Spectral Darkwave – At Outer Dark


London trio, Spectral Darkwave, are a curious proposition. The band members assume character names and dress like anti-heroes from a graphic novel issued by DC Comics. They also play a colourful version of symphonic death-doom that has no precedent in heavy music. Trying to categorise the group’s sophomore effort is like explaining the concept of The Matrix to your eight-year-old nephew – it’s a challenge you must not shirk.

Perhaps the only predictable thing about At Outer Dark is that it starts with the melodramatic blurb of a reimagined 1950s b-movie for a post-Covid world. But the action-hero doom metal that follows on the excellent ‘731’ is like Devin Townsend grinding on the chunky downstrokes and subjugating his microphone with the trademark guttural menace we all love. Vocalist, Steve ‘Arch-Kakoph’ Kennedy, handles the guitar duties on this record and wastes no opportunity to beef up his narrative with crunchy metallic thrash grooves and pinch harmonic fills. But listen below the surface, and you’ll hear a kaleidoscope of sci-fi keyboards and sinister string arrangements. Nobody sounds like this.

‘The March of the Sses’ and ‘The First Church of Chaos’ are worthy of Triptykon and Septicflesh in the way their macabre symphonic reach makes you feel a foot taller and ready to cut through your enemies with superhuman strength. Danny Elfman’s film scores are just as influential as the might of Tom G. Warrior on the former; the latter is epic sci-fi metal with an eastern woodwind section and brooding bass trombone. A glance at the cover art for the album shows a graphic illustration of the band members fighting off the unseen evil creatures of the world. This is a good way to think of Spectral Darkwave – they immerse their music in a parallel world of sinister villains and set their audio at overly dramatic levels of big-budget action. The gothic metal of ‘The Last Red Hyper Giant’ captures that moment in the blockbuster film where the monster emerges from underneath the ground and upends a railway track as the human bystanders look on in shock and awe. Every song has a cinematic quality to it. ‘The Founding of Man’ is that scene in Independence Day when the millenarian partygoers come under the overpowering light of the colonising spaceships and stare up in fear and wonderment. You’ve got to admire the intricate orchestral arrangements powering the palm-muted guitar riffs. This is serious art with a sense of humour, much like the Devin Townsend Project’s Ziltoid the Omniscient.

If harmonic minor death-doom is your thing, you’re in for a treat here. Indiana Jones receives a metallic makeover for ‘A Season of Abyssal Screams’, conjuring up all manner of cruel ceremonies and human sacrifices from lost civilisations and alien worlds. You’ll think Spectral Darkwave are writing the soundtrack for the next series of Stranger Things on ‘A Toll is Due’. Any metal band wondering how to mix Dr Who with Between the Buried and Me should take note – this is how you do it. The sound is spooky but adventurous, the dynamics heavy and grinding.

Many bands find their niche on their second album, but Spectral Darkwave already had theirs from the first note of their 2015 debut. On At Outer Dark, they push things further and explore new frontiers. The way the last two minutes of the closing title track utilise Black Sabbath and a blood-thirsty spoken word narrative will impress you as much as their incorporation of the classic Therapy? single, ‘Stories’, into the last two minutes of action. It’s a strange decision to give your royalties to another band on an original composition, but nothing about Spectral Darkwave is normal.

The Londoners show once again that they exist in their own world but welcome you with open arms if you’re ready to slay the pernicious creatures among us. Here come the Men in Black…

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 08/10/2021

Record Label: Occidental Records

Standout tracks: 731, The First Church of Chaos, A Toll is Due

Suggested Further Listening: Devin Townsend Project – Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007), Terravoid – Ectogenesis EP (2021), Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010)