Darkane is a band is that has been somewhat overlooked over their fifteen plus year career despite some solid output. Born in the second wave of Swedish melodic death metal, they were strongly influenced by the likes of At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity and Soilwork. They made their bones crafting, thrashy, technically impressive death with plenty of melody and references to the “Gothenburg sound” and albums like Rusted Angel, Expanding Senses and Layers of Lies were enjoyably intense assaults on the listener full of vicious riffs and harsh vocals, all sugar-coated with slick, technical prowess. Unfortunately for the band, their birth more or less coincided with the explosion of metalcore bands equally influenced by the Swedish melo-death sound and Darkane quickly got lost amid a sea of crappy core. Granted, their traditional sound always bore similarities to that movement (especially the propensity for cleaner singing come chorus time), however, to my ears they always lived closer to their metal influences like At the Gates than true metalcore. While I didn’t care for 2008s Demonic Art, the fact that original singer and vocal madman Lawrence Mackrory (F.K.U.) returned for this platter had me all atingle and hoping for big things. Unfortunately, what you get is a mix of core acts like Lazarus A.D. and Trivium with traditional melo-death like Dark Tranquillity and Soilwork. While it has good moments, a few infectious songs and some strong performances, it walks too close to the core and suffers from inconsistent writing. I can see this strongly appealing to core aficionados, but it goes too far over the line for metal purists like me, which means yet another bummer for 2013.
Things start well with a run of good, aggressive and fairly memorable tunes. The title track has wild, cascading riffs and vocals that run from screams to roars and over to Chuck Billy/James Hetfield style rough singing. While the core elements are present, they’re easy to overlook due to the song’s overall quality and energy. They borrow some ideas from Metallica along the way and the blend of styles works well enough. “Mechanically Divine” sounds like a mix of Bay Area thrash with Dark Tranquillity‘s coldly mechanical vibe and due to an emotive, memorable chorus, it’s quite memorable. Both “Ostracized” and “The Decline” are solid and have hooks, even though the latter drifts into the same territory as Crusade era Trivium and mid-period Mercenary. Good moments can also be found in the thrashed up Metallica-esque charm of “Insurrection is Imminent” and “In the Absence of Pain.”
The writing drops off substantially on the back-end which has a series of songs that go even further into the core twilight and feel flat and formulaic (in the wrong musical direction). Another problem that reoccurs throughout the album is the tendency to overuse typical chugga riffs to underpin songs. While the better tunes keep it to a minimum, it’s present on a lot of the material and it gets old. It also feels like the band is writing too strictly to the scream-then-cleans-for-chorus model and at times it feels rather forced.
One of Darkane‘s strengths has always been the guitar tandem of Klas Ideberg and Christofer Malmstrom. They’re capable of some wicked playing and they do some nice things here, but they seem too restrained and too often fall into the groove-based style riffing that bores me to bloody tears. Their harmonies are sharp at times, but I kept wondering why there wasn’t more interplay and more virtuosity on display. They seem to be holding too much back for much of the album and that hurts the material. Likewise, while I’ve always enjoyed Mackrory’s vocal ability and versatility, he too seems oddly restrained on much of the album. He stays in emo/screamo mode way too much and while his rough cleans are good, he’s capable of way more vocal acrobatics than he shows here. It’s as if the whole band is playing it safe and while I kept waiting for them to cut loose, they never do.
I suppose this shouldn’t be too much of a shock, since the core element was always present in their sound, I just hoped they would ween themselves off it rather than embrace it even tighter. There are still some quality melo-deathy, thrash tunes here and roughly half of The Sinister Supremacy is listenable and solid, even during the most core-ish moments. The rest fall victim to the shortcomings of that style and the self-imposed limitations the band has dubiously adopted. And what’s up with that butterfly Rorschach test on the cover?? Damn you, 2013. DAMN YOU!!