If you’re like me, you already skimmed over the above tags, curious of Darkhaus‘ origins, the style of metal they play, and the clickbaiting that awaits you in today’s review. And, perhaps, you noticed a few tags that stood out. You know, those couple of tags that made you want to rip your eyes out. By the way, you can stop refreshing your browser. You and I both know you’re here at angrymetalguy.com and those tags ain’t going anywhere. Darkhaus many not meet the Kronos Stamp of Brutality, but they don’t seem to care. It may appear from the tags and references that you stumbled upon a Pro-Pain/Hoobastank collaboration, but it’s not as bad as it seems. Sure, I’m about to flush my metal cred down the toilet with this one, but I regret nothing!
But… I’m not gonna lie. Upon first listen, I wanted to hate When Sparks Ignite so bad. Hell, just typing that album title makes me wish Steel had allowed me to post this review under my alter-alter ego, Mr. N.A. Greer1. No matter how hard I try, I seem unable to bury this album where it belongs: under the forgotten Linkin Park T-shirts at your local Hot Topic. Worse than that, I haven’t been able to stop listening to this damn thing since I got it! Its simplicity is its greatest asset and its dark-rock platform has a good balance of cheese and groove. When Sparks Ignite may not be everything I desire from a melancholy-riddled rock album, but this Gary Meskil (Pro-Pain, Crumbsuckers) project is fun as hell.
Dragging fellow Pro-Pain guitarist, Marshall Stephens, along for the ride, Meskil constructs rocking rhythms dripping with melody and painted with Kenny Hanlon’s whining pipes. Thankfully, his whining isn’t so bad. And his strong voice does a great job of distracting me from the pitiful use of “totally” on “The Last Goodbye” and the lost-love topics of “Tears of Joy.” While the former does nothing for me, “Tears of Joy” is actually quite good. I may have cringed the first time I heard it, the piano is soothing and those early ’00s MTV vocals are, somehow, hypnotizing. It’s possible I may be coming down with pneumonia, but this thing works.
For those cowering in fear, “Tears of Joy” is unique for When Sparks Ignite. For the most part, the framing of the album is dependent on its “tougher” tracks. Songs like “All of Nothing,” “After the Heartache,” “Devil’s Spawn,” and “To Live Again” deliver some toe-tapping riffs that I just can’t ignore. They all use catchy choruses, hooking verses, and touches of synthy melody, but do it without abandoning their edge. Though “Devil’s Spawn” wins for Slickest Riff of the album, the deep-throated gruff of “All of Nothing” and the borrowed Volbeat punch of “To Live Again” provide just enough variety to warrant repeat listens. You won’t find neck-breaking Riffs o’ the Year or RotY memorability, but these licks rock.
The remaining songs on the album (“Feel My Pain,” “Helpless,” “Oceans,” and “Lonesome Ride”) add balance to the pendulum that swings between ballady and crunchy. Without the sappiness of “Tears of Joy,” these ditties deliver the melodic goods akin to synthy, dark-rockers Unzucht and A Life Divided. And it’s during these melodic tracks that we get the most from Hanlon as he explores the peaks and valleys of his range. Even hiking through the canyons inhabited by the likes of Roy Kahn (ex-Kamelot) and Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation).
Though the dynamics are no great achievement, and songs like “The Last Goodbye” and closer “Bye Bye Blue Skies” are weak, I can’t help but enjoy this record. And when compared to their 2013 debut, My Only Shelter, this album is the band’s high-water mark. So, if you like some melodic rock, and are willing to take broomstick chastising from your colleagues, be sure to grab a copy of When Sparks Ignite. But, for the love of god, don’t tell anyone.