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Better than Reign In Blood - 100%

Vim_Fuego, August 6th, 2004

What do you know about Dark Angel? The only thing many metal fans know of Dark Angel is their drummer Gene Hoglan has since pounded the skins for numerous other bands like Strapping Young Lad, Death and Testament.

Dark Angel were once the only band in the world who could scare the shit out of Slayer. Heavier, at times faster and more technical, and definitely darker than the Slaytanic ones, Dark Angel missed the bus to the relative big time by being too damn difficult for most thrash fans to handle. You see, there were none of the friendly riffs Metallica and their clones produced, no soaring or sing along vocals a la Anthrax or Helloween, and definitely no power ballads like "Fade To Black" or "Armed and Dangerous".

Instead, listeners are assaulted with a maelstrom of riffs, machine gun drumming and straightforward shouts punctuated with piercing screams. On first listen, it's a jarring, caustic blur, almost too daunting to consider a second airing. It's almost impossible to keep up with vocalist Don Doty, even when following the lyric sheet. So many riffs fly past it's impossible to take them all in first time. The drum patterns are what we now come to expect from Gene Hoglan– surprisingly complex for the speed he plays at. And the speed is utterly unrelenting. Each track seems to be faster than the one before.

Speed is also the band's undoing. While there's no doubt they were tight, they were just too fast and too heavy for 1986 production values. A lot of the riffs get lost in the mix because of a sound that is nowhere near thick enough. It gives the finished product a slightly watered down feel.

While Hoglan is now a hired gun of sorts, back in his Dark Angel days he proved himself an excellent songwriter, a rare thing for drummers especially in the 80s. He had a hand in the best tracks on the album, co–writing most tracks with guitarist Jim Durkin. Lyrically, he wrote what would have been 10 minute epics, or they would have been if the band played at a more casual tempo. At a time when the average thrash fare was comic book Satanism or over exaggerated violence, Hoglan was penning more thoughtful works. "The Burning Of Sodom" is a reworking of the biblical tale of the fabled city destroyed because of depravity and perversion, which would scare six shades of shit out of your Sunday school teacher. "Darkness Descends" is a tale of the end of the world, seeing nuclear holocaust as the biblical version of Armageddon. Just when you start to think the album is all bible stories, along comes "Hunger Of The Undead". It's a simple tale. A soul dies, but then finds out there's no heaven or hell, because there is no God. "Black Prophecies" takes an in–depth look at Nostradamus' prophecies, and "Death Is Certain (Life Is Not)" beat Metallica to the punch when it came to a mind trapped in an immobile, uncommunicative body.

If you think "Reign In Blood" is the final word in thrash metal, listen to this and be prepared to have the foundations on which that belief is built crumble.