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Blessed by the Morrigan - 90%

GuntherTheUndying, April 21st, 2011

Saddest thing about Darkest Era? Well, they'll immediately be herded into Primordial's pen by most based on a quick listen. While it's clear Darkest Era takes a lot of influence from their Irish comrades, "The Last Caress of Light" imprints something of a different niche that may catch a lot of listeners off guard, but there's no reason to get alarmed by Darkest Era's poignant approach to the folk-fluent metal isles. The album soars through eight massive chapters branded by myths and atmospheres of Celtic lore, referencing everything from the earth's final sundown to their favorite goddess of fertility, because every Celtic-based band ever needs to name a song after the Morrigan.

"The Last Caress of Light" is far more than clichés and stereotypes, however. Darkest Era uses the Primordial equation – long, epic songs characterizing Celtic folk melodies and driving riffs usually backed by some form of drumming typically found in one or more metal sub-genres – but with the blackened tint turned down for a jam-orientated, melodic approach more in tune with Iron Maiden or other traditional metal groups. Not that they don't dive into the occasional doom burst or tremolo riff every lunar cycle or so, of course. Overall though, Darkest Era is spot-on musically. The atmosphere they end up whirling is emotive and flourishing with more power than a titan's fiery haymaker, not to mention they remain consistently stable from start to finish.

The band hardly shifts from the formula linked from the opening scores of "The Morrigan," but Darkest Era makes up for it with great song writing brought to you by explosive hooks and uncanny addictiveness. "An Ancient Fire Burns" has a glorious chorus, and it overall sounds equally tremendous as the ethereal opener. “Heathen Burial” and “Visions of the Dawn" continue the crusade wonderfully, flexing Darkest Era’s strengths from side to side in an identical fashion, but still one that captivates the playing field. "Poem to the Gael" brings the wind-riding soulfulness to a halt with a wonderful folk number based on Krum's fantastic vocals and acoustic guitars before Darkest Era reaches the mountain's peak throughout the ending cut, an eleven-minute track gushing incredible riffs, melodies, and an otherworldly sense of atmosphere.

It takes some time to fully appreciate "The Last Caress of Light," but wow...what a gigantic, underrated experience it becomes once it settles into your soul, like a budding seed finally finding stability in loose soil. Darkest Era has something very special. The lowest point of this record would be hailed a crowning achievement had it been released by a metal group residing in the medium of substance; "The Last Caress of Light" really is that good. Darkest Era may not be up your neck of the woods, but definitely give it a shot if you enjoy music that picks semblance over heaviness, embrace over attitude and elegance over candor.

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The Dawn of a New Era - 90%

Memnarch, April 4th, 2011

There are a huge amount of bands in Ireland that are constantly vying to catch the eye of some bigwig metal exec hoping to propel them on to bigger and better things, some more deserving than others, but at the end of the day if you put in enough effort and get your name out there through whatever means necessary, if your motives are clean, then there's nothing stopping you.

Darkest Era have proved exactly that, through endless gigging every bar in the country and cementing themselves on some high calibre support slots throughout Europe, they caught the attention of the high rollers up in Metal Blade. That's not to say the fantastic demo The Journey Through Damnation didn't have any part to play in that, it certainly did, but your 'fantastic new awesome' demo release isn't worth the plastic it's recorded on if you don't put in the effort to 'get it out there' so to speak. I'm not naming names but there's many bands in Ireland who should take precedent from the sheer amount of blood, sweat and tears that got them into the position they are now. The fact they had a decent amount of exposure in Europe as early as the demo release, eventually culminating in a distribution deal with Northern Silence speaks volumes in itself.

One thing which seems to be completely unavoidable with Irish bands these days is the inevitable comparisons both musically and non-musically to Primordial. Maybe it's to do with what the media expects Irish metal to sound like, and it's a stereotype which can't and probably wont ever be shaken. It's everywhere and I'm sure most bands are sick of it, but with Darkest Era it is certainly justified to an extent so they might as well make the most of it, but they are much more than just a cheap Primordial knock off. The influences permeate from every nook and cranny throughout the album, whether its the classic Slough Feg approach to the guitar leads, the atavistic doomy atmosphere with which Primordial are synonymous to the traditional Irish folk music influence.

“The Morrigan” is one of two songs which survived the cut to make it onto The Last Caress of light from the demos, and just as well too, as it was the stand out track from The Journey Through Damnation. It's one of those songs that encapsulates the whole paradigm of everything metal is and should be, evocative, powerful and downright invigorating. With it's NWOBHM influenced guitar riffing and Krum's commanding vocal performance reinforced by a thunderous drum performance, you really couldn't ask for more. The monotony of the vocals are my only slight gripe, and remains an issue throughout the album, but it's only a minor issue at that, the sheer effort and vigour in the delivery more than make up for it.

This is the standard pretty much throughout the whole album, from the surging “Beneath the Frozen Sky” with its vocal lines bearing a striking resemblance to Storm Before Calm era Primordial to the desperation shrouded “Heathen Burial” to the eleven minute opus of “The Last Caress of Light Before the Dark”, a spine tingling journey of foreboding and anxiety, and one of those riffs at the midpoint which basically reaffirms why you began listening to metal in the first place. Utterly phenomenal. They even managed to fit in an acoustic number, “Poem to the Gael”, a gorgeous bleak introspective ballad of Irish melancholy with nothing but Krum and an acoustic guitar for the most part, almost like what Agalloch would sound like if they were Irish.

It's infectious, galloping folk metal, but without all the pretence and frills that only the Irish know how to do, and not a fiddle or tin whistle in sight. None of your saccharine and synthetic faux-folk tripe most of central Europe is peddling these days, it's music performed straight from the heart and with an unbound maturity which only shows just how far Darkest Era have come in these few short years. And long may it continue.