Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Darkend - The Canticle Of Shadows (2016)

Darkend are a synth/black act from Italy, relasing their third album with the help of four well-known and respected frontmen on guest vocals. It's much easier for artists to provide guestwork these days with the advent of file transferring, so let's revel in that for a minute. Alright, we're done reveling. Aside from a new addition to the band in bassist Vinterskog and the return of original (and longtime) keyboardist Antarktica, (also plays the grand piano and handles orchestrations) very little has changed from the original formula here and it amounts to a performance by which I could only describe as “classically fierce.” From the very opening in “Clavicula Salomonis” I'm already being hammered into submission due to Valentz's drumming. My only reprieve is in Antarktica's calm piano compositions, yet I still feel like I'm being beaten to death in a concert hall. The performance erupts into an even greater torment when “Of The Defunct” comes in with it's Filthy vocal inspirations and even Mayhem frontman Atilla Csihar who leaves his pteradactlyl scream at home this time around. I'll add that he sounds much better without it, but that is just a personal opinion on the matter. Don't kill the critic. Antarktica throws the keyboards right into those Gothic organs we're all so familiar with, as guitarists Ashes and Nothingness work together to perform an unexpected ending solo. The piece is kind of snipped afterwards (something I've never cared for) but I'll live through it.

The record is actually quite long due to the sheer length of each piece, with the shortest being “Ill Vello Delle Ombre” which features Labes C. Necrothytus of the Castlevania-esque doom act, Abysmal Grief. You may remember my review of their last album Strange Rites Of Evil, in which they were heavily praised. The piece in question actually feels a bit more airy than some of the other cuts on the disc, actually dropping down heavily in tempo to bring an atmosphere that might fit doom a little better. While the band's frontman Animae (ex-Artifact, do you remember them? Very underrated act) performs a very menacing and meaningful approach similar to Rotting Christ's Sakis Tolis on most of the material that he is featured in, I do find that the repetition of “Make you all pay!” feels just a little bit immature for the release. I'm imagining a sort of cartoon supervillain thwarted by the Justice League or Avengers reciting the line over and over again, which sort of kills the feel and impact of the song for me. But on a record that isn't afraid to get saxy (yes, there's a little bit of saxophone influence here) I don't feel that there's anything wrong with that level of experimentation. You see, the band seem to be open-minded enough to throw almost anything into their mostly Goth-tinged synth/black, which can sometimes come out sounding like Crade Of Filth or Anorexia Nervosa with a better vocal element for most people. The implementation of choirs continues to convey that feel, especially doubled with the violin in the Niklas Kvarforth (Shining) featured piece, “A Passage Towards Abysmal Caverns.”

There's a nearly spoken vocal element on “Sealed In Black Moon and Sun” which does take me out of the song a bit. It's obvious that they're reciting what seems to be an operatic performance, but I'm just not feeling it as well as some of the other songs. Regardless, I'm sure that some of you will find something in the piece, which once again features Csihar. At the end of the disc we have “Congressus Cum Daemone” and it actually features the man I've said Animae sounds so much like, which is probably why they've morphed his voice a little here to make it sound a bit more demonic compared to the legendary frontman, even though there is a section where both use their normal tone and it sounds a bit interesting. That being said, the record goes completely out with one more awesome solo effort by Ashes and Nothingness to be finished off with some frightening bells. There is a bonus cut on the disc which is actually a cover from an Italian black metal act called Fearbringer, and it's also longer than any single piece on the entire record. Oddly enough, the cover is not quite as long as it's original version, which was eleven minutes. I think that fans of the Italian “Fenice Nera” movement will be most delighted by this one, and it doesn't feature any of the guests vocalists either. I do not personally have the track, so you'll have to track it down somewhere or purchase the limited edition digipack for that particular piece.

Having given the record a thorough listen, I feel that there are several hits and misses, although I think it's safe to say that Darkend are going in the right direction. Bringing back their orginal keyboardist, pianist and orchestra guy really helped their sound quite a bit as well. They were going for something of a dark opera and they achieved that rather well with this release. While I have no idea what happened to The Grand Guignol – Book Two, this will certainly serve as a solid second helping for fans looking for more of the same great sound that they enjoyed a few years before. If it's not broke, don't fix it – and that's exactly what Darkend did with The Canticle Of Shadows. Anyone these days can make gothic black metal stuff, but it takes a lot of real know-how to make the kind of open-minded gothic black metal stuff that these Italians have crafted here. Worth a listen.

(13 Tracks, 48:00)


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