In the infancy of the internet, one of the fun things to do was to get into Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to seek out others like yourself who shared common interests. You could find chatrooms on a varying number of interests, and discuss topics with people in realtime. It was a leap over Usenet, where everything was threaded (like a forum), and people could have real conversations in a short amount of time. Of course, the proliferation of profanity & kiddie pr0n over IRC has lessened its appeal somewhat, but it's still a fairly happening place. You can find a chatroom on nearly every subject known to man: talk about fly fishing, how much you miss your moon boots from 5th grade, or rail on the latest Hollywood blockbuster & how much of a cash-grab it is.
But I digress. When IRC first became popular, a common practice for folks to give each other a hard time was to invoke a command on IRC systems or in the software to throw up a message that effectively told everyone in the room that you were slapping another user with a trout (or some other relatively stout fish). If you hadn't experienced it yet, the first time was somewhat jarring. Granted, they were but words on the screen, but if you didn't fall out of your chair laughing at how ridiculous the concept was, you at least sat up and paid attention to the user who "slapped" you around with the fish, as it was often a sign that you had said something stupid & were being branded a noob.
Such is the case with Darkness Before Dawn's debut full-length CD, "King's To You". Despite the somewhat dubious spelling of the title, and the overly dark cover that should have been lightened significantly before going to the presses, the music contained herein was a "slap with a trout" for me in the same figurative manner. I had heard about the band about a year before, having visited their Myspace site and heard a song or two from their earlier EP. It was competent, if unremarkable metalcore with a fair does of metal in the sound, and despite liking what I heard and sending them a friend-request, I never followed up with a purchase of the EP, relegating it to "I'll get to it later" status. Thankfully, when the money was available for me to make a large purchase from Divine Metal Distro in recent weeks, I didn't skip over their debut LP. I had heard clips from the new songs & was surprised by the transition from metalcore (emphasis on the "metal" part) to a more technically adept melodic death metal sound that still retained some of the modern touches & metalcore elements (the occasional breakdown, similar melodic leanings) that their earlier material had. However, it was possible that this album would be lost in the shuffle with all the other great stuff that was released on Bombworks Records in 2009. Would this album even stand a chance against heavyweights like Seventh Angel, A Hill To Die Upon, Dark Lay Still, Bloodline Severed, or In Grief? There are plenty of great choices for people to get their extreme metal fix from Bombworks this year, but I challenge everyone making a purchase of extreme metal to give this album a chance. I'm certain they'll find a similar experience to what I had.
The first thing I noticed when listening to the lead-off track "Monster Condo" (interesting name) was the Castlevania-esque keyboard sounds, which just drew me in, being an old-school gamer. Also, the guitar sound is heavy without being overbearing, and the vocals were brutal without being completely indecipherable. When the song really kicks in, it starts to pick up and you begin to really feel the music. This song is perhaps a bit more metalcore in construction & nature than many of the rest, but the melodic death metal elements & metal soloing are still in full force. In addition, the constant sound of the keyboard gives it another layer that adds quite a dimension to the sound. "Undeserved Hatred" appears to rage against religiosity as well as hypocrisy within the church, and musically is where the album really starts to pick up speed. Great double-bass drumming, great riffing, and that ominous keyboard sound keep this track rolling at full speed ahead. Great bridge section with some change-up in the guitar approach to bring in more melody & great harmonized guitar licks. Sweet solo toward the end of the song as well. "Mobious Strip" starts with a cool lick combo and some cool drum/cymbal work, and that underlying layer of keyboard to give it some atmosphere. The interplay between speedy double-bass drumming & fast riffing, and slower, more melodic bits is cool, and the driving, groove-laden riff as the song transitions is quite cool, with pinch-harmonics in tow. There is a bit of a breakdown section here, but it works well within the context of the song and makes sense. At about the half-way point I like the inclusion of a more Jeff Walker-esque raspy vocal with the deeper death vocals; it provides a good contrast. Once again, a strong solo here as well. The bridge at the 4 minute mark is very goove-oriented, and brings a nice dynamic to the song with a bit of a hardcore/metalcore flair. Great lyrics about failure and persistence in your faith through all of it. "The Slain Reunion" Starts out with some sweet guitar work, and a nice riff, along with some cool high-intensity snare drum. Once again, the keyboard fits in nicely in the background to provide that "extra something" to the sound. Dual-guitar harmonized riffing is the order of the day here, and it works to great effect. Cool lyrics that bring the book of Revelations to mind, and a nice transition at around the 2 minute mark to a fast riffing section and extended instrumental jam. Simple, but effective breakdown with some good double-bass drumming near the 3-minute mark, as well as a bit of fancy fretwork with some dual-leads going on. The title track really ups the ante with super-fast double bass & riffing, and is the fastest thing so far - it's no wonder they named the album after this song! Quite intense and driving, this song benefits from the constant onslaught of vocal interplay, driving double-bass work, and driving riffs. I like the variety of vocals in the song, from deeper death growls to the higher-pitched stuff. The solo work beginning near the 2-minute mark is cool, melodic, and neatly harmonized. I like the keyboard sound during the breakdown after the solo - it gives this section an interesting dynamic. I also like the change-up of the drum patterns during the verse sections, which gives the song an interesting flow as well as nice variety.
"Shattered" brings things down a hair, throwing more groove in the mix, as well as implementing a cool riff that takes the volume down a notch to give the melodic sensibility a chance to briefly shine. The keyboard is more prominent here, but only slightly - it works well in this setting. Cool riffing around the 1 minute mark that is complemented by the frenetic drumming, as well as the nice background guitar riffing. Nice dissonant sound during the breakdown with 2 guitars slightly off from each other, which sounds cool. I like how the song fades out in a wash of keyboards and fading feedback. "Prophetic Heresy" begins with an awesome melodic riff, and a cool echoing guitar effect. Then it kicks into high gear with fast double-bass work and great tom rolls, and great dual-guitar riffing. I like the guitar work around the 1:30 mark as well, with an interesting layered effect of riff & licks. "Battle On" has a nice melodic riff and interesting "bell" sound with the keyboards that gives it a nice extra touch. I like the "winding" nature of the riff - it gives it a minor element of complexity that suits the song well. Great lyrics about leaning on God to find the strength & courage to continue to "fight the good fight" and press on. Cool keyboard work around the 2:45 mark that is the first time the keyboard truly shines on the album, having been relegated to background atmospherics thus far. I like the keyboard solo and think it works well here. I'd like to hear more of this from the band in the future.
"Die To Yourself" begins with some cool dual-guitar licks and nice drum/cymbal work. The driving riff is cool, and the short breakdown around the 1 minute mark works well. The transition into a driving riff section is seamless, and shows nice variety in the song. The galloping riff around the 2 minute mark is a nice touch as well, giving a bit of classic metal influence in the mix. The song is also capped off by a nice solo at the end. "Material Existence" has a nice keyboard/riff intro, and quickly transitions into a fast riff with the cool keyboard pattern as backdrop. Cool dual-guitar work nearing the 2-minute mark, as well as some nice riffing interspersed therein. Another interesting "bell" effect on the keyboards around the 2:45 mark, and back to speedy riffing/drumming around 3 minutes. Closing track "Symbiosis" has a nice heavy intro with plodding riff, and some brief lead work, quickly transitioning into fast riffing with drums keeping the pace steady. Well-placed change-ups in vocals from deep to high as well, with a bit of layering in spots for effect. The song moves quickly from bit to bit, never slowing down to take a breath, but just going in different directions. There are a lot of transitions in this song, which keep it interesting & make the listener wonder just what's coming next. A bit of groove around the 2:15-2:30 mark, and back to faster riffing shortly thereafter. An ultra-low vocal around the 3-minute mark that signals yet another transition to a solo portion, then back to pummeling riffs and double-tracked vocals with fast double-bass drumming to keep the pace. More soloing complements the song near, and after the 4-minute mark, and the listener is pummeled until the last seconds of the song, where the keyboard fades out with the riff to give the listener a chance to breathe again.
Despite being released among a sea of great albums this year, including several label-mates, I must complement Bombworks for taking a chance on Darkness Before Dawn, and I hope fans out there will too. The CD stays interesting throughout by having a number of subtly different approaches, variety in the riffing & songwriting, and a mixture of fairly technical stuff with some more simplistic, groove-oriented material, as well as elements that will satisfy fans of most extreme metal sub-genres. If you're into melodic death metal, metalcore, deathcore, or just extreme metal in general, don't pass this one up. You'll be glad you took a chance on it like me, and perhaps you'll be "slapped with a trout" like I was upon first listen, and will be taken aback by just how good this really is. I daresay, I have spun this at least 10 times in the last 3 weeks, and it hasn't got old or felt like it wasn't fresh, which is a testament to just how strong this release is. I'd say the only shortcomings here are that there should be more variety in the keyboards (too much background, not enough time to shine), and the usual complaint that the bass is difficult to pick out in the mix, which is true of most extreme metal in general. Otherwise, this is a commendable release by a solid up-and-comer who shows a lot of promise. I was certainly "slapped in the face" with surprise as to how good it was, and I suspect others will be too. Recommended.