Darkened – The Black Winter Review

Everybody misses Bolt Thrower. Ask any death metal fan what band they’d want to resurrect for one last platter of greatness, and I bet the British bruisers would be near the top of the list, alongside Death itself. There’s just something about Bolt Thrower‘s trance-inducing grooves that speaks to the violent beast hidden within each and every one of us, and the band name’s is still sprayed across death metal reviews like so much machine-gun fire whenever a burly tremolo rears its head—and this is nearly two decades after their last album saw the light of day. No one has been able to completely fill the void left in Bolt Thrower‘s absence. Sure, Amon Amarth ticks some of the same boxes, and sure, there is a host of imitators out there—including some wielding ex-Bolt Thrower members—but honestly, it’s been the realm of death/doom (1914, Mortiferum, Nightfell) where the Brits’ legacy can be heard most clearly. Young international project Darkened boasts original Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale, and their beefy debut Kingdom of Decay garnered attention from Ferrous, our very own British death metal titan, back in 2020. Let’s see if follow-up The Black Winter can fully elevate them into the realms of chaos.

Darkened‘s sound is that of a Swedish hammer crashing down upon a British anvil—Dismember running full-speed into Bolt Thrower—and this should come as no surprise considering that Whale is joined by several current and ex-members of Swedeath bands, including current Grave and former Dismember bassist Tobias Cristiansson (he’s also played live for Necrophobic, Entombed A.D., Nifelheim, etc.). Kingdom of Decay combined the two sounds extremely well, offering a platter full of thrashy, buzzsaw death metal with melodic flair and hypnotic groove. And as soon as the brief intro track gives way to true album opener and single “Blood,” you’ll realize that The Black Winter is more of the same. “Blood” mixes both the Stockholm and Gothenburg variants of Swedish death metal, the former setting the rhythmic tone for the album, and the latter giving the band’s sound an epic tinge.

“Blood” kicks off The Black Winter‘s killer A-side. “Terminal Lucidity” demonstrates that Darkened will stop at nothing in their quest…for Victory, the title track brings in more of the thrashy death metal sound that was prevalent on the debut, and “Flayed” is simply one of the finest pure death metal songs I’ve heard all year. The latter bursts into the torture chamber with a snarling groove that tickles my fancy no matter how many times I hear it, and vocalist Gord Olson gives me chills every time he utters the sadistic chorus, “…feel the razor sliding/beneath your skin/slowly pulled away/in strips, you are flayed…” The song is a demented journey through the grotesque minutia of such a procedure, and when you’re done, you’ll feel as if Ramsay Bolton has had his way with you.

If only the second half of the album were as strong as the first; as effective as Darkened‘s mishmash of death metal styles can be, it’s also apparent that the band is still in search of its signature identity. “Fearful Quandary” has some fantastic riffs, but the melodic passages cut a bunch of the momentum and the song ends up dragging on too long. Two short, solid, but ultimately filler tracks (“Swallowed by the World” and “Plague of Despair”) herald the coming of the epic closer “Regret,” a song that is all too aptly titled thanks to a major shift in tone towards sadboi melodeath. It’s not a bad song, but it just feels somewhat jarring compared to the rest of the album and ends things on an emotionally flat note. But the first half of the album—and especially “Flayed”—is worth the price of admission alone, as is Whale’s phenomenal percussion performance.

A flawed second half keeps The Black Winter from achieving greatness, but fans of groovy death metal should enjoy the 37 minutes they’ll spend with the record. Darkened has the potential to put together something truly amazing in the future, but they’ll have to focus their sound into something more coherent to do so.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Edged Circle Productions
Website: facebook.com/darkeneddeathmetal
Releases Worldwide: May 27th, 2022

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