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There exists a handful of German thrash bands that everybody knows. Sodom, Kreator, Holy Moses, Tankard, Destruction, I guess you have heard these names already...? Leaving these big animals aside, Germany has also some insider tips; Iron Angel, Violent Force or current aggressors such as Skeleton Pit and Pripjat, to name but a few. Germany, the thrash metal country where milk and honey flow? Not quite. Its rich thrash scene also gave birth to some problem children. Unfortunately, Darkness was part of this brood. They were a third tier band, as much as I regret it.
"Defenders of Justice" is an album (with a dreadful and amateurish artwork) that cannot reveal the serious defects of the band. Intoxicating compositions are missing. Darkness do not lack of engagement and the guys do not want to be only the spectators while other formations start their successful (or not so successful...) career. It is therefore all the more frustrating that the degree of motivation exceeds the level of musicianship in a significant way. Just focus on the expressionless lead vocals. They are just there without adding value to the songs while the background vocals are barely audible. Worse still, the entire vocal performances sound emotionless - and this is simultaneously the most fitting word for the description of the production. The flat appearance fails to leave an impact and despite a certain density, the sound does not score with overwhelming massiveness or vehemence.
Darkness put the emphasis on velocity, riffs and, to a certain extent, catchy choruses. Generally speaking, this sounds good and I admit that the band does not only produce crap. For example, "Battle to the Last" or "Locked" have some relatively intense instrumental parts and the staccato of the chorus of "Caligula" is unforgettable. Anyway, at the end of the day we are confronted with very ordinary thrash metal. Despite some fairly exceptional sections, for example the weird guitars at the beginning of "Caligula" that seem to be inspired by Mekong Delta, most parts of the album taste vapid and stale. In view of the manageable number of ideas, the songs are just too long. Apart from this imbalance, stereotyped lyrics ("They Need a War") are not helpful too.
The excessive title track starts with some acceptable riffs. But the longer the song lasts, it becomes more and more evident that the guys are not able to perform a coherent piece with a length of more than seven minutes. Therefore, the song is a very representative track in a certain sense and I guess it's time for the summary. Darkness were surely exercising hard, but they never got rid of their status. They were warming the substitutes' bench while their competitors were hopping in the spot light. Even their comeback EP from 2015 did not change this situation.
Darkness might not have been one of the better thrash acts to emerge from the 80s German scene, but at its height, they would at least keep themselves busy, with three albums in three consecutive years. Death Squad had been a pretty obvious amalgamation of the major German bands like Sodom and Kreator, but its followup Defenders of Justice, also through the ill fated Gama Records, does see the band veer off into a more laconic style I'd equate more with the run of the mill American bands that were choking up scores of upstart independent labels and the weaker slots on the rosters of renown. In short, while its predecessor might have suffered from a bit of redundancy among the German outbreak, this album is quite openly mediocre.
The major reason for this is the mix of the vocals against the backdrop of the riffs. Olli's tone here is nasal, bland and frankly sounds like he was bored knocking out the tunes in the studio. It's not terrible, and he'll spin on a little added aggression through "Battle to the Last", "Locked" or the charging closer "Predetermined Destiny" where the gang shouts compliment him, but its far from the inspired performance, and could easily be interchanged with the vocals on any of a hundred mediocre thrash or crossover records. The music unfortunately does not fare much better: competent execution, loud and pumping bass lines, and a whole slew of fast and focused riffs that just go nowhere. Rarely, if ever is there a truly evil or effective series of notes being slung across the strings, and this really adds to the dulled impact of the record.
A few tracks try to build some depth, like the flowing, clinical "Caligula" or the relatively equal paced titled track "Defenders of Justice", but the guitars are merely passable, and never catchy, easily lost beneath the lead and backing vocals. It's almost a shame that the guitars weren't just louder, because some added force against Olli would have rendered this slightly entertaining, as opposed to just another record you could toss in the bin while stroking yourself to any of the superb offerings in the year of 1988, whether they be ...And Justice for All, Punishment for Decadence, or superior German fare like Tankard's belligerent beer swilling epic The Morning After, or Vendetta's Brain Damage. The few moments of manic, razor bliss that promise the hints of Destruction, Sodom and Kreator so prevalent on the debut are vastly outnumbered by unappealing transitions and an album that feels as if it were being put out to pasture before its time, and the Monty Python reference that opens "Predetermined Destiny" is fruitless.
Ok thrash metal friends, do you know or remember Darkness from Germany? No??? Bad thing! This group is one of the most overlooked things in thrash that, back in the 80s, released two great albums. “Defenders Of Justice” is one of these two. We are so blinded by groups like Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and many others, that we forgot about this one that surely deserves more attention and respect.
I found this LP in a second hand shop and I immediately bought it. This group is pure energy. These tracks are pure thrash metal in German way. The up tempo and the excellent refrain on “Bloodbath” are a piece of underground history. The production is in pure 80s style but very good and heavy; the guitar sound is always solid, followed by truly characteristical vocals. They are similar to scratches on the wall. Great. “Inverted Minds” is well balanced with an almost speed metal refrain.
The bass work on “Battle To The Last” is truly pounding while the song is more focused on classic metal riffage and quite fast tempo. The vocals here are fucking great. “Caligula” features great lead guitars works and chorus with some more melodic passages. To describe the absurdity of the war we have the great mid paced “They Need A War”, with the speed growing during the refrain while a track like “Locked” could destroy a skyscraper.
The title track has a mid paced beginning with always excellent bass sound. Then it turns to up tempo with catchy sounds and vocals. “Predetermined Destiny” is the pure thrash assault at the end of the album. The fast parts are perfectly and wisely alternated to some long and more melodic mid paced ones.
All in all, this is a true, sincere and old fashioned piece of thrash that must be rediscovered and cleaned up from the dusts of time.