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Rusted Angel was an album I initially had some resistance towards, since it dropped at a time in which I was inundated by At the Gates worship here in the local scene. I couldn't walk ten feet to get a Slurpee at the mall without some ear-stretched metalcore teen asking if I'd heard 'this new band At the Gates', and like a lot of harder line metal heads who had survived the 80s and not gone over entirely to grunge and alt rock in the ensuing decade, I was sick of all the Johnny-come-lately wagoneering wiggas getting up in my grill with bands I had already been listening to for much of the decade. In retrospect, I must have felt 'threatened' by the popularity of my coveted Swedish metal, and I'm sure I wasn't the only person. In fact, looking around today at internet reactions and various conversations I've had at gigs, I'm POSITIVE that this is a mentality which seems to persist any time some hot new sound arrives. But the truth is, I was being an ornery, immature, jagged nutsack: At the Gates was a great band, Slaughter of the Soul was a great record, and as it turns out, so was Rusted Angel. Props to another local musician who urged me to reconsider the Darkane debut...else it might have taken me a lot longer to get around to it.
The At the Gates comparison is admittedly marginal here, perhaps even coincidental, because while the schizoid vocals of Lawrence Mackrory occasionally resemble a Lindberg snarl, and I have no question that Darkane benefited greatly from hype generated by the melodeath trinity of AtG, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, the song structures and individual riffs are far more prescient of a 'future thrash' variety. And this is what ultimately won me over to Rusted Angel: its urbane, bleak and almost mechanical sense of modernity. It's like a group of Swedes took a bunch of their favorite Teutonic and Bay Area thrash records circa '86 to '90 over to a recycling factory, watched them crushed into a cube, and then through some miracle of modern technology, managed to listen to the results on an audio player. But it's even more than that: intersperse some clearly neo-classical influence in the guitar progressions, and interchange Mackrory's petulant rasping with some Burton Bell-esque, melodic choral overtures, and you've got one exhilarating dynamo of a debut that easily surpassed their countrymen Soilwork, who would go on to immediately eclipse this in popularity with their own debut Steelbath Suicide (as an aside, 'Speed' was actually singing with Darkane for a short time). While I do enjoy that other album as a frenetic, youthful and futuristic spin on Slaughter of the Soul, Rusted Angel was the better of the two, and brought far much more to the table...
One thing that will either make this or break this album for many listeners is how willing they are to adapt to its atmosphere. Darkane was not averse to heavily dowsing the guitars and vocals in distortion or effects that lent to its post-modern, nigh on apocalyptic environs, and measured against the athletic drumming of Peter Wildoer and the symphonics used as intros and interludes, it definitely develops this glassy, smoggy sensation of oppression. Like some dark, post-industrial dystopia in decay, hovering at the edge of eternal night, through which cybernetic young roughs wage turf wars, their chieftains howling at one another from occupied skyscrapers of glass and rusting steel as the 'soldiers' go at one another with flak cannons and motorcycle chains. West Side Story meets Shadowrunner. Dark City metal. Enter the Matrix, dudes. A battle on the edge of a tomorrow that may never come. Queue the acid rain. The lightning. At numerous points on the album I can picture Rick Deckard donning his fedora as he gazes apprehensively into the haze of smoking vid screens, neon advertised human organ cloning services, and cyborg dope dealers. Waitin' for Edward Olmos to give him a lift in his origami machine. The imagery this disc conjures truly stokes my cyberpunk-fueled imagination, but I can understand how some might find the thrashing and churning tone of the guitars a little too harsh and mechanical...
It DOES help that Darkane sports one of the best Swedish guitar duos out there, in Klas Ideberg and Christofer Malmström, both fine composers who imbue the low end, chugging thrash momentum with just enough of a harmonic, melodic weave that at no point does it every grow dull. They might not have been performing the most complex, technical death metal out there, but as far as the melodic thrash goes in the 90s, these guys were really at the cutting edge. I love the blistering glazes of wired melodies they evoke into tunes like "Chase for Existence". They introduce a lot of interesting fills at the end of the charging progressions which help enforce the aforementioned 'industrial' aesthetic in the writing, and though they would compose superior leads on future efforts (like Layer of Lies), they were already accomplished shredders here. But really, some of the speed picked thrashing patterns like the intro to "July 1999" simply have to be heard to be believed, and almost all the licks here simply scream 'THRASH IS NOT DEAD' into the electrified mist that drowns them. I won't even get into how brilliant the experimental instrumental "The Arcane Darkness" is... The bassist Jörgen Löfberg is also pretty skilled, managing to anchor the rhythm guitars with a tightly sprung, pumping tone that tirelessly plods on like a sewage sluice.
As great as the musicianship is all around, though, I think most would agree that this is the finest hour of Lawrence Mackrory among the many records he's either sung or played bass on. The guy is a snarling, murmuring threat that sends the Defcon reeling. Like an impish cyber-successor to the splatter thrash inflection of Blaine 'Fart' Cook (The Accused), and yet he's still capable of hitting those soaring, climactic chorus parts like over the thundering double bass in "A Wisdoms Breed". I'm not a 'jump da fuc up' sort of guy, at least I haven't been since Everlast was ordering me to do it, but when he hits a chorus like this I feel like entering a pole vault competition. They immediately escalate the aggression to something glorious and catchy without ever bordering on cheesy, and still keeping the atmosphere of the album dirty. What's more, they've actually managed to hire a chorus for pieces like the album intro; a lofty and ambitious move for an unknown death/thrash band on a debut album, wouldn't you say? But it works, this constant clash of both the old and the new, and I'd go beyond that to say it's inspirational. Why wasn't Rusted Angel one of the biggest records of its day? Probably because assholes like me wrote it off for a couple months too many...
I wouldn't call it perfect, and it's not the Swedes' masterpiece. That would come later, with an album that closely resembles this one but truly fleshes out the songwriting. There are a few riffs here or there that just don't inspire as much as their neighbors, and though I love all the manic vocal/axe effects bouncing around, there are moments where the drums will feel a little loud, or the mechanistic post-human atmosphere takes too much priority over the headbanging fervor. It definitely has more 'feeling' to it than fellow Swedes Meshuggah, who had put out a killer record some months prior in Chaosphere, but I feel as if the inherent harshness of Rusted Angel's reality could have used just a handful more of its memorable melodies and chorus climaxes to really balance itself out. That said, this is a pretty killer introduction to one of the better acts to hail from that Swedish explosion of the mid through late 90s, and still holds up rather well as I thrash out to it now. Dense, tense, destructive, dystopian and lyrically depressing, it's the Snow Crash of Swedish death thrash. Pizza delivery in 30 minutes or less, or the delivery guy gets whacked.
Melodeath is often a genre maligned for it's staleness and in the case of the greats tends to be assume that it'll devolve into nu-metal at one point or another. The bands who stick with the true sound of melodeath and don't go the nu-metal route often end up suffering from stagnation and eventually realize that they have no choice but to churn out riffs that all sound recognizably similar. Darkane avoided this pitfall, and is one of my favorite bands of ALL FUCKING TIME!
What we have here is this Swedish units debut album, an album so chock full of badass riffs, intensely technical drumming, raging vocals, and intelligently fit in classical and jazz sensibilities and one of my top ten guitar heroes, Christofer Maslmtrom. It isn't in my opinion fair to say this band is a melodeath band, but their often classified as such, though if you were to ask me this is actually a death/thrash band with melodic elements in place.
The highlight of this album (and this band) is definitely the riffs. We have some intense fast paced bludgeoning in "Wisdoms Breed", interspersed shredding in "Convicted" and mid paced stomping devastation in the title track. The other highlight of this album is Christofer Malmstrom's manner in which he conveys these heavily inspired classical and jazz idea's within the scheme of Darkane's music. Some of this shit sounds downright Beethoven, Bach, and Tchaikovsky out the ass and it creates some awe inspiring moments (July 1999's solo is one of my top ten guitar solo's of all time). Klas Idleberg, the bands rhythm guitarist keeps the tightness of the riffs down to a T, and Peter Wildoer's heavily fusion infused drumming at high velocity is just something to behold. This album also featured the bands first vocalist, and this being the only album he was on, Lawrence Mackery, who employs a very thrash shout voice with some death grunts here and there.
If this release qualifies as melodeath, it's a masterpiece within the genre, though if you asked me it's a masterpiece regardless of what label it actually fits under. Guitar players would dig the shit out of this though, I'm not fucking around when I say this. The production is a bit shoddy, the drums and vocals sound great but for as guitar heavy and oriented as Darkane's music is, the mix pushes the guitars and bass just a bit too far back for my liking. Check this out though, seriously, it will please the ears.
Darkane debuted the same year of another famous Swedish death metal band, Soilwork. That year, 1998, was very important for the naissance and the growth of a genre that would have influenced so many bands worldwide; that genre was a mix of classic swedish death/thrash with a more melodic and if we want modern style. The death/thrash, to make you understand, was filtered through heavy dosages of modern influences without, anyway, falling into the classic groove metal. The musical approach of these two bands, the most representative of this music, was always truly violent and pounding, at least on the first albums.
Going on those violent influences were left behind and the two bands started to embrace a new sound, increasing those modern influences we could sporadically find here. This debut by Darkane was almost unexpected and still nowadays, ten years after, I’m impressed by these guys. They had the technique, the aggression, the sense of melody and the violence, mixed all together. After a short intro, “Convicted” explodes in our stereo with a long series of up tempo and sudden, melodic overtures with lots of long solos and the same can be said for the following “Bound”. The break by the end is dark and apocalyptic while the faster parts show a more modern approach to the riffs, without being annoying and I can tell you this because I’m not a fan of modern stuff.
The atmosphere reflects perfectly the cover artwork in colours and images, being a completely dark effort where the most violent parts support perfectly the gloom notes of the lead guitars and the absolutely schizophrenic vocals by the best singer Darkane ever had, Lawrence Mackrony. “Rape of Mankind” is darker in its march and features sudden explosions of violence by a relentless rhythmic session. Even the rhythmic guitars are more melodic in some ways and they are big part of the apocalyptic atmosphere. The solos once again take inspiration from the, at the time, strong melodic death metal genre. The title track has easily one of the best intros we can find because is made by violins (!) and soon the guitars enter to add a darker tone to the entire track.
The tempo is always intense even during the less fast parts and the band manages to keep always its level of violence high through catchy and often melodic passages. That’s the real deal. That’s the hard thing to carry on. “Chase of Existence” features some of the melodies and overtures they would have increased in the following albums but here those overtures are well balanced with up tempo parts and they seem not so modern and annoying. “July 1999” is total impact while the last track, “Frenetic Visions” shows again some clean parts by the vocals, opposed to infernal screams and dark parts. The choirs at the end are frightening and at the same time so evocative.
All in all, this is another very good debut album by another impressive band from Sweden. If you loved the first album by Soilwork, get this one too and it won’t let you down. This album is heavy, well played and melodic at the same time so what are you waiting for. It worth 40 minutes of your life.
I haven't heard any of the band's newer works, I should note that now. This album, which is the only one I HAVE heard, is... just read if you really care.
Vox ain't great. I can't say much more. This guy's got an ammusing scream but not all that much else going for him. A sort of melodic overtone to them, it's not bad, but still, it could use work.
Always what most people look straight at, the guitarwork is cool, groovy, slick, whatever you wanna call it, it's good but needs a bit of improvment. It still owns in alot of places. The solo on Rusted Angel especially. The riffs seem simple enough, but when thrown under the vocals and the precise drumming, it all ends out a bit technical. The solos are wicked, too, not just the riffs. These things are headbangable as hell, as any thrash SHOULD be.
The drumming, now, its sweet. The aformentiond precisness behind the kit is just a bit of an exageration though. Everything is kept fairly simplisitic (snare blast anyone?), but also seems to compliment well. Not that it's bad in any way.
Sure enough, the album has downsides. As mentioned, the vocals aren't what they could be. Convicted and the title track, Rusted Angel, are the two best showings of it IMO. Other then that, a bit of something feels a bit missing.. but it's really, really good anyway.
The only reason I gave it 74 instead of like 80, is it tends to get old. Very old. While enjoyable, it is NOT something that'll stay with you forever, or even very long.
Pick it up. It's nice enough. I have to say, I'm a bit scared of what I've heard they have become, though...