23 Apr 2016

Darkend: "Grand Guignol: Book I"

Symphonic black metal done right
When you mention symphonic black metal, most people will instantly think of Dimmu Borgir. The funny thing is that a band like Italy's Darkend in much greater capacity encompass the essence of the genre in many aspects. Though their lyrics aren't overtly satanic - as is usual custom, their riffs aren't thin tremolo-fests, their vocals aren't solely the throaty rasping usually combined with the style, and the drumming is much more varied than the conventional blast beats, at heart they are much more a black metal band than Dimmu Borgir (they were, after all, featured on a split with power metal bands Avantasia and Sonata Arctica in 2014) - or similarly prominent bands in the scene - currently are.

The symphonic and epic melodies as well as the more traditional instrumentation of symphonic black metal makes it more easily digestible to the casual listener. But Darkend take the style to the very roots and examine what lies at the core. Mixing sinister melodies in lofty compositions with adjoining ambitious and far-reaching keyboard arrangements allows them to competently juxtapose the raw grit of black metal against more accessible tunes in a blend that is at the same time both jarringly coarse and fiercly organic and natural.

"...they have found a sound that encompasses- yet also allows room for each individual element."

Having previously toured with big names within the genre like God Seed, Cradle of Filth and Rotting Christ, Darkend surely aren't novices - As is consummated by their second album, Grand Guignol: Book I. It is far from rare that bands like this have too much going on - After all, at the speed with which they perform their music, making room for huge keyboard melodies as well as the usual guitar-guitar-bass-vocals-drums setup can be a challenge without muddling the sound stage. One element will usually dominate; In its' role, its' mix, or both. But Darkend do not rest on their laurels - With Grand Guignol: Book I they have found a sound that encompasses- yet also allows room for each individual element.

Animæ's characteristic vocals - joined multiple times by Fearbringer's clean vocal lines - provides the voice for Antarktica's conveyance of classical symphony, which in turn builds upon the classic metal band lineup provided the heavy processions by Ashes, Nothingness, Specter and Valentz. There is nothing half-assed about the band or their compositions: Each arrangement is aligned with the utmost care, but never to the point that it becomes fake or staged. Their well-organised sound image mirrors in that way the band's thoroughness.

"They're... ...way more climactic, immersive and authentic than Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or similar bands."
The music found on the band's sophomore album is determined and ambitious in scope, and they fill a niche that few of their contemporaries do. They're not as extreme or intense as Anorexia Nervosa, not as dark and esoteric as Limbonic Art, but way more climactic, immersive and authentic than Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or similar bands.

A group like Darkend are probably sick and tired of being held up against their Scandinavian counterparts for comparison, and rightfully so, for in many ways they outperform those bands. The Italian band doesn't wholeheartedly embrace the accessible nature of the bands on Nuclear Blast and Century Media, but don't quite push them away either. As such they're a great fit among the titans, without surrendering to their corporate ethos. In closing, Grand Guignol: Book I is among the strongest albums within the genre in many years. Though Darkend aren't as such bringing much new to the table, they use what they have in a much more appealing mix than most others.


Released in 2012 independently

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