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There was an interview with Phil Anselmo back in the early 90s, not too long after Cowboys From Hell hit the scene, where he basically laid out the dividing line between thrash metal and what Pantera had stumbled into at that point in history, which would later go on to define much of 90s metal, namely slowing things down and grooving. While his explanation was an oversimplification of thrash metal considering that a number of bands were experimenting with a number of differing influences, not to mention the band that heavily influenced Pantera in Exhorder, there was a degree of truth to the distinction, especially when dealing with the time period from 1985-1987. Much of what would make up both the fringe extreme of the style just before it began morphing into death and black metal and the mainline Bay Area bands were stuck in light speed, and the same would go for many of the imitators that would follow them.
Much of this saturation of speed could be traced back to the earliest days of thrashing mayhem typified in Slayer's "Show No Mercy", which was picked up on and further exaggerated by what was known as the Teutonic Trio. In their wake came a handful of bands that would carry the tradition on into the later 80s, and arguably the most over "like father, like son" conception to spring forth was a short-lived explosion of rapidity and vileness in Darkness' debut "Death Squad". They function as an all but perfect composite of Kreator, Sodom and Destruction, though of the 3 bands there is a slight edge towards Destruction, namely the primitive "Infernal Overkill", though they ratchet the speed factor up to about the level of "Persecution Mania" and "Pleasure To Kill". The vocal work isn't quite as exaggerated as Petrozza's, but it tends a bit closer to his raspier approach as opposed to Angelripper's blackened barks or Schmier's high-pitched shrieks. But perhaps most distinctive of all the elements at play here is the greater degree of precision, almost to the degree of being soldier-like, as opposed the berserk character of the formative works of the Teutonic forefathers.
Anyone who has heard recent albums out of revivalist acts like Suicidal Angels and Dismantle will understand what it means to hear a thrash metal album that spends most of its time burning the warp core to the point of meltdown, and Darkness spends most of its time in similar territory on here. Obvious winners such as "Critical Threshold", "Death Squad" and "Faded Pictures" seem to not know the meaning of the words slow down, though they have a peculiarly organized character to them that sets them apart from the truly chaotic works of the day. But things get particularly interesting on their instrumental offering "Tarsman Of Ghor", which spends a lot of time in mid-tempo Iron Maiden territory before kicking in the afterburners and is just a little too consonant to avoid sounding like power/thrash. It definitely lends itself to more of a traditional speed metal influence courtesy of the likes of Heathen and Testament, which makes further sense when considering the mellow, haunting acoustic intro that kicks the album off in "Invasion Sector 12", arguably as charming of a timbre to it to compete with the ironically pleasant intro to Metallica's "Fight Fire With Fire", though definitely not quite as cheerful sounding.
While Darkness didn't fizzle out after one album, much unlike some other bands who came a bit later, they would never quite reach this zenith level of tightly controlled rage and fury. While not quite the end all, be all of the 80s era of Teutonic thrash, it hits with a formidable force that shouldn't be passed up. It represents a culmination of about 3 years of toiling in the underground and about as much time cutting demos, and the consequential refinement definitely shines through. It stops just a bit shy of the death/thrash territory of early Sepultura and Possessed, but gets pretty close to rivaling much of their seminal 80s work as well. In the end, one of the many forgotten classics of the 80s that deserves a new generation of circle pits hooligans to slaughter each other to.
There were a number of bands in Germany attempting to ride the same wave that saw success for Kreator, Sodom and Destruction, but few of them were a more complete composite of the three as the simply named Darkness. Bands like Necronomicon and Assassin had their leanings towards one of the more influential acts' sounds, but at least on the debut Death Squad, Darkness sounded like a jam session between Mille Petrozza, Tom Angelripper and Mike Sifringer. Now, on any random day, that might very well be a huge compliment, and today is no different. Darkness might not have had an original idea in their heads, but after about five demos, the band managed to secure a deal with the painfully obscure Gama Records (also home to Necromonicon at this time), and the Death Squad arrived...
And there is a lot to be said for it. The roster of songs is fairly well balanced here, shifting from the mid paced meatiness of the instrumental "Tarnsman of Gor", which is in tribute to the super cheesy and semi-obscure fantasy book series by John Norman (how cool is that?); to the more rampant and shit digging atrocities like "Death Squad", "Critical Threshold" and "Iron Force". Personal favorites include "Faded Pictures", which sounds like a more advanced evolution of the first few Sodom records, with a little more melody to the gravely vocals; "Burial at Sea", a 7 and a half minute epic with some killer mid paced rhythms that really stand out here; "Staatsfeind" and "Phantasmagoria", both of which have the same complex, killer riffing curves as Sodom's Expurse of Sodomy EP or Destruction's Eternal Devastation album, a crisp blitz of potential.
There aren't many memorable chorus parts here, and the individual note patterns aren't always up to par with the band's influences, but Death Squad is still a pretty good album. The interaction of solid bass with a great old German guitar tone creates a fresh buzz for any nostalgic thrasher, and the filthy slathering of Oliver Fernickel's vocal presence has enough charisma to somewhat overlook the obvious comparisons to Tom Angelripper and Mille Petrozza. This is primarily going to appeal to fans of that time and place, and even the undead heshers on the cover seem to be beckoning the listener in a tribute and celebration to the dirtied form. Fun, generic, and full of fury, it's the best album of Darkness' career, which continued for another pair of albums, Defenders of Justice being the second and next best.
What can I say. Every argument I use to describe what’s here to enjoy can also exactly be used to bash this album. It’s obscure thrash, there is no originality whatsoever, the songs are simple, the performance is just adequate, riffs are interchangeable, the vocals are Neanderthal (he sounds an awful lot like Ventor), the production could've come from any wooden shed calling itself a studio and everything you hear here has been done by Kreator, Sodom and Destruction two years earlier.
So you see, if one wants, one can totally discard this album as yet another second rate German thrash album from the second half of the eighties. But for a lot of thrasher the earlier mentioned arguments are exactly the reason to get their hands on this release.
However I must say when Darkness are not entirely focussing on speed and aggression and choose for instance to have a semi-melodic vocal line (the chorus of ‘Faded Pictures’ for instance) or even have the nerve to try to write an ‘epic’ tune (the meandering ‘Burial at Sea’) they’re such a third rate bunch and skipping, fast-forward or picking up the needle fortunately always is an option.
There’s a reason this band never made it big. One only has to listen to this album to understand why it’s highly enjoyable on one side but in the end suitable only for die hard thrash collectors who cannot settle with just owning the old stuff from Kreator, Sodom and Destruction. But honestly, I myself am always in the mood for nice thrashers such as ‘Critical Threshold’. I love it and can’t see my collection without it.
So, here we are with the debut by one of the most overlooked sensations of the 80s. Darkness now have the status of “cult band” but back in that period their fate was a bit too bad with them. They were great thrashers, that didn’t fear more famous bands in their land. They had that savage impact that, with some melodic lines, was perfect in their thrash/speed metal. The intro is very melodic with a long part by an acoustic guitars that surely is a thing that you won’t expect from a band like this. But after the real songs begin and they take no prisoners.
“Critical Threshold” and the following, short title track, are two great examples of madness speed and awesome guitars riffage. The rhythms are compact and devastating in their will to destroy everything. The solos are the classic tremolo picking style with a raw speed and distortion. “Staatsfeind” is again utterly fast but with a speed metal oriented touch in the guitars with a more complex riffage. The vocals are the real trademark in their sound because they are so particular and personal in the timbre that you can recognize them easily among other bands. The inflection is in pure German style and that’s great because is even more original and bad ass.
To meet a slower pattern we must wait ‘till the melodic and instrumental “Tarsman Of Chor” where the band is more traditional in the melodic guitars lines. This song is like a march for the long tempo and the pounding bass drum on the background. The second part is voted again, to the total speed. “Faded Picture” and “Iron Forces” are again fast but with quite recognizable riffs and good refrains. The following album would be greater in this thing but here the songwriting is already very good and it’s not easy at all to blend such violent parts to melodic, catchy riffs.
Maybe “Burial At The Sea” is the song that can stand out the most here, just because of the completely different structure and the calm intro with the acoustic guitars over the waves sound. It’s almost mid paced by the beginning and it goes on with several, less impulsive parts. The last “Phantasmagoria” has a great first guitar part, to turn into galloping riff and up tempo again. Excellent to end an album to recommend to any thrash metal fan who still don’t know it. Give it a change and it will not disappoint you.
Great melodic intro. It leads you to believe it might be the lead up to a melodic bore sensation, but no way. The first song "Critical Threshold", a manic drop into a pretty good thrash riff. The song gets much faster, as it does throughout the LP. I mean, this is Grade A thrash metal. Not totally keen the vocals at first to be totally honest, 80's style vocals in general I think are great, but in general these vocals need to be more powerful and need to grab you more. Oh well, I couldn't give a fuck.
Great fast intro on the titled track, good thing about this LP, is it starts and you think it's good, but just a simple tempo thrash LP, but not at all, goes up and down brilliant. A lot more variation than first meets the ear.
"Staatsfeind" being one of my favourite songs. When you get this far into the LP, the music is so good that the vocals almost suit it perfectly and they grow on you immensely. They seem to compliment the music, rather than spoil it. Great shouty chorus of STAATSFEIND!! Solo is spot on suited to that song (you know some solos just should not be there etc).
"Tarsman Of Ghor" is a rather talented instrumental, but to me has no real point or meaning being there. But then again I have never appreciated instrumentals in the middle of LPs for the sake of it, especially as they would actually suit vocals. What the fuck?!?! O_O
The solos on this LP are consistently good, which isn't too common. Considering MOST bands put a solo there for the sake of it and never really put much heart or self meaning into them.
"Phantasmagoria" has a great intro, and digresses into a great song.
Fucking Class A 80's Thrash. GO AND GET!!!!! NOW!!!