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Insanity is another of those albums I've mentally filed away for several years; a general lack of interest in my first few listens when I bought it culminated into an ensuing decade of indifference, broken only by a few occasional attempts to further penetrate its surface. After so rapidly and completely warming up to Rusted Angel, this was somewhat of a letdown, and I still feel the same, but perhaps Insanity is not an album one should write off so quickly, because it's not exactly lacking in the effort department, and the very least follows the footsteps of the debut. Today I greet this disc with an 'enthusiastic neutrality', in part because it introduced us to the band's next vocalist Andreas Sydow, and in part because it has a few buried gems further down the track list.
It's difficult to define exactly what makes the first record so special, and this one sub par, because they are more or less written in the same mold. Kinetic, modern thrash that dispenses the virility and vitality of melodic Swedish death metal over a framework of punching mid to faced paced riffs, chugging grooves, and chorus hooks that border upon accessibility without falling over the edge into that banal New England mall and radio targeted metalcore territory I so loathe. It's certainly not any less 'technical' than Rusted Angel, but there is less of that sense of dystopian, metropolitan waste. The production here is a fraction more straightforward, drier and punchier. Less of that drowned futurism evoked through the distortion, reverb and saturated vocals which permeated the debut with such an unforgettable atmosphere. This and Expanding Senses have more of a looney bin aesthetic coursing through them, as opposed to that overcast metropolitan nightscape which had so attracted me. The core structure is the same in terms of riffing variation and the heavy influence of classical music you can hear through the leads, or the intro and instrumental pieces with their strings and choirs, but most of the guitar progressions here just didn't connect to my emotional receptors as their predecessors.
The guitar tone is certainly decent, and thicker even, but I can't say I loved it as it was charging along unless the band were spiking the palm mutes with some clinical melodic picking. In truth, this is probably even more melodic than Rusted Angel due to the more broadly arranged cleaner vocals sequences as in "Emanation of Fear" where Sydow really draws out the syllables like a Swedish version of Fear Factory. The leads tend towards some reverb and flesh out the 'body' of the tracks, but a lot of them go right in one ear and out the opposite, and ultimately they so rarely manage to thrill solely with the rhythm guitars (critical for thrash as far as I'm concerned). There are a few lions among these lambs, like "Psychic Pain" with its immediately memorable thrash riffing, and a great chorus that wouldn't have been out of place on one of the first few Strapping Young Lad records. "The Perverted Beat" is another choice track, sort of a nice ancestor for the amazing "Secondary Effects" from Layers of Lies, but then neither of these tunes has arrived in the first 20 minutes of Insanity...and the only cut that excited me before that was probably "Third", the first metal piece after the strings, and that only for a few of the opening riffs and a half-decent chorus.
Drums are still quite prevalent in the mix, with crashes cutting straight through the walls of melody erupting through the choruses, and the bass playing is still quite good, with a bit more of a springy depth than Rusted Angel. The real story, of course, is Andreas Sydow, who steps into Lawrence Mackrory's position and attempts to do it some justice. He's certainly more of a focused front man on this record, but it's also a little subdued by comparison to some of his later insanity. I love the inherent passion and melody carried in both his cleans and rasps, but numerous of the intonations here just aren't written at a highly memorable level. The best is when he just goes ripshit, like in the "Third" verse, because even if he's not as impish and frenzied sounding as his predecessor, there's a lot more natural psychosis and menace to his barking. He's easily a fit for the position, and in fact my favorite Darkane vocalist, but this simply wasn't his strongest hour.
And that defines Insanity in a nutshell: acceptable, with a few tunes that rise above the din, but far from the band's best material. As a result, the album really didn't capitalize upon the momentum of Rusted Angel, and Darkane rather quickly transformed from a bright, shooting star to just another hazy glow on the firmament of Swedish extremity. Occasionally a sparkle or two, but you wouldn't use it for guidance if you were lost in the wilderness. Still, if you're a sucker for Soilwork circa A Predator's Portrait or Natural Born Chaos, or SYL's City, or Fear Factory's dichotomy of driving, forceful rhythm guitars and melodic climaxes, it might be something you'd want to check out. I'm not entirely sold on the album even to this day, but if asked five years ago I might have rated lower. It's not bad at all, but it stands alongside Demonic Art as a less inspired outing in an otherwise smashing catalog.
Darkane was a truly revelation at the end of the 90s and at the strike of the new millennium, this band was back with the follow-up to that great debut album, Rusted Angel (1998). The new album is called Insanity and I think it reflects perfectly the sound of this band. Darkane has always been a truly particular band and with this album we have the definitive proof of the goodness of the songwriting and the excellent level of technique. This is also the last album I really like in their discography, because the ones after this pointed more on the evolution, forgetting a bit the death/thrash component.
However, if you want a demonstration of power by Darkane, check this album out. The classic death/thrash assault is often mediated through some more modern elements to give variety and transmit a sense of schizophrenia and madness while you are listening to these compositions. To be frank, I noticed a stronger thrash metal approach to the genre if we compare this album to the debut. As always, this makes me really happy and I really couldn’t ask for more. We begin with the production that is really polished and heavy. All the instruments are perfectly audible and the guitars are just massive in sounds and volumes. By the way, each component has a specific field to cover and they don’t go out from it. Everything has its space and importance and that is important.
The opener is an introduction with orchestral and apocalyptic sounds to enter this journey into the sickness of the mind. “Third” is the first welcome to the schizophrenic riffs, drumming and vocals. The tempo is immediately fast but we can also meet several more modern and really catchy parts. They are mostly with melodic choirs, surrounded by the more grooving riffs and by a strange atmosphere. The tempo changes are numerous and the guitars duets are astonishing in style, precision and melody. Often they introduce real solos and here the atmosphere is more relaxed. Wildoer at the drums is the man, being one of the most talented drummers in this field nowadays.
“Emanation of Fear” is based on heavy, at first slow but then incredibly dynamic riffs. We can also clash with a primitive way of playing blast beats and once again the most violent parts are always broken by more melodic overtures and the clean vocals parts are not annoying like for the biggest part of the modern bands. “Impure perfection” is definitely faster and stronger. The violence is more present and the drumming is full of style, technique and precision. The tempo changes are just blowing in their complexity and we cannot resist them. The band is always brutal but also moderate when they have to play weird or more melodic parts. The lead lines and the solos are necessary these to bring the right atmosphere.
“Hostile Phantasm” is dark, more mid-paced and groove but incredibly evil. The speed restarts are for the violent bass drums while the vocals easily pass throughout various tonalities in order to create a never fixed scenario. We are cast away in this world of madness and instability in music and they always remember this to us with the various, rabid changes of atmospheres and the inhuman guitars work. The drumming sustains everything and the vocals are the exclamation point. “Psychic Pain” has a really catchy riff and then the violence is even stronger. The riffs are often on dark, low-tuned distortions and the vocals are again filtrated in some parts. They suddenly come out and they are always on balance between the raspy, shrieky timbre and the cleaner overtures.
I also noticed some parts that could be easily labelled as a sort of industrial metal but I’m not that sure. However, the sounds and the atmospheres are always gloomy, weird and brutal. “000111” has a dreaming atmosphere thanks also to the keyboards work while we soon pass through the heavy riffs of “The Perverted Beats” and the psychotic blast beats of “Distress”. All styles collide and they create a really original mixture of demonic visions, madness and vicious music. Nothing is certain, definitive and the music is a direct reflex of thoughts. This can be easily labelled as a sort of “stream of consciousness” for the patients in a clinic. The weird, more melodic overtures and the sudden fast restarts accompany us till the end of this blowing work.
“Inverted Spheres” gives us a hint of calm but the tragic, horror melodies by the violoncellos are here to say that it’s not completely over. The atmosphere is apocalyptic and perfect to end this manifest of madness in music. Albums like this one are not that easy to describe and I did the possible in trying to transmit the feelings and the sounds I met. The best thing is to listen to this on your own, in an empty room and be a part of it.
I'm a little confused.
Maybe it's because before listening to this album, I'd constantly heard a number of people writing off it's follow-up 'Expanding Senses' saying that it wasn't a patch on the previous two albums.
I personally don't see how the tight-as-fuck death-thrash yet undeniably Swedish fusion on 'Expanding Senses' even remotely compares to the lets face it half-hearted and oh so formulaeic stylings of this album.
This sounds like something even falling short of being on a par with In Flames and Soilworks most recent offerings (admittedly released nowhere near the same time).
They seem to be almost following the recipe of:
old school death metal + lashings of melody x enthusiasm = stellar music.
Only when Darkane attempt to carry out that formula on this album, yes there's melody (guitar solos, synths etc) abounding not to mention the Exodus style guitar sounds... it just doesn't all gel together quite as well as it does on the follow up.
I think it'd make more sense if in the long-term this album was seen as a mock rehearsal for it's follow up, cause quite frankly this album is neither noteably heavy nor melodic enough to get away with overt melody and guitar solo's at what seems like twice every two or three minutes.
Blame it on the new (at the time) vocalist, blame it on boredom... It's too easy to find something to blame.
At least there's a happy ending to this story, because imagine if Darkane HADN'T followed it up with a damn good album in 'Expanding Senses'... so at least they appear to have learnt the error of their ways.
Whatever you do next time guys, DON'T revert to your INSANE ways and stick to your SENSE-ational techniques instead.
I'll give up on the wordplay now.