Darkane are one of the forgotten bands of the Swedish metal scene. Rarely do you hear their name appear in a conversation about the country’s world class melodeath establishment next to At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity or Soilwork. Repeated changes of vocalist, catastrophic equipment damage, health concerns and personal issues always seem to spoil their momentum. The three albums Nuclear Blast released between 2001 and 2005 were the height of the band’s creative output, but their latest record is the first for nine years and seventh of their career. Fans of the group’s 1999 debut will be pleased to learn that original vocalist, Lawrence Mackrory, retains the microphone after returning for 2013’s The Sinister Supremacy, but what can Darkane do to rejuvenate a sub-genre that peaked as long ago as the mid-2000s?
The Swedes will challenge your expectations when you hear opener, ‘Inhuman Spirit’, with its surprise black metal intro and pulsating keyboard strings providing a transient vibe that melodic death metal bands often avoid. Mackrory’s vocal range is far wider than most of his peers, finding its force in a power metal paradigm before coming down a couple of semitones for the chorus. The guitar rhythms of Christofer Malmström and Klas Ideberg operate in the borderlands between thrash and death metal, like the classic Death approach on Human, yet you’ll also hear a Strapping Young Lad intensity ripping through your earphones. The hand of Chuck Schuldiner is the main inspiration for the standout single, ‘Awakening’, which also demonstrates an astounding double-bass pedal technique from drummer, Peter Wildoer. Hostile caveman vocals take precedence here before switching to a husky baritone chorus. It’s clear the band have not ignored metal trends from the last decade, either. Check out the militaristic precision of the syncopated chug riffs as they threaten a breakdown of sorts and deliver it like Parkway Drive. They go for the same dynamic effect in ‘Embrace the Flames’ and do nothing to disguise their homage to Metallica’s iconic double-kick groove in ‘One’ on their song, ‘Mansion of Torture’.
The tired tropes of melodic death metal are seldom in sight on the first half of Inhuman Spirits. ‘Conspiracies of the Flesh’ is what thrash should have sounded like in the 1990s if the bands of that era were not so scared of grunge and nu metal. You can hear classic Vio-lence running through the rapid guitar rhythms as Jörgen Löfberg’s bass lines rumble underneath the distortion like the peat bogs of the Swedish wetlands. Only on ‘Inhaling Mental Chaos’ do they present a forgettable melodeath sortie when we want Megadeth, yet the second half of the LP sails into the At the Gates/In Flames territory like a ship in need of a temporary repair stop at the next port. This is fine if you like melodic death metal, but the dual guitar extravaganza of ‘A Spiral to Nothing’ and ‘The Great Deceiver’ offers nothing new. No doubt, they’ll sound good live and have no disenchanting effect on your ears, but neither do they get the adrenaline flowing, apart from the deliberate groove metal riff in the middle eight of the latter. It seems Darkane put their strongest tracks at the beginning of Inhuman Spirits. The Dream Theatre-esque prog metal of ‘The Quintessence of Evil’ would be much more effective if they didn’t drag out the chorus. They almost redeem the song with a welcome indulgence of orgasmic pitch bends in the guitar solo, but this track fails to reach its true potential.
A long hiatus works against most metal bands other than Tool, but Darkane remind us that they still have the passion and the craftsmanship after nine years away from the scene. Inhuman Spirits can be considered a triumph for this reason alone even if the second part of the album struggles to match the awesome power of the first half.
Release Date: 24/06/2022
Record Label: Massacre Records
Standout tracks: Awakening, Embrace the Flames, Mansion of Torture
Suggested Further Listening: Spirits of Fire – Embrace the Unknown (2022), Death – Individual Thought Patterns (1993), Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse: “The Settlers Saga Pt.1” (2022)