Dark Angel – Darkness Descends
Reviewed by Kylie McInnes
Ever wonder what pure insanity would sound like set to music? Dark Angel’s 1986 sophomore release is the answer. There are more riffs than you can shake a stick at (though less infinite than 1991’s “9 songs, 67 minutes, TWOHUNDREDFORTYSIX RIFFS!” Time Does Not Heal), and Gene Hoglan more or less establishes himself as the premier thrash metal drummer, while vocalist Don Doty sounds like he’s about to rip heads off of grizzly bears with his bare hands.
This is how you thrash. “Black Prophecies” is the closest Dark Angel gets to melodic, atmospheric introspection (hint: not even close). The title track kicks things off with your typical “Hit The Lights” knockoff intro before segueing into a midtempo crushing riff, and then BAM, you get hit with the riffing equivalent of a battering ram for the next 4 minutes. I can only imagine what someone hearing this fresh in 1986 must have thought, considering the only really “extreme” American bands at the time were Slayer and Possessed. And even the fantastic Hell Awaits and Seven Churches couldn’t have projected how over-the-top Dark Angel would take things. The musical version of “The Exorcist” from 1973, perhaps?
“The Burning Of Sodom” is the most over-the-top track here (285 BPM for those who like to know musical statistics). There are no words that can prepare you for trying to headbang to this. Consider this a warning that you risk legitimate injury from rocking out to this metal monstrosity. It’s mercifully only 3 minutes long (and the entire 7 track album is only 35 minutes), but there are enough riffs to fill an entire band’s discography.
“Hunger Of The Undead” brings us into a realm that can best be described as “Reign In Blood made both more insane and coherent.” Dark Angel never stumbles over their own speed, as everything is razor sharp and as crisp as a perfect potato chip, and Don Doty can spew out lyrical vitriol at the ludicrous speed needed to fit in with the music. “Merciless Death” and “Death Is Certain (Life Is Not)” are the two “not quite on the same level as the other five” tracks, but neither is without merit. The scream at “bringing you merciless….DEATH!” is one of the most ear-piercing shrieks in all of thrash, and the guitar solo in “Death Is Certain…” is about the only truly melodic moment on the album. Everything else is a brutally beautiful whirlwind of steel assaulting your senses.
“Black Prophecies” has this phenomenal morphing riff midsection that constantly shifts (and is the basis for the structure on Time Does Not Heal), and while not the fastest or most brutal riffset ever, it is undoubtedly a classic in epic thrash composition, and is, dare I say, an incredibly progressive thrash track. “Perish In Flames” closes things out in the way that every thrash album should close: raw, unadulterated, fast thrash. It’s the mashup of “Burning Of Sodom”’s pure speed and “Hunger Of The Undead”’s fury, and oh my does it work. You can almost feel your house warm up by about 20º by the time you get to the guitar solo.
Darkness Descends simply defines “extreme” metal. Seven Churches comes close, having been released a year earlier, but still manages to sound like a really sloppy, though really pissed off, Venom. Dark Angel perfected technical aggression and precise visceral riffs. It still sounds as intimidating now as it did almost 30 years ago, and it still hasn’t been topped. It is everything Metallica and Overkill set out to accomplish, and neither of them even really tried to get to this level of chaotic beauty. It is truly a sight to behold, and an album where words hardly do it justice.
5 // 5