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Album Review: DARKANE Inhuman Spirits

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It's felt like it's been a couple hundred years since a gaggle of worryingly tall and blindingly blonde Swedes first dared to attach hyper melodicism to death metal. And while tedious repetition and limiting tunnel vision has worked to make the majority of melodic death metal feel like nerves have been frayed and patience tested for a lot longer than actuality, obviously multitudes of definitive releases have taken listening rooms and rehearsal spaces by storm. But, you'd have to be a hardcore apologist to not see/admit that what was once exciting and vibrant has suffered from ennui and a watering down. Then again, the same can be said about any genre of music throughout the history of sound what with lesser skilled copycats, pretenders to the throne and all that sort of jibber-jabber.

When Darkane first barrelled onto the scene back in 1999 with Rusted Angel, it definitely rattled melodeath metal's cage at the time with increased technical slice 'n' dice, stacked chord grandiosity, gritty riffing and a ferocity that had the band leaning more towards association with the feral discharge of The Crown and Carnal Forge as opposed to a simple lump in with the comparatively more accessible likes of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and Slaughter of the Soul. After that…well, your guess as to what happened is as good as mine. Actually, your guess is likely better and more educated because I pretty much lost track of the band — outside of 2002's Expanding Senses which felt rote and ordinary — and was in full-on petulant child mode, blowing raspberries at the entirety of melodic death because recycled crap had sullied the sheen and it had begat a wealth of shitty American metalcore bands.

Regardless, Darkane has kept at it in some form or fashion and find themselves on the cusp of their seventh album and first in nine years. The opening to the record — the first 30 seconds of the title track — bursts out of the gate with a heavy Emperor vibe; aristocratic keyboard swells, snare blasting and an atonal Gatling gun flurry before "righting the ship," as it were, with violently lurching, single-note scalar choppiness, speedy guitars pedals with split-second dissonant dyad and triad flourishes adding spicy extras. The chorus takes a huge run at the sort of refrain vocalist Lawrence Mackrory could have a tent full of Wacken-ites hollering at him during those times in which his brain freezes and the teleprompter goes on the fritz. 

Said track sets the stage and pace for the lion's share of the rest of the album, with song writing chunks deviating from the norm to present significant "not just a milquetoast Swe-death band" windows. "Awakening" features one storming bridge that could have had a happy home on Necroticism and another that could have been a highlight on one of the Dino-less Fear Factory albums no one listens to, both shards are tethered by a solo that's part-Kirk Hammett, part-Steve Vai. "Embrace the Flames" has a bit of an early Morbid Angel-gone-punk feel to its main riff. "Inhaling Mental Chaos" shuffles and climbs with a remarkably contagious  groove. "The Quintessence of Evil" takes a rare foot off the gas in its offering as a mid-paced Prong-like banger with a synth-accented chorus direct from the deep cuts on Killing Joke's Pandemonium.  

On the flip side, as Darkane has mostly become a studio project — their website reveals they've played a grand total of 12 shows since 2015, haven't been to North America since 2009 and have one show scheduled for 2022 — they've fallen prey to the necessity of digital cobbling creation, but haven't avoided overly slick production quality. This piecemeal sterility, in concert with the band's innate relentless attack, castrates some of the dynamic soul from the listening experience and contributes to ear fatigue as the album goes on. There are definitely songs later in the program that are better received were one to start the album on side two or make liberal use of the shuffle button. And having Mackrory's yapping, yelling vocal style as high in the mix as it is leeches aggression, especially throughout "Mansion of Torture" and "Conspiracies of the Flesh," spots where he struggles with finding a vocal line for the riffs behind him. At the same time, however, the ear worm riff, elegantly morose pre-chorus, hairspray-on-fire guitar work and insane hummability of "A Spiral to Nothing" make it one of the album's centrepiece. And that's a track that's eight songs in to a ten song record. 

Darkane's sparse live schedule means they're a band most of us will have to be content experiencing solely through recorded works. And while flaws do rear their head throughout Inhuman Spirits — it would appear the band have settled on playing at one tempo for every three years they've made fans wait since 2013's The Sinister Supremacy — kudos should be given to the quintet for keeping it fierce and not abandoning the death metal part of the melodic death metal equation while still being able to offer up rousing hooks and suitable melodies.

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