The evolution of a band can be a compelling tale, or it can be a train wreck. In the former category, we have Opeth (death metal kings to natty 70s prog worshippers) and Anathema (middling doom metal to dreamy, proggy house band at the Hallmark card factory). In the latter, Queensryche (well, Geoff Tate in particular, who went from legendary prog metal frontman to weirdo). Dark Suns has been evolving too, and they hope to fit in with the former acts.
Much like the band they clearly admire (Opeth), Dark Suns began life as a death metal band, with some doomy overtones. It didn’t take long for them to want to push beyond those limits, and by their fourth album, 2011’s Orange, the death growls were gone, along with most of the aggression, replaced with a bent towards vintage prog rock. On Everchild, Dark Suns’ fifth album, the edge has been completely blunted. If Anathema is the house band at Hallmark, Dark Suns can now be their warmup act.
Everchild is a lengthy, dreamy, prog rock record. Eleven songs while away more than eighty minutes of our time – not a bad thing, if one is looking for something whimsical and pleasant to play in the background. It opens with “The Only Young Ones Left,” which happens to be one of the harder-hitting tracks present, sounding like it would fit on the B-side of a Lightbulb Sun-era Porcupine Tree release. Harder-hitting, yes, but just as we are rocking away we are greeted with the horn section, which causes the song to careen back and forth from rocker to jazz lounge number. Unsettling yet intriguing, which could sum up the entire record.
Musically, Dark Suns is all over the map here, going from complete lounge lizards on “Monsters” to complex, heavy-yet-proggy on “Codes.” “Unfinished People” has a definite Peter Gabriel feel to it, with a syncopated, industrial beat and chanted backing vocals. Too often, though, we are presented with piano-driven fare that plods along, arrangements not building to anything one might expect from a prog act with the exception of the insane jazz riffing late in “Torn Wings.”
Over the years, Dark Suns’ ranks have swelled. The band is now eight members strong, including the aforementioned horn section, who are now full time members. Former drummer and founder Niko Knappe has stepped away from the kit to focus exclusively on vocals. His style ranges from a rough, unpolished hard rock tone to airy murmurs. On Everchild, the murmurs account for 90% of the vocals, lending the record its dreamlike quality. Capping Everchild off is a rather unusual cover, a lengthier-than-the-original version of Tori Amos’s already long song, “Yes, Anastasia.” Like most of the record, it’s odd and interesting, especially considering that on the CD release “Yes, Anastasia” is on its own second disc [We love double albums here at AMG! – Steel Druhm].
Production fits the mood to a T – light, airy, with a lot of room for all the instruments to contribute to the musical canvas. It can be difficult to give eight musicians the space they need to be heard, but the mix here is just right, allowing the listener to focus on any given instrument with no effort. The music is layered and complex. On first listen, Everchild comes across as almost so dreamy to be boring, but dig deeper and there is a lot going on in these songs.
Everchild isn’t going to elevate Dark Suns into the ranks of Opeth or Anathema; the songwriting chops just aren’t there yet. It’s also not going to have you forcing it down your friends’ throats, proclaiming it the greatest record ever, but it is rewarding in its own way if you are patient enough to give it a few listens. Knappe’s murmured falsetto can get on your nerves after a while, but this is a quality effort from a skilled band, and shows they have the potential to create something special if they can focus their efforts in a more cohesive direction.