Darken – Darken (Defiled, 1998)

Although it might disappoint some readers, it’s probably advisable to begin this review by stating that this is not a lost recording by a well-known Polish musician. However, the music does fall somewhere within the black metal sphere. Darken is a three-track EP released by guitar-virtuoso Toby Knapp, presumably conceived as an attempt at writing and performing music in the language of mid-to-late-1990s melodic black metal. Joining the multi-instrumentalist on vocals and as lyrical contributor is a certain Necrotriton, while drums are obviously computer-generated.

Aided by moderately slick production, Knapp applies a progressive and subtly neoclassical framework to songs constructed around series of melodic themes, often traversing over standard heavy metal progressions. Tremolo-picking and palm-muting abound, complemented by vestiges of older forms of lead-guitar work and atmospheric keyboards. The rhythm section is solid enough, sticking to basic patterns that mark shifts in intensity. The vocalist employs the trademarked shriek and occasional lower grunt but comes off as strangely subdued in his attack, serving the role as commentator rather than instigator.

Despite the accompanying aesthetics and stylistic trappings, this is clearly not a black metal record in any essentialist sense. Themes resolve too harmoniously, habitually dodging opportunity for conflict. The same can be said about the instrumental handling, which favors precision over expressive intensity. However, that is not to say that there isn’t beauty to be found in these well-composed and surprisingly tasteful songs. Taking advantage of his experiences as a full-on Shrapnel Records-shredder, Knapp occasionally makes interesting and slightly provoking attempts at bringing together the minor chord tonality of black metal with a heavy metal soloist’s penchant for flamboyant musical excursion.

Darken will not offer the “ugly beauty” or emotional release of a classic black metal record, but makes for a fun or even contemplative listen once in a blue moon.

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