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Aplenty Decimation - 85%

Tanuki, July 14th, 2017

With discomfort I walked down desolate streets lined with grey slush and burning barrels encircled by vagrants. One thought pestered me with every step: Is finding a gem in this neighborhood even possible, let alone worth it? My heart dropped as I felt a heavy hand pivot me by the shoulder. By the time I faced him, a stout man already had the flaps of his trench coat wide open. "Got some quality merchandise here," he uttered. Looking down and feeling thankful not to see genitals, I instead saw his coat bedecked with USPM cassettes I had never heard of. "Any Jag Panzer?" I asked cautiously. The man's eyes trailed down in silent contemplation before extracting a cassette. "Next best thing."

Prodigy's As Darkness Reigns is an underground gem. And I mean really underground. With the internet, even USPM's best-kept secrets like Glacier and Dark Age can be found with ease, but Prodigy? Even the internet had a difficult time keeping up with this multi-aliased late-arriver, waltzing into the USPM scene a year after Symbol of Salvation and almost a decade after Ample Destruction. 1992 was an unbecoming year for metal, with thrash metal compromised, hair metal obliterated, and USPM soldiering on the best it could. Regardless of gumption, an independently released cassette like As Darkness Reigns didn't stand much of a chance.

Which is a shame, because this demo tore my massive balls off. For a start, frontman William Wren is a jaw-dropping powerhouse of a vocalist, catapulting vibrato howls into the heavens. Wren wastes no time before unleashing his best cries in the opener 'No Faith for the Liar', with the emotion of Midnight and the range of Halford. Despite this album covering a phenomenal amount of bases - from the slaughterous powerthrash assault of the title track, to the beautiful neoclassical proggishness in 'Knights of the Round Table - Wren is simply a chameleon that can adapt to any style and bestow upon it the perfect amount of emotion and energy.

He's helped in this endeavor by the chameleonic nature of the songs themselves. After the acoustic intro of 'As Darkness Reigns', guitarist Kent Smedley comes out swinging heavy-fisted haymakers; thick, supplement-ridden thrash riffs that wouldn't sound out of place in Twisted Into Form. And after you're done headbanging to that? In the time it takes to blink, a Becker/Friedman-flavor of neoclassical shredding is upon you, followed by a blistering rendition of Bach's 'Toccata in D'. This rendition, I might add, drinks from the skull of Cirith Ungol's. Sorry - some things must be said.

And furthermore, I'm happy to report this hour-long locomotive comprised of endless thrash, neoclassical, and USPM boxcars isn't derailed by a dogshit production. While obviously not the cleanest recording in the world either, this demo is free from the "buried in wet sand" sound of other power metal demos I can think of. Guitars sound rich and full, drums very rarely spike the audio, and hell, even bass enthusiasts aren't left twiddling their thumbs, with thorough basslines granted by progressive and equitable songwriting.

Most importantly of all, though, is the clarity of Wren's incredible pipes. If you want to hear what the paragon of USPM sounds like, not from betwixt the lips of Midnight or Tyrant, As Darkness Reigns is an absolute imperative. If I may assume the role of a modern metal record company? To be a proper metalhead, you need to listen to this obscure demo tape you've never heard of. Seriously, though.

Dark, Cold, Aggressive Power Metal - 82%

Zod, August 5th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Massacre Records (Reissue under the name "Oracle")

Oracle is a little-known band that features some previous members of bands like Mystic Force, Iced Earth, and Megadeth. On their one and only release "As Darkness Reigns", they play a dark form of progressive power metal with some crunchy rhythms.

The first thing that struck me about this disc when I put it on is its cold, scooped-out production, sounding a bit similar to "Cowboys From Hell". This band is competent, possesses their own cool style, and plays with plenty of enthusiasm and energy. William Wren (you may know him from Mystic Force) is a talented vocalist whose performance here is peppered with a lot of high screams. The guitar solos here are pretty unique, sounding like neoclassical pieces turned into electric guitar solos . One noteworthy example of this is on the title track, a guitar solo sounding more like Bach than Malmsteen or his imitators. Even though Oracle has two former members of Iced Earth, they sound very little like them. My favorite track on here by far is “Nightmares” because it is the most powerful and has the catchiest vocal melody.

I subtracted some points over a few issues. First of all, let me be clear that I don't believe any album is perfect. I believe there is always room for improvement for musicians to strive for and my rating reflects that belief. At 9 songs, 61 minutes, "As Darkness Reigns" can be quite a chore to make it through. Relatively pleasant overall presentation but not much rhyme or reason to the songwriting or arrangements. Most songs seem overlong. Aside from perhaps the vocalist, there aren’t really a lot of standout performances. Corny lyric alert: “there is a knight in everyone”.

"As Darkness Reigns" would probably appeal to people who are fans of "Cowboys From Hell"-era Pantera, Lethal, "No Exit"-era Fates Warning, or Mystic Force. This is hard to find but if you consider yourself a big fan of the aforementioned groups, it would probably be worth your while to seek out this disc.

The Pinnacle of the USPM Movement - 100%

DeathRiderDoom, July 26th, 2012

I've been meaning to write about this gem for years. Before getting on with the nitty gritty, this thing is something i've regarded as one of the best examples of the entire USPM movement. It's just pure excellence. For us elitist USPM snobs this thing really is the holy grail; obscure, furiously emotive, wailing, drenched in a web of thrashing riffs, blaring in solos, drenches in gorgeously deep lyrics, with destroyingly empassioned vocals, complex in structure, bursting with creativity, uniqueness and promise – a rare demo, a relatively unknown band – this thing has it all; basically the perfect USPM release, and sadly, yet another case of “why the fuck did this band never do anything else?”. A killer demo for so many reasons, Orcacle's 'As Darkness Reigns' is a supreme cult USPM demo tape which in my opinion stands on the very top shelf of the entire movement, along with records by Graven Image, Liege Lord, Crimson Glory, et al.

The tone and overarching mentality on this slice of metallic fury is just perfect. Oracle oozes with furious, girlish banshee wailing vocals, crying out in the night, while complex riffs burst out at you in a million different, progressing directions, all interlocking perfectly. The music has the passionate perfection of your favourite emotive Iron Maiden songs, with the musical dexterity to match, the raw fury of your favourite ripping US powerthrash bands, the lyrical and vocal talents of your favourite titans, and the shredding technical domination of bands like Holy Terror. I don't know how they came up with such gorgeously intricate, lengthy songs, but 'No Faith for the Liar' is just a masterpiece of brilliantly crafted USPM – it has everything. God knows how many riffs, and an immeasurable weight of thrash fury, crying vocals and pounding drums but it typifies the band's excellent and perfect USPM sound. While I'm talking vibes here, Oracle just has that perfect feel you get from top edge USPM. So fucking Floridian. I envisage tropical rain covered, glistening wide streets, reflecting neon, in a palm laden, leafy, and freshly built affluent suburb of Miami metro, where badass, sexy rebels in tight jeans and leather jackets craft out uproarious, unbridled US power metal with so much genuine flair it seems effortless to themselves.

If we're talking tracks – any of them on this thing just rip. Each is another chapter in a journey back through time to an 80s Florida where white dudes, in a Maiden and 'Ryche inspired fervor set about blazing a typhoonish storm of their own with soaring, banshee wailing power metal odysseys. 'Paradise' is a sombre, crying, yet uplifting epic piece. 'Knights of the Round Table' is a stupidly ripping, fast paced blazer with tough vocals, onslaughts of drum fills, domineering riffs and a fucking stupidly ampingly tough vibe. If you're a metal fan, and you're feeling like an upbeat, go to song, this one rips. The gang vocals and everything just rip. The reverb vocals, the riffs, the structure in general are so gorgeous they make me want to cry. It's honestly ridiculous that people could make music so inspired and perfect. All of the songs are pretty much as good though.

As an album this one offers everything, too. The flow is there and consistency is an obsession, it would seem.. Some USPM bands write a real boss number and then some other passable, head nodding ones, but this thing is a belter where domination seems to comes easy. The title track is a nice powerishly themed beauty of over 8 minutes, but you don't even notice it. The whole time you're just shedding tears and and pumping fists to the beauty. 'Prisoner' is also 8 mins. All the songs manage to maintain the exemplary standard the whole way through, while not sounding in any way disinterested, or lacking in enthusiasm. Most of the songs are winding, complex, screamingly relentless, passionate rippers of considerable length. Even their obligatory ballad is very listenable – invoking teen romance with pretty acoustic guitars and longings of yesteryear.

This is one of the best records of the USPM movement. In a genre within a genre, consisting of snobbish, rad metalheads who ask for nothing but the most dominating and obscure, dominate US Power, this one is surely the holy grail. When listening to this thing I get the same feeling as listening to Vicious Rumors, Crimson Glory, Liege Lord and other top notch executors. Sounds wise i'd say it's Oliver Magnum/Graven Image/Halifax/Powerlord. There is a lot of thrashy edge here, but we're fairly safely in white collar territory. I'm a massive fan of the sub genre that is Floridian US power, and this thing is exemplary of said. It evokes imagery of the scene, and is drenched in passion. Everything is perfect. You cannot ask for a better demo from this genre, and any fan of old school metal who doesn't getting it is a total poser who needs to leave the hall. There is only so much verbal fellatio I can give this record without spewing pages of intricate notes no one will ever read. This thing fucking rips.