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Bringing lightning and storm. - 80%

Diamhea, December 16th, 2016

White Skull's The Dark Age is an epic release by their standards, and might just be their best album. The entire band feels like they are in sharper form, honing the final product with melodic lethality and impressively frugal use of keyboards. The roiling morass of chugging distortion that propels the title track proffers a crushing first impression. GabarrĂ² is a charismatic face for the band to boot, although his accent is very distracting. The band's high propensity for quality riffage alongside these distinctive, yet certainly flawed vocals results in a sound redolent of Sacred Steel. It doesn't feel as paint-by-numbers as the band's later material. Tracks are hewn with ephemeral speed metal influence alongside the heavy/power tropes we are familiar with, so this should sit well with a wide audience.

Like with most of White Skull's material, it feels exactly like what it is: an Italian band trying to do their best German heavy metal impersonation, but (perhaps consciously) allowing much of that Italian power metal sense of excess and opulent melodicism to bleed through the rusted cogs of the Teutonic war machine proper. This results in a somewhat characteristic sound for these guys, with occasional shred-centric tangents sparking out of seemingly nowhere, and a triumphant, epic vibe that borders on Blind Guardian when the vocals are harmonized and layered effectively. To touch on the keyboards again, they are used as mere accentuation, and do take over during certain sections but always within wise context. Take "Grand Inquisitor" for instance, which rides out on a sweeping, grand orchestral motif. Certainly a riveting alternative to the alternative.

The riffs feel like they have one foot firmly rooted in the Germanic fare, so we get plenty of grimy, bottom-heavy punishment without much pretentious bloat at all. The Dark Age offers quite a bit with twelve tracks, but nothing particularly overstays its welcome, allowing the band to shift seamlessly in tone without sacrificing the record's coherent flow. And this dynamic flow proffers fisticutf-laden knockout blows aplenty, from the poignant pseudo-ballad "Maid of Orleans" that reminds me of the more tender moments on Rheingold to the speedily-picked gusto of "New Crusade," which like most of the tracks here has straight-up symphonic grandeur in spots. The vocals warble and croon with conviction but perhaps not enough technical merit to appease all listeners, so it is safe to say that they are the weakest point in the band's approach.

The Dark Age is White Skull's best album, released during the tail end of a time that brought us a lot of spectacular power metal, and these Italians earned the right to be uttered in the same breath as Grave Digger, Rebellion and others with this record alone. Double bass is accentuated in a more power metal fashion than the German fare, to say nothing of the layered vocals on refrains. So while harrowing aggression is not White Skull's strongest attribute, they feel like a viable second-string act on this album, one worth tracking down if you are a fan of the style.