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Younger and definitely less accessible. - 81%

hells_unicorn, June 13th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2007, CD, Ulterium Records

Sometimes when divergent interests manifest within a band, the end result is either a shift in sound, a split in the line up, or the emergence of a parallel project. In the case of Darkwater, a fairly conventional progressive power metal outfit after the Images And Words mold, their existence seemed to come about by a combination of the second and third outcomes. Considering that this band is made up primarily of current and former members of Harmony, another Swedish band with a similar approach to merging power and progressive metal, and that the two projects were running parallel to each other for a couple years prior to their debut album Calling The Earth To Witness, one might be tempted to assume that Darkwater a mere carbon copy of Harmony that functions as an outlet for songs that didn't make the cut for the latter. Closer examination, however, reveals a very different picture, so much so that one can't help but notice that this project tries a bit too hard at times to make itself distinct.

In contrast to the two Harmony LPs that Darkwater's lead vocalist Henrik B├ąth appeared on, and even the follow up album by this project Where The Story Ends, there is a seemingly conscious effort at making things as elaborate as possible. It maintains a generally catchy and consonant character, but most of the songs on here tend to go longer and reach for that epic, intricate character that generally typified Dream Theater's sound when Kevin Moore was handling keyboard duties. This is particularly apparent during the keyboard solo sections, but even endures throughout the conventional sections where the keyboards play a more pronounced melodic role as well as an atmospheric foil to the off-beat grooves of the guitars and rhythm section. Even in the case of the generally straightforward yet long and involved first full length song "All Eyes On Me", the heavy degree of contrast between keyboard sounds and the general tendency of the rest of the instruments to act as one makes for a keyboard dominated affair, not withstanding its the generally heaviness.

To some degree, it could be stated that this album leans towards being less accessible than otherwise, if only because the general flow of the album is pretty ambiguous and most of the songs tend to wander around. Apart from the closing, semi-chorale closer "In My Dreams", everything sounds like multiple shorter songs combined together to build a series of eight to twelve minute extended compositions, and they tend to feel about as long as they are. But there is obviously no shortage of moments within these songs where things become quite enticing, particularly the recurring chorus of "Tallest Tree", which is about as memorable as any of the better songs heard on Dream Theater's Awake, and the climactic middle section of "Again" has no shortage of intricate twists and turns that captivate any ear hungry for a place where technique and good melodic hooks meet. But perhaps the best example of a brilliantly simple hook being surrounded by intricate noodling is the chorus of "Habit", which is easy to sing along with, yet functions as one extremely isolated catchy section in a veritable sea of moving parts.

Those who aren't to some degree already predisposed to liking heavily progressive metal that is orthodox in character (rather than quirky and avant garde) and comes in massive doses will probably have a hard time getting into this album, but anyone who went for the early explosion of progressive metal in the mid to late 1990s, both in Sweden and America should find this fairly agreeable. It's definitely about as ambitious as the seminal early works of Dream Theater, and faithful to the point of occasional imitation in the case of the lead guitar and keyboard work. The only thing that comes off as being a tad bit static is Henrik's vocals, which are generally a purely crooning tenor that is comparable to his early work with Harmony, if maybe a tad less commanding. It's maybe a step down in terms of overall strength to its successor, though from a technical standpoint, this is definitely the most ambitious thing to come out of the Harmony/Darkwater crowd over their now 15 year history.