Spectral Darkwave – Live Fire Exorcise


London’s strangest sci-fi metal experiment, Spectral Darkwave, enhanced their reputation for categorical defiance last year with their remarkable At Outer Dark album. Part doom metal, part symphonic metal and grounded in the creativity of Devin Townsend and the imagination of Dr Who, there’s nothing in the contemporary metal scene that sounds like Spectral Darkwave. It may explain why they remain unknown to many when they should be familiar to most. This band bring the fun back into metal without compromising its earnestness.

Spectral Darkwave unleashed their magnificent 2021 album onto the world (or at least Hertfordshire) with a launch show at Hitchin’s Club 85 on Friday October 8. They were so impressed by the energy and excitement of the evening, that they decided to release it as a live record. Here we are, ten months later, with a set drawn entirely from At Outer Dark and an audience with fond memories of a night to remember. The instrument separation of ‘731’ speaks volumes of the attention to detail in the live mix of this record. Listen how the blockbuster death-doom and sinister vocal abrasions of Steve Kennedy lend a muscular presence to the inter-planetary expeditions. “Let’s play some horrible doom with elephants in,” declares Kennedy at the beginning of ‘The March of the Sses’. His eloquent Bond villain accent belies a malevolent attack of bass-trombone flourishes and mid-tempo thrash guitars. Have you heard a better use of a sampled elephant roar since Peter Gabriel’s iconic ‘Sledgehammer’?

“So, it’s time for the doomiest of doom to settle into these long notes, mother-fuckers,” says the frontman, like Orson Welles addressing a room full of film critics. He refers to ‘The First Church of Chaos’, with its astral doom metal pulse and deceptive complexity. You’ll feel like you’re descending the steps of a spacecraft with the surface of the moon just yards in front of you. Celtic Frost fans will hope Triptykon’s next album can produce a moment like this that captures 2001: A Space Odyssey in such metallic splendour. ‘The Last Red Hypergiant’ is what Hollywood would get if they resurrected The Mummy franchise and asked a symphonic doom band to compose its theme tune. ‘A Toll is Due’ sounds better in the studio, where the synth hooks are sharper and easier to discern, but this live rendition still reminds you that the death metal snarl in the chorus could be from the might of Septicflesh. Fans of British pop trivia might be inclined to hear Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Tsunami’ in the note choices of the synthesisers, but this is a ghoulish interpretation from the mind of Wes Craven. The basslines drip with the blood and sweat of machine operators working the overtime shift for a tyrant master.

As a band that dwell in the world of cult sci-fi, it’s somewhat ironic that Spectral Darkwave should find themselves as a cult choice among England’s metal scene. Set closer, ‘At Outer Dark’, is a reminder that this band mix Death with macabre rhythms and playful verses. Their music mirrors that slow moment of self-realisation when you learn something that will change your life forever.

England has an abundance of creative metal bands that exist on the periphery of scenes that have yet to form. Like Ritual and The Chronicles of Manimal and Samara, Spectral Darkwave could be the leading force for something new and exciting if people give them a chance to demonstrate their skills as musical cartographers.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 30/06/2022

Record Label: Occidental Records

Standout tracks: The March of the Sses, The First Church of Chaos, A Toll is Due

Suggested Further Listening: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (2014), Septicflesh – Modern Primitive (2022), The Devin Townsend Project – Z² (2014)