A rare feat, a classy Swedish metal album that appeals to metalcore fans, without dumbing down the sound.
American metal is so popular these days, that any European band who wants to get their foot in the door in an attempt to capitalize on the burgeoning movement on this side of the Atlantic is often caught between a rock and a hard place. They could either stick to the kind of adventurous, highly technical post-death/thrash metal that Europe has exported over the years, and have their music sail over the collective heads of the kids who crave nothing but simple, sound-alike metalcore. On the other hand, if they simplify their style to follow the leads of bands such as Lamb of God and Shadows Fall, they'd be branded sellouts by their legions of difficult-to-please fans. Just how to crack the American market without "Americanizing" their sound remains a tough question for anyone across the Atlantic. Arch Enemy appear to finally be making some major strides this year, but other prominent European bands, such as In Flames, Soilwork, and The Haunted have all tried valiantly to cash in on the metal resurgence, but with only middling sales.
Sweden's Darkane is a band who appears to be on the right track. Unlike The Haunted's straightforward style and Soilwork's toned-down direction (both of which recipients of equal parts praise and outright scorn), Darkane have managed to hit just the right note on their fourth album, Layers of Lies. Firmly rooted in the classic Swedish metal of the early 1990s, Darkane draw from early albums by In Flames, At the Gates, and Dark Tranquillity, shredding away a high energy hybrid of death metal's intricately melodic guitar work and thrash metal's more structured songwriting style. At the same time, though, it's not all dense chords and rat-tat-tatting blastbeats, as the band proves to be very adept at slipping in some surprisingly melodic moments, inspired primarily by '90s greats Fear Factory. The ability to make such an aggressive form of music so surprisingly accessible is something rarely achieved; Nevermore do it brilliantly, as do In Flames, and you can add Darkane to the list now as well.
Kicking off with the stirring, not to mention brilliantly titled, instrumental "Amnesia of the Wildoerian Apocalypse", replete with the usual blend of symphonics and choral voices that metal bands love to do, the album shifts into overdrive on the fast, and extremely furious, "Secondary Effects", a stunning display of Gothenburg-esque prowess, highlighted by the authoritative drumming by Peter Wildoer (a maniacal percussionist who seems to only know two speeds: stop, and all-out), the welcome inclusion of an actual chorus, and a great dual guitar solo by Christofer Malmstrom and Klas Ideberg. It's an absolutely overwhelming four minute display, one that needs a few listens before listeners can fully adjust to it. Ornate guitar tones open "Organic Canvas", before heading off into more diverse territory, with an impressive array of stuttering tempo changes (not unlike their fellow Swedes Meshuggah), eventually exploding with the kind of soaring chorus that Devin Townsend has mastered with Strapping Young Lad. The brutal-meets-catchy formula climaxes on the stirring title track. Beginning with a melodic, half-acoustic, half electric intro that sounds more power metal than anything, the band erupts into a thunderous, midtempo stride, Malmstrom and Ideberg masterfully keeping their nimble riffs from slipping into metalcore redundancy, as yet another effective, melodic chorus kicks in. As good as Soilwork's recent Stabbing the Drama was, Darkane's highly skilled meshing of hooks and sheer power trounces it.
The band may have an ace drummer and two extraordinary guitarists, but it's lead vocalist Andreas Sydow who emerges as the real star. Boasting a very powerful, highly versatile voice, he brings a sense of style to the music that few American bands, with the exception of the great Warrell Dane of Nevermore, are willing to attempt. Sydow can emit as ferocious a death metal bark as the best of them, but instead of lingering around the cookie monster range, he's a slight level higher, and has the unique ability to enunciate while still conveying extreme metal power with his singing. He doesn't hit any high notes, but as he proves, there's no real need for them, as he keeps things more simple, and less bombastic.
Climaxing with the trio of the cool '80s instrumental groove of "Maelstrom Crisis" (as welcome a left-field entry as we'll hear on a record like this), the startling prog metal of "Decadent Messiah", and the blazing speed of the massively heavy "The Creation Insane", Layers of Lies is an impressive display of charisma and technical skill, an album that deserves recognition from North American audiences. To their credit, Darkane have managed to put together an album that has the ability to appeal to both the older aficionados and the kids, with the band's integrity very much intact.