Have you ever encountered one of those albums that sticks in the back of your mind despite not being particularly great? Maybe it wormed its way into your long term memory because of unique circumstances surrounding your initial exposure to it, or perhaps it irked you that you seemed to be the only person who didn’t absolutely love, even though you can’t figure out why. In the case of Invisible, the Damned, the first album from Australia’s Damnations Day, the catalyst was a 50-50 split between great and underwhelming tunes. A blend of power metal and modern thrash that borrowed sounds from bands as diverse as Borealis, Iced Earth, and Sylosis, DD’s debut is an intriguing album that I still periodically return to despite some weak links and a couple of forgettable acoustic numbers. I had hoped that in the four years since that album the band would have diligently developed a filler-less follow up; unfortunately, with A World Awakens, the opposite is true.
Damnations Day is no longer the impressively energetic power metal outfit I encountered four years ago. They’re still a power metal band at their core, but the aggressive nature that made them stand out has been replaced by a modern prog-lite aesthetic that doesn’t possess even half the bite. The band’s made noticeable strides, though, in terms of vocal melodies and atmosphere. The choruses aren’t particularly grand or uplifting, but they possess a sullen, somewhat captivating quality that allows them to stick in the back of my mind. The memorable vocals are bolstered by equally moody keyboard work and distortionless, open chords in the background to create a soundscape that, while not exactly captivating, is at least consistent. If this album succeeds over Invisible, the Damned in any area, it’s in being a well-rounded package.
While the downcast tone of the album is consistent front to back, it’s hardly affecting because, instrumentally speaking, Damnations Day plays things safer than a kindergartner wearing floaties to the kiddie pool. A World Awakens has no rhythm guitar personality to speak of; sustained power chords and one-note chugs dominate (though parts of certain songs serve as exceptions; see the 2:35 mark of “Colours of Darkness”), and despite the requisite solos to divert the listener’s attention, the distorted guitars possess no substance or color. Disappointing guitar work aside, the songs themselves are plodding and joyless. Power metal is one of the few genres in the metal canon that can succeed through fun factor alone without regard to originality or technical ability, and yet somehow this record lacks all three of these traits. While I can’t say I hate it, A World Awakens is one of the most stone-faced power metal albums I’ve ever encountered.
AWA is a disappointment as a whole, yet a couple of tracks near the tail-end of the record manage to rise from the murk and capture my attention for more than a few brief moments. “The Idol Counterfeit” is an almost-fun thrasher with interesting rhythm guitar patterns and a tempo that’s more consistently fast than anything else on the record. The following title track, though, is the real highlight here; the atmosphere created by the mournful, borderline apocalyptic sounding guitars in the intro effectively segues into a catchy modern metal groove to create the one song on the album where Damnations Day’s ideas come together as effectively as they were envisioned. As for the rest of the album, the shallow compositions fail to capture the breadth of talent expressed on the band’s prior record (singer Mark Kennedy’s excellent range is especially neglected), and the predictably modern sounding production certainly doesn’t help them stand out. The band might as well reserve their bass guitar for kindling in case of tough times, as I can’t recall a single instance where I was actually able to hear it.
While A World Awakens is certainly a letdown, I still have hope that Damnations Day is capable of producing at least one more good record. The mood here really stands out despite the record’s unnecessarily dour nature, and if DD can create a follow-up that blends the aggressive performances of their debut with the atmosphere and consistency of this one, I’ll be thrilled to sing its praises. As of their 2017 sound, though, I can’t think of any fan of the genre AWA could fully appeal to, and I’m at a loss as to why they went down this road in the first place.