Friday, October 3, 2003

Review: Cage - Darker Than Black (2003)

Cage [ Website | MySpace | Twitter ]
Darker Than Black
Fugitive Records

The hype surrounding Cage's third album has been tremendous. Heralded as defining the next millennium of heavy metal, Darker Than Black has been proclaimed to be an instant classic. In all honesty, rarely does an album meet such lofty predictions. Cage, however, has certainly delivered an album that is worthy of being regarded as one of the best metal releases of the year - not just American metal, but globally.

After the spoken-word title track, "Kill The Devil" kicks in with with an imposing riff and vocalist Sean Peck's Halford-esque wail. Guitarist Dave Garcia belts out a couple of energetic solos, while the double-kick of Mikey Niel powers the song onward. While Peck generally stays in that high range, but gritty, power metal style of singing on "Kill The Devil", he next introduces us to his blackish stylings (along the lines of Dani Filth) on "Chupacabra". Peck's varied style (clean, black, death, and all points in between) is what really gives Darker Than Black such variety and uniqueness. Although slower paced than the previous track, "Chupacabra" delivers an awesome melodic riff (the best of the album) and a quick but interesting solo by Anthony McGinnis. "Blood Of The Innocent" begins with the sound of the windswept American plains followed by the sorrowful tune of a Native American flute before launching the heavy bass of Mike Giordano and tribal drumming of Niel. The opening riff also has a distinct Native American feel to it, and rightfully so as the song is about the American westward expansion in the 19th century. Sean is once again in his raw power metal element, including a couple of ball-crushing falsettos. "March Of The Cage" is a song that defines heavy - chunky riffs, Sabbath-inspired bass, monastic choruses, and a featured lead by workaholic Roy Z. Although it's not the strongest song on Darker Than Black, it adds to the variety that makes this album such a powerful record from start to finish. Sean Peck delivers a superb vocal performance on "White Magic". His multi-tracked vocals seamlessly alternate between black, Goth, and his standard throaty power metal styles. Peck's competence with such a wide array of vocalization is astounding. Not to be outdone by the Europeans when it comes to epic compositions, Cage throws their hat into the ring with "Wings Of Destruction" - a song with a very Iron Maiden feel to it. The fat twin-guitar harmonies and blistering rhythms of Giordano and Niel, combined with Peck's passionate singing and expressive leads by Roy Z and McGinnis make this one of my favorite tracks on the album. Rounding out the album, if you have the patience to sit through 30+ 6-second tracks of silence, is a hidden track wihich is actually a Spanish version of "Chupacabra". So not only is Sean Peck impressive with his multi-style talents, he can deliver just as strong a performance multi-lingually.

The copy of Darker Than Black that was sent to me contains two bonus tracks available only on the U.S. release - "Antimatter" and "Forces Of Freedom". Sounding as if it was recorded in another session than the rest of the album, "Antimatter" is an angry song with a very modern metal feel similar to Disturbed or Nothingface. "Forces Of Freedom" is Cage's tribute to the victims of 9/11 and those who have paid the ultimate price since then. Clearly an American anthem, I would love to see this song benefit from the production given to the rest of the disc.

Overall, Darker Than Black is a magnificent example of the resurgent American power metal scene. The outstanding production of Richard Carr, particularly the heavy bass and complex drumming, is a major contributor to the pure fury of this album. While I don't think this album is the instant trendsetting classic many have praised it to be, I'm thoroughly impressed with the level of energy exhibited by Cage, and look forward to witnessing their talent live. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent artwork of Marc Sasso, a truly bad-ass artist whose work is perfectly suited to grace many an album cover.

Track Listing
1 Darker Than Black
2 Kill The Devil
3 Chupacabra
4 Blood Of The Innocent
5 Eyes Of Obsidian
6 Philadelphia Experiment
7 March Of The Cage
8 White Magic
9 Door To The Unknown
10 Secret of Fatima
11 Wings of Destruction
12 Antimatter [bonus]
13 Forces of Freedom [bonus]

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