embodied by Jesus Christ.
Such a heavy theme would probably be hard to digest if it weren’t for the absorbing musical journey provided: from start to finish, throughout the suspenseful succession of mid and fast paced passages, there’s a consistent thread connecting all 10 songs, contrary to their quite different texture and mood. This sense of unhindered flowing is masterfully maintained by the symphonic orchestra, which shifts from full focus to subtle accompaniment just like the commenting chorus to a Greek tragedy. A similar complementary role is taken by the occasional clean singing, as opposed to the harsh, but highly emotive vocals that spell out most of the lyrics. There’s a good deal of perfectly executed blast beats and double bass on this record and, aside from the tremolo picking inferno, there are some powerful guitar solos unfolding, too. Songs like “Æinsoph - Flashforward to Obscurity” and “Pest - Fierce Massive Slaying Grandeur” make the most eloquent examples for this kind of brutal energy smoldering with melodic fervor.
Yet, the absolute highlight of the album is saved for its closure: “Dawn - Black Sun Rises” is surely the most eventful and sinuous track that will wrap itself around you like an intoxicating cloud, hypnotizing you with its changing dynamics over an epic length of eleven minutes. Commencing with a compelling military march, it transitions into obscure invocations only to fully unleash a mind-blowing aggressiveness of vocals and riffs that ensure good minutes of relentless headbanging, and, just when you’d expect it to end, it mutates into another mood, so different in rhythm and harmony, and yet still matching the whole just like the next page one turns in a good book. The Italian verse inserted among the English lyrics has its charm, too, for the listener comes to entirely rely on the song vibe and singer’s charisma to imagine what it is about. And this is suspenseful, too.
“Grand Guignol – Book I” is a really good album with remarkably melodic and brutal features that may equally appeal to symphonic and extreme metal fans alike. The only flaw I can think of is its not being accompanied by its sequel. Time and audience will tell whether Dark End will be able to top this one so easily.
This album has a lot of keyboards, really long songs, and more keyboards. Dark End write really long songs and fill out most of the music with keyboards in an attempt to make the music sound huge and majestic, "epic" if you wish to use that word, but the album painfully lacks quality content to fill it out. The aesthetics dominate the music, effectively encapsulating the whole sound in any one song, or even a small portion of any song. While this might be effective if the music was a bit more intricate and attention-grabbing, it instead makes it feel very monotonous, where every other section has a strong feel of having heard it before.
The sound is sterile and mechanical most of the time. The drums are very machine-like - I think everything is triggered, or any natural sounds of the cymbals are lost in the oversaturated keyboard domination. The guitar work is somewhat varied, but it is never particularly interesting nor attention-grabbing. The vocals are pretty dry, maintaining a remarkably monotonous black metal growl for a very long time.
Dark End clearly put a lot of work into assembling an interesting concept for this album, shaping the whole release as a concept album surrounding Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, the home of some unusual horror shows that were considered quite obscene in the first half of last century. Unfortunately, the lyrics are unintelligible, and for most of the album, they fail to shape the atmosphere and themes coherently - it's pretty much indistinguishable from countless other Cradle of Filth clones. The keyboards and synthesized orchestrations dominate this album at nearly every moment - it's as much shiny symphonic flower metal as it is blackened gothic metal. The production doesn't help that the keyboards basically give the album one atmosphere, which channels the band's inner philosophy of "too many keyboards".
There's a fast guitar solo in "Pest: Fierce Massive Slaying Grandeur" that brings a welcome human feeling as it's not played perfectly, but it is completely directionless, basically scale runs that change direction a few times with no thought whatsoever given to using the solo as an emotive voice for the guitarist, just a bunch of aimless wanking for the sake of having a slightly flashy guitar solo. There's a better one in the next track, but it really does nothing for the music other than provide a break in the monotony of the rest of the album.
I'd like to give the band credit for having a lot of cool ideas, but this album becomes difficult to listen to as it feels way too long as a whole, and each song feels too long to showcase its contents. I could see the appeal of this as a genre piece, to a less-discerning or newer gothic metal fan - the same type of person who loves Cradle of Filth and doesn't see there are some great bands in metal who do similar things without dumbing it down. This album is greatly restricted by the shallow and stagnant aesthetics that make it feel monotonous, yet give it the same appeal for its similarities to the bands that seem to thrive on those, at least in terms of popularity.
There's a simple way to explain it - European gothic metal. If you perked up on hearing this, you'll probably like it, if you rolled your eyes, then you probably ended up back at the beginning of the review and think it's being repeated, a feeling that you would get countless times while listening to this album.
Smouldering steadily across the Italian metal map since 2007, Darkend have recently made a spectacular entry on the Eastern European stage and into worldwide attention, unleashing shockwaves of dark energy and macabre symphonies.
To anyone still in doubt about whether or not to assimilate their earlier work to Dimmu and Cradle, Darkend’s fresh release, “Grand Guignol - Book I”, will surely come as the undeniable expression of mature and distinctive musicianship, shattering any comparison against the usual benchmark for symphonic black metal. This album kicks in as new air and surprises not only by rich variation in sound highlighted by great orchestration, but mainly with the band going the extra mile in composing and rendering their music as a play, “A Dramatic Play of A Macabre Nature” with the libretto embedded in the track titles.
“Grand Guignol - Book I” is a concept album that might initially raise some eyebrows, especially for the casting of completely opposite characters: Heinrich Himmler and Jesus Christ. The interpretation key is well hidden in esoterics and varies with each listener, not only based on their “initiation” status in the occult, but rather by everyone’s emotional availability, because it is emotion, in all its forms, that makes the common ground of these antagonists. Actually, in the brief introduction provided in the booklet, Darkend prepare and warn their audience about the mirroring of one’s own feelings in a way that brings back memories of Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”: “Magic Theater. Entrance not for everybody. For madmen only!" And here it reads “a theatre of higher knowledge... and of abominations, too”, by the wand of Grand Guignol, that Parisian naturalistic horror which trespassed fiction and materialized into the unimaginable atrocities of World War II.
With the album clocking in at 72 minutes, tracks are composed and arranged so as to continuously keep the listener in suspense bringing on sudden changes in tempo, going from highly solemn symphonic passages to outbursts of stormy riffs and percussion or spine-chilling screaming. Yet, the same holds the other way around, with lyrical intermezzos placed in the middle of more dynamic songs. The orchestra’s refinement and vigor is even more impressive as it’s the work of one man (musical genius!): Nightbreeder’s Frozen Orchestra is actually the classical and symphonic side of Antarktica, the band’s keyboardist, who masters the lights and shadows of this ceremony, allowing the orchestra to subtly accompany the vocal line or guitar work or pushing it ostentatiously to the forefront, at times in tones of military or even funeral march.
In all this sonorous complexity, the theatre vibe is always there, in the multitude of roles revealed one after another by an impressive vocal versatility: the defiant black metal vocals, the piercing cries, the awe-inspiring invocations, the comforting whispers, and, last but not least, the tenor-like performance on some of the tracks, and that in Italian, too. It’s exactly this feature that, when combined with the orchestral part, gives the songs a cinematic dimension of horror with shockingly vivid suggestions such as the crucifixion in “Bereavement” or the gas chambers in “Grief”.
According to band interviews, “Grand Guignol – Book I” is said to have won the attention of a mysterious esoteric order, The Arcane Witchcraft Coven, which financed the release in exchange for the right to use the music for their rituals. Actually it’s been written so as to captivate all along, adding a new dimension to traditional symphonic black metal.
The album fades out on a danse macabre tune and, until the release of its sequel, it surely leaves the audience in utter suspense, to oscillate between the martyr’s drama and the visionary’s grandeur.
Does one need to do introductions for these things? Introductions are always the hardest part of these things. While searching for atmospheric black metal bands, I came across Dark End and obtained this album. I'm aware that a lot of black metal bands like to display some sort of atmosphere in their music, but many times the atmosphere is there to either A) make you suicidal,
B) make you cold, C) want to go to war and slaughter hordes of your enemies, or D) make you feel like you're in a forest for absolutely no apparent reason.
The atmosphere on "Grand Guignol" is different. It feels like you're in a candlelit cave while the singer Animæ tells a story. Now how is this all possible? It definately takes a man of immense talent to play such great influence on your mind, your heart, and above all, your soul. The main focus on this album is the orchestration (sometimes epic, sometimes goofy, and sometimes sad and melancholic) combined with a great guitar riffing and the incredible, stunning vocals. On most albums the keyboard and the guitar often fight each other for attention with one overpowering the other 99% of the time. On this album that doesn't happen, though. The keys never try to take away from the guitar and vice versa. The style of guitar playing is more focused on scales, chords, and power chords than they are on tremolo picking. There is a point in the song "Bereavement: A Multitude In Martyrized Flesh" where a guitar solo focuses on intricate scale playing and riffs. Same goes for the keyboard on most of the songs, and while one hand is playing a few 8th and 16th notes over and over for a little while, the other hand is playing a couple of notes in whole notes. The effect works very well and helps to build the atmosphere.
The vocals are simply incredible; they can move form piercing screams to dark litanies, from epic clean vocals in the style of ICS Vorktex (Borknagar, ex-Dimmu Borgir) to rabid growls, from an "in-your-face, powerful metal singing" to mysterious and sorrowful whispers. Also, the languages used by Animæ are different, being English, Italian, Latin, and old Jewish.
As a whole, this album is great. Dark End have managed to create a real masterpiece, able to arouse an infinite range of emotions and feelings. Just take a listen to the unholy, monumental opening track or to the dramatic "Decrepitude: One Last Laugh Beside Your Agonies" and you will understand.
Now, go and buy it!
When you hear of Dark End, the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps the chorus to ‘The Thorns, The Pain, The Horror’ or the grim oration in ‘Mater Terribilis’ and with this, inevitably, the entire on-stage arsenal of the self-proclaimed ‘Theatre of Horror’: candlelit pentagram, bloodstained cloth, crown of thorns and other sinister artifacts of disguise and ritual. And it’s only natural to make such an association if you saw them on tour with Rotting Christ and/or Samael last year. However, with the newly released album, ‘Grand Guignol – Book I’, the band have reinvented themselves both musically and concept-wise.
Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol was an extreme form of gory entertainment that flourished in Paris at the dawn of the 20th century and faded into insignificance after the real horrors of the Second World War. Italy’s symphonic blacksters, Dark End, seem to trace back this course, filling the empty space with actual history carefully obscured by less palpable, but equally intriguing content such as fiction, occult lore and spirituality. The result translates in one hour of symphonic drama, whose monumental sound and freshness would put many of the genre’s pioneers to shame. Yet, at the same time, Dark End break new ground with an original form of concept album uniting musical, lyrical, narrative and imaginative elements into one ‘Dramatic Play of a Macabre Nature’ that is worth staging, from start to finish, in a real theatre one day, if not for its fine dramaturgy, then definitely for the audacious choice of characters: Heinrich Himmler and Jesus Christ.
Grand Guignol – Book I presents 10 songs, which, despite their lengthy duration, create and maintain the feeling of an emotional roller coaster ride due to the well mastered (and unexpected) transitions from serenity to tumult and vice versa: just when a divine orchestral line is lifting your spirits, breathe and prepare for a swift fall into the blackest despair brought about by unhuman cries, swirling riffs, crushing drum beats and morbid symphonies. This is that kind of album where the listener is no longer a passive, recipient part, but gets drawn into the characters’ roles, experiencing the horror no more through the victims’ eyes, but through the perpetrator’s reasons and vision. It is as engaging and personally enriching as a role playing game: the journey through history and mysticism becomes your own and you must use all given signs to see it through.
The concept story unfolds in three parallel threads: the first and most obvious follows the lyrics, the second is Heinrich Himmler’s diary or his letters to Heinrich I, founder of the German medieval state whose reincarnation Himmler believed to be, while the third, under the appearance of New Testament quotes, refers to selected moments from Jesus Christ’s mission on Earth. All these threads complement each other and are unified in the end by the underlying esoteric doctrine: apocalyptic destruction and creation of new forms of existence.
The instrumental opener, ‘Descent/Ascent (II Movement)’, sets a solemn mood by the use of woodwind instruments and drum rolls and bangs, fostering imagination: it’s like a congregation secretly coming together (the ‘descent’) to witness the theatre’s curtains rising in grandeur and the transfiguration within (‘ascent’ towards renewal). And from here, the journal entries will recreate Himmler’s rise to power and his pursuit of a master race, evoking horrendous facts such as the Night of the Long Knives, the Kristallnacht, the concentration camps, the onset of the World War II, all these embedded in a spiritual master plan rooted in occult heritage and counterbalanced by the symbolic milestones in the path of Jesus Christ. Contrary to an ordinary album structure, the ending is placed in the penultimate track, ‘Decrepitude: One Last Laugh Beside Your Agonies’, with its metaphorical reunion of all ‘actors’ on stage (‘sins and good intentions’, ‘anger and candid pardon’, ‘martyrs and righteous torturers’...), followed by an epilogue ‘Dawn: Black Sun Rises’, which of course leaves room for Book II.
Generally, the opus’ darkened mood builds and releases tension through the alternation of melodic and madly galloping parts, relying on both orchestral soundscapes (with some sublime violins and piano harmonies) and complex guitar riffing (triumphantly clear, sharply dissonant, sulphurously droning). This feature comes to ear, perhaps in the most spectacular way, on tracks like ‘Doom: And Then Death Scythed’, ‘Grief: Along Our Divine Pathway’ and especially in ‘Pest: Fierce Massive Slaying Grandeur’ with its breathtaking, spiraling guitar solo, enhanced by ever intensifying drumming. In line with the album’s theatrical nature, the vocal spectrum, too, showcases - often in overlapping layers - anything from screams, shrieks, whispers, trembling laments and melodramatic tones (as in ‘Bleakness: Of Secrecy, Haste And Shattered Crystals’) to guest clean singing (featuring compatriot musician Fearbringer). As on previous releases, the use of special sound effects adds a certain kind of distinctiveness: the sound of shattering crystals in ‘Bleakness’, a snake’s hissing in ‘Grief’ are the most surprising ones.
In terms of content, Grand Guignol - Book I is surely a very demanding work, requiring some command of esoteric knowledge, emotional participation and openness, and while it flames your interest for mystery, it also warns you off a misguided turn, after all, it’s only a play: mind the marionette displayed in the artwork and stop trying to decipher the writing on the blood-red curtains!
The verdict is clear: secure yourself a seat in the theatre of Grand Guignol and a chance to test your own consciousness!
- originally reviewed for www.beyondthedarkhorizon.com -