Joined: 30 Jan 2003
|Posted: Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:15 pm Post subject: DARK ANGEL - DARKNESS DESCENDS
|DARK ANGEL - DARKNESS DESCENDS
(Combat Records, 1986)
"A lot of people seem to have problems in throwing a tag on us so we just say, OK, just call us 'Caffeine Metal', because we have so much ENERGY!" Gene Hoglan, drummer, Metal Forces interview, 1986.
On more than one occasion I have argued that Dark Angel's Darkness Descends is perhaps one of a few albums released in the mid/late '80's which could equal Slayer's Reign in Blood for sheer speed and face-shredding thrash-ness. Peers have argued that there are others which can claim that title, including Possessed's debut, Blessed Death's Destined for Extinction, Sadus' Chemical Exposure and Kreator's Pleasure to Kill. All superb and chaotically insane albums in their own right, but DD pips them all at the post. And according to Gene Hoglan in the 1998 linear notes of the CD re-release, here's why:
"Blistering full force metal played at MACH speed with precise, tight (well almost) riffing, haulin' double-bass and the singer sounds like he's gonna die! Christ, what more can (could?) you ask for?"
Before Gene Hoglan joined Dark Angel in December 1984 he was playing in a band called Wargod, which apparently was not his metal of choice. Hoglan was looking for something heavier, so when original DA drummer Jack Schwartz (who played on DA's 1984 debut We Have Arrived) was asked to leave due to musical differences - they wanted to go heavier, Schwartz didn't - Hoglan was asked to join and readily accepted. Completing the line-up of Don Doty on vocals, guitarists Eric Meyer and Jim Durkin and eventually Mike Gonzalez on bass (who replaced Rob Yahn who recorded the album) this decision transformed Dark Angel into the powerhouse they became.
Recording began on April 14th, 1986, the day Reagan bombed Libya, Hoglan gleefully recalls. Produced by the band and Randy Burns (famed producer of Seven Churches, Peace Sells, Game Over, Dead Brain Cells, Scream Bloody Gore and Extreme Aggression to name but a few) and recorded at both Music Grinder and Mad Dog Studios the difference between DD and We Have Arrived is staggering. Where ... Arrived is an ordinary, for-its-time metal record (I know there are some who rate the mini-album highly but this reviewer does not) DD is light-years ahead in terms of production, musicianship and song structure, not to mention ferocity.
Title track and album opener Darkness Descends (about the Dark Judges from 2000AD's Judge Dredd) rumbles from the speakers with menacing tone, Hoglan's drums immediately thumping in-your-face and *loud*. This mini-intro, complete with Slayer-esque feedback which gives way to a riff of epic proportions suddenly sits up and lets fly around the 1.35 mark. Speed, speed and more speed; this was the aural equivalent of your jaw hitting the floor and going 'Whoa ...' When Doty's vocals kick in, he screaming the chorus 'This city is guilty/The crime is life/The sentence is death/Darkness Descends', you almost believe him.
Side A of this album is simply astounding. There are only four songs, but what songs they are - the devastating title track, The Burning of Sodom (complete with almost blast-beats from Hoglan), Hunger of the Undead (another fast 'un that boasts an incredible solo duel from Durkin and Meyer) and then Merciless Death, which is just that; originally appearing on their debut, despite the soft bass intro this is by far the fastest song on an album of already fast songs, and on first listen will decimate the unprepared. Oh my God this song is just insane - 'We'll give you merciless/we'll give you merciless/we'll give you merciless/we'll give you merciless - death' and then that crushing solo followed by Doty's cackling laughter. Seriously, what's not to like?
"... thrash is what we wanna play and it's what we're always gonna play." Jim Durkin.
Side B boasts 3 songs. The first, Death is Certain (Life is Not) tackles the subject of euthanasia, where drummer Hoglan comes into his own as main lyricist with 90% of the lyrics attributed to him. Said Hoglan, "You see, I've always felt that I had something to say lyrically so I'm not going to waste a DA song on typical mindless, hell, death, blood, kill, satan, etc ..." The song itself pounds along, and by no means the fastest track on the record it's certainly almost the most mature, not to mention heaviest.
Black Prophecies deserves special mention here, for it is this track which set the template for future Dark Angel material. Clocking over 8-minutes long with lyrics that read like a thesis on Nostradamus, DA's follow-up albums, Leave Scars and Time Does Not Heal respectively are chock full of epic numbers, they rarely writing shorter songs ala Hunger of the Undead. Musically, where Side A is akin to cowering in a blood-and-mud filled trench with bullets flying overhead Black Prophecies is the Tiger tank grinding towards you.
And then there's album closer, Perish in Flames, yet another blaster, Hoglan's drums all over this, riffs galore, screaming vocals and howling solos, and yet, inexplicably the thing is as catchy as fuck. Absolute thrash heaven.
The album cover was almost a first for a thrash metal band as it displayed a photo rather than the standard painting. This was a theme DA continued with their following albums. However, Ed Repka, the go-to guy for thrash metal album covers designed Dark Angel's famous logo.
Released November 17th, 1986 on Combat Records, the press at the time unfairly compared them to Slayer, but as I mentioned in a previous review most thrash bands was either a Metallica or Slayer clone back then. If Dark Angel had released another DD then yes, one could accurately call them Slayer copyists, but with Black Prophecies they had found their niche and ran with it. Surprisingly, Kerrang! was stunned by what they heard and their 4-and-a-quarter K review showed this. "Slayer lock horns with Cryptic Slaughter and its murder all the way," they wrote. Truer words were never written.
When all is said and done I still maintain that Darkness Descends is one of a few albums (if not *the* album) to rival Reign in Blood for sheer speed and viciousness. Side A alone goes head-to-head with anything on Slayer's most famous record. Granted, Slayer had the musicianship and song writing experience under their bullet belt, yet where DA was a relatively 'new' band when Hoglan injected some much need caffeine into their veins, in the 2-years between albums they recorded something startling visceral, something special.
And 25-years later, Darkness Descends still stands on the shoulders of giants.
Hunger of the Undead live:
Last edited by Bacteria13 on Sat Mar 03, 2012 5:56 am; edited 1 time in total
Joined: 04 Feb 2000
Location: South of Voivodland
|Posted: Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:37 pm Post subject:
|I wanted to add a few notes about Darkness Descends:
The album was reissued in 1998 by Century Media.
This reissue includes two bonus tracks:
8. Merciless Death (live) (3:44)
9. Perish in Flames / Darkness Descends (live) (8:30)
Both tracks are taken from "The Ultimate Revenge 2" Combat concert recordings.
10 years later , the album was again reissued by Century Media in 2008, subtitled "The Black Edition", in an oversized digipack containing 8 bonus tracks:
Live at the Trocadero, Philadelphia, October 23 1988 (The Ultimate Revenge 2 show) (the order for this portion is wrong on the cover, correct order below)
8. The Burning of Sodom [3:19]
9. Death Is Certain (Life Is Not) [3:37]
10. Merciless Death [3:44]
11. Perish in Flames [5:05]
12. Darkness Descends [3:21]
Live at the Country Club, Reseda, CA, April 22, 1989 (Live Scars show)
13. We Have Arrived [3:55]
14. The Burning of Sodom [3:29]
15. Death Is Certain (Life Is Not) [3:53]
The live Tracks prove without a doubt, that Dark Angel were one of the heaviest, fastest bands in existence, back in 1988-89.
I've only heard two other bands from that period that could match DA's intensity, namely early Slayer circa 1984-85 and proto-grindcore pioneers Repulsion.
The insanely fast drumming, the wall of noise guitars and schizophrenic vocals make this album a metal classic of unparalled intensity.
"I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder." -Werner Herzog