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Pleasing box ticker - 75%

we hope you die, September 15th, 2020

Boasting some interesting clientele, Darkened are a death metal…super-group? Well, maybe a notable-clientele group. Although it’s good to see Andy Whale back behind the kit in a more interesting outfit than the lacklustre Memoriam. And, if reliving the magic of Bolt Thrower is the aim, then Darkened are a far more successful project in that regard. But the similarity does not extend much further than collecting together ultra-basic atonal riffs and building them into an extended motif of bludgeoning narratives; giving them a shelf-life far beyond what such simple components would normally allow. On this rock-solid foundation, lead guitar work – either primitively aggressive or soaring and epic – is able to fill in the melodic gaps.

To further tempt comparisons to Bolt Thrower the mix is reminiscent of ‘…For Victory’, with heavy nods to Swedish death metal. The drums sound triggered, but in this context it works as a consistent blast of artillery and machine gun fire. Whale’s subtle shifts from double-bass pounding to simple yet effective fills provides a strong foundation; one that still offers a few shifts in tempo capable of catching a listener with an ear pointed at the rhythm section off guard. Vocals offered by Gord Olson are consistently mid-range for death metal, with articulation that offers a clear view into the lyrics even on first listen. They follow the main arc of this music which points towards Sweden but retains some no-nonsense elements of old school British grind with a strong melodic core.

As the album progresses we are treated to much the same formula but with layers and complexity built into the riffs as they introduce slow tremolo picked sections, and Whale shifts into d-beats (not something seen very often on vintage Bolt Thrower). This of course further invokes comparisons to classic Swedish death metal, but Darkened hint at greater ambition in their framing of each track and attempt to construct a longer view of these compositions. This becomes apparent by the time ‘Cage of Flesh’ kicks in, which opens with dirt simple melodic doom metal before picking into a mid-paced ear pounding of slow, epic death metal. A more complex Asphyx would be a worthy allegory as the tempos are just too driving for us to consider it death/doom proper, and there are some noteworthy leads that completely take over the progression of the track as the drama builds.

Most of the faster tracks follow a similar pattern, albeit in micro form. This means that ‘Kingdom of Decay’ ultimately makes for a pleasing box-ticker of an album for any fans of the basic variants in death metal. It’s what I would have hoped and expected of Memoriam when news of a Bolt Thrower follow-up act hit town in the wake of the tragic death of Martin Kearns. But sadly, that project, whilst not an abject failure, felt more like a bargain basement tribute act. Such is the nature of projects defined by their past, even before the writing process has begun, and, as is apparent, experienced clientele are no insurance against mediocrity. But Darkened succeed where Memoriam failed, in keeping the spirit of Bolt Thrower circa ‘…For Victory’ alive, but exhibiting a pronounced character of its own.

Originally published at Hate Meditations