Until recently, I believe Italy’s Darkend promoted the kind of symphonic black metal that chased the coattails of bands like Cradle of Filth. With their fourth release, The Canticle of Shadows, I was unsure of whether to expect more of the same or something entirely new. I succeeded in missing their earlier releases like Damned Woman and a Carcass, Assassine and Grand Guignol, despite them receiving mostly positive reviews. Going back and re-discovering them now, I’m hit by two things: (1) Darkend did in fact sound an AWFUL lot like Cradle of Filth, minus one crucial ingredient – Dani Filth. (2) Darkend‘s participation in the loudness war has become more aggressive over time – Damned Woman hovering around the 6/7 mark and Assassine and Grand Guignol sliding dangerously close to the 3/4 range. So what can you expect from The Canticle of Shadows?
Expect a ballsy album with good moments, that’s crushed under the weight of excessive song length and smashed by an unforgivably low dynamic range. “Clavicula Salomonis” introduces itself as though it could be the opener for a Rotting Christ or Septicflesh album. Delicate, somber and near-religious to start, these elements ultimately scamper off like vermin. The next phase comes in like a wrecking ball, a dense aesthetic of vigorous drum-work overshadowing delicate keyboards, endearing and repetitive riff melodies and vocals of a variety of styles. Luca Gregori’s (Animæ) vocals sound as they have in the past, but with more intensity. There’s a lot of switching between his signature black metal scream (never quite hitting the lofty range of Lord Filth), mumbling narration, commanding shouts and Shining‘s Kvarforth-type theatrics. Based on the quality of the songwriting and the progression of this track, it should come across as a fully saturating, savage onslaught that you want to return to again and again. Unfortunately, the intricacies and overall immersiveness is lost, instead replaced by a sense of one–dimensionality brought about by the extreme brickwalling.
Darkend chose to bring in some heavy hitters to collaborate on The Canticle of Shadows. “Of The Defunct” includes vocal support from Attila Csihar of Mayhem fame. “Il Velo Delle Ombre” includes the vocalizations of Labes C. Necrothytus, known for his input in Abysmal Grief. “A Passage Through Abysmal Caverns (Inmost Chasm, II)” brings in Niklas Kvarforth, well-known frontman to Sweden’s Shining and last but by no means least, “Congressus Cum Dæmone” unleashes Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ onto the unsuspecting masses. Each one of these frontmen SHOULD add an interesting dynamic to the track that features them, and as a fan of each of these bands I SHOULD be tempted to return to their tracks. Unfortunately, instrumentally and vocally the songs don’t play to the frontmen’s strengths and the music doesn’t stick in the slightest. Also, with at least two of the songs edging up towards the 9-minute mark, they just end up feeling bloated and corpse-like in the water.
The Canticle of Shadows has some good moments that when isolated and put into the right arrangements could end up being a quality listening experience comparable to Septicflesh or Rotting Christ. Some high points include the Naglfar-like melodic nature in “Of The Defunct” and “A Passage Through Abysmal Caverns (Inmost Chasm, II).” Or there’s the graceful steel string interludes that pop up in “A Precipice Towards Abyssal Caves (Inmost Chasm, I)” and “Congressus Cum Dæmone” that sound similar to something I might expect to hear on one of Shining‘s albums. Otherwise, there’s the staccato-like attack (bringing to mind The Human Abstract) on “A Precipice Towards Abyssal Caves (Inmost Chasm, I).” Lastly, it’s the instrumental variety that stands out strongest of all – the violin arrangements in “Il Velo Delle Ombre” and “A Passage Through Abysmal Caverns (Inmost Chasm, II)” or the trombone orchestration in “A Precipice Towards Abyssal Caves (Inmost Chasm, I).” All of these are a great distraction from the constant blast beat barrage.
The more I listened to The Canticle of Shadows, the more it angered me – not in that good, metal kind of way… Darkend are a band set to release their 4th album. They know how to create powerful guitar solos, multi-layered melodies, immersive atmospherics and explosive, savage onslaughts and they do it pretty well. What they’re doing has the potential to be great, even Septicflesh or Fleshgod Apocalypse great. But instead of fixing their actual problems (over-long songs, suspect producer and/or sound engineer), they’ve just thrown extra vocalists into the mix. The Canticle of Shadows ultimately winds up a disappointment, but here’s hoping Darkend‘s next release hits the black mark.