written by Elpida Baphomet & Giorgos Tsekas
At the time when the war between the extreme sound and poser/glam was raging in America, at the time when hair sprays battled with bulletbelts and ripped jeans fought against the panty hoses and leopard tights, all of a sudden, a panzer named “Darkness Descends” came out of nowhere.
“Darkness Descends” is the second album Dark Angel released in November 1986 via Combat Records on 12” vinyl format. Most of us, though, have obtained the re-release of the record via Century Media, which has as a bonus two live – recorded tracks, “Merciless Death” and “Perish in Flames / Darkness Descends”. This was Gene Hoglan’s first and Don Doty’s last album with Dark Angel. Nonetheless, the band s in great shape both in song – composition and the way they deliver. As a record, it’s much more brutal than (the very good, indeed) “We Have Arrived” at all levels, something that will keep on going with Don Doty’s substitution by Ron Rinehart for the next two albums; “Leave Scars” (1989) and “Time Does Not Heal” (1991) which are even more aggressive. Doty had been substituted by Ron Rinehart since 1987 already and Dark Angel’s first release with Ron was the incredible “Ultimate Revenge II”, in which Death, Forbidden, Faith or Fear and Raven had participated and haunted our young memories.
“Darkness Descends” is a record rather difficult to digest. The first time you listen to it, you feel like a huge anvil suddenly drops on your head, like the one falling on Coyote’s head in every episode of “The Road Runner Show”. In the next two or three hearings, you’ll feel tangled, as you won’t fully understand what’s being played or believe that the record’s sound is smothered. Don’t feel bad, it happened to all of us. A few hearings later, you’ll get it. As soon as you listen to a riff or a 5-second bit, you’ll screams “That’s Dark Angel. Dude!” Based on the music industry’s state at the time and on what the members of the band have already told us, the recording process and production methods could not accurately convey what was written and what the band really had in mind. Characteristics of this record are the changes in tempo and intensity even in the same song, the robust drumming, the balance between the instruments (which is charged to producer Randy Burns as well) and the aggressive (and more extreme than their debut) vocals. Omnipotent melodies, powerful drums crushing you like a battering ram, ultrasonic rhythms. A vicious malevolent explosion of brute force, submerged in darkness. The album opens with the title track “Darkness Descends”, whose introduction causes nuclear leveling. The pitch dark intro is the most tranquil part of the record. Its lyrics refer to the characters of the comic “Judge Dredd”. “Merciless Death” is a re-recording of the track released in their first album. The track “Black Prophecies” refers to Nostradamus and for me it’s the most progressive part of the album since it deviates from the record’s style (and this is especially evident from his great length and slower tempo), while “Perish in Flames” refers to an imaginary nuclear holocaust. In “Death Is Certain” you suffer a stroke, as blood-pressure rises to 200. The latter has been successfully covered by the Athenians, Released Anger. Additionally, the top track apart from the aforementioned hymns is – my personal favorite as well – “The Burning of Sodom” dealing with an obvious issue…
In this album Gene Hoglan participated for the first time and contributed immensely to the band, primarily synthetically and later with his presence to the popularity of the band. What can you say about this man? That instead of hands he has logs? That his extremely fast playing style and his incredible dynamics make many drummers hide under the skirts of their mothers? If he wasn’t such a drumming magician he wouldn’t have participated in a ton of bands (eg Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory, Death, Deamon, Testament, Deathklok etc.). He is a time bomb ready to explode and takes us with him. What many people do not know is that despite recording the drums, Hoglan assisted to the guitar and lyrics composition. Meyer and Durkin guitars are fantastic and (admittedly) extremely complex, , violent, with ultra fast riffing, which easily makes you wonder if the guitars were used in fast forward or if the Satan himself recorded them. Bloody and primitive; almost addictive. As for the bass, it has a discreet, not pompous presence. Compared with the other instruments it seems to have been mixed louder, without of course this bothering us. Excellent examples of this bass mastery are: the wonderful intro of “Merciless Death” and the double bass in “Darkness Descends”. In fact, the bass was recorded by Rob Yahn, who left the band as soon as he finished the recordings. Doty gives a recital in pain, with cries as if he was struck repeatedly by lightnings in the studio. The way Doty manages to sing along with the instruments maintaining the same speed is peculiar; lyrics long as sheets and no mistakes whatsoever (see “The Burning of Sodom”). If you want to follow him and try to learn the lyrics keeping the booklet in your hands (because, yes, you’re so aspiring), there is no way you’ll achieve it without a slip-up. You may succeed at the refrain, yet, still not sure about that.
There was and there still is a tendency to compare Dark Angel with Slayer of that era concluding into Slayer being much more ahead of their time. No, my friend, Dark Angel is nothing less. Speed and complexity is their game, as well. Yes, Slayer are perfect, they blow up our heads, they give us a one heart after another and rip our souls furiously, but this insane festival put up with “Darkness Descends”, urging you to set your house on fire and dance around the fire in excitement with a lit torch on one hand and making a toast with a virgin’s blood with the other, well, it can be a reality.
“Darkness Descends” belongs rightfully to the list of top 5 thrash albums of all time. In front of this masterpiece, records of other bands, widely known, are vanished and mediocre bands are wiped out. This record should be played at all times, in all circumstances; before schools begin the day’s lessons or while our grandmothers knit in the backyard.
THE CITY IS GUILTY, THE CRIME IS LIFE, THE SENTENCE IS DEATH… DARKNESS DESCENDS!!!
Year: 1986 (reissue 1998)
1 Darkness Descends
2 The Burning of Sodom
3 Hunger of the Undead
4 Merciless Death
5 Death Is Certain
6 Black Prophecies
7 Perish in Flames