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Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Darkwell - Moloch

Darkwell really needs no introduction. Everyone with a thing for gothic rock and metal knows this Austria-based band that has been in hibernation for many years, since 2007 to be precise. Being established back in 1999, they immediately made a name for themselves when they released ‘Susperia’ only a year later. Having toured with some of the big league players in their genre, their future seemed bright and in 2002 they released an MCD called ‘Conflict of Interest’ which proved to be a bit predictive title, because in 2003, Darkwell parted ways with singer Alexandra Pittracher due to personal and musical difficulties. Stephanie Meier took over and, with her, Darkwell continued following the path through the world of gothic music they have been paving for themselves since they came into existence, resulting in Metat(r)on, another great release that was highly valued by many reviewers. They toured for a couple of years and then, just like that, they decided they needed a break due to personal issues and reasons, ending Darkwell’s golden career prematurely. They never officially split up though, and some four years ago the fire that had been smoldering for all those years was relit initiating a resurrection. Singer Alexandra returned to the line-up and the drum stool was filled by Michael Bachler, who replaced Moritz Neuner. Guitarist Mathisa Nussbaum, bass player Roland Wurzer and keyboard man Raphael Lepuschitz completed the quintet we know as Darkwell. Now, four years later, they have completed their resurrection with a new full-length release called ‘Moloch’, which, I assume, refers to the eponymous biblical idol to which children were offered. How cosy…

‘Moloch’ gives you eleven solid gothic rock-and-metal songs in true Darkwell style, which to me means they did not stay on the more progressive path they were exploring when they released ‘Metat(r)on’, but instead seem to have reconnected with their earlier style. This makes the songs on ‘Moloch’ more coherent and therefore easier on the ears as the ones on its predecessor, however, they did not abandon the progressive influence completely. In my opinion this a good thing, I like the earlier Darkwell better, their more progressive style seemed a bit unnatural to me. ‘Moloch’ opens with the title song, a catchy piece of work that, with its speed changes and Alexandra’s hypnotizing, enchanting vocals, is a more than capable opener, raising my hopes and expectations for the rest of the album. My enthusiasm gets tempered a bit when the next song, ‘In Nomine Serpentis’ (In the name of the snake) fills my headphones. It’s not a bad song, but it seems to drag on a bit, mostly due to the slow, somewhat monotonous chorus. Luckily that proves to be an incident rather than a habit, because ‘Yoshiwara’ brings back the energy from the first song.

That energy remains throughout the remainder of the album. The interaction between Alexandra’s distinct voice with its hypnotizing timbre and the varied, yet coherent music creates a special, ever-changing atmosphere that will keep you alert and entertained the entire time. Mathisa’s strong guitar work is leading the dance in almost every song, giving guidance rather than forcing direction, thus allowing the bass, the drums, the keys and Alexandra’s vocals to roam fee within its borders. Raphael’s keys are making the most of this freedom, sometimes even claiming the leading role, but Michael and Roland’s combined rhythm section and Alexandra have no problem frolicking around the guitar lines either. The execution of all this give Darkwell their personal yet recognizable sound, resulting in high quality music, both structure-wise and composition-wise. Proof of this can be found all over the album, but most specific in two of the best songs on the album: ‘Save My Sight’ and ‘Bow Down’, perfect examples of what I mean.

It’s obvious that a lot of care, dedication and time has been put into ‘Moloch’ in an effort to translate the complicated composition into a coherent album and it’s equally obvious they succeeded for the most part. I’m not sure if the 5-year hibernation has been the right thing to do for Darkwell, let alone been of any influence, but I have to say I’m impressed with what they have conjured up since their resurrection. The decrease of progressive elements in favor of more coherent structures are spot on in my opinion. The style on ‘Moloch’ is Darkwell at its best, roaming free within the borders of what they have adopted as their genre. Apart from the one song that never really grabbed me, there’s only one more point of interest as far as improvements or pitfalls are concerned and that is the vocals. Alexandra has a fantastic voice, with, as is audible on ‘Moloch’, a great reach, but monotony is lurking when there’s not much to vary in a song. I had a few moments on this release that made me come to this conclusion, especially in, again, ‘In Nomine Serpentis’, but rest assured it was never a problem. Not even close. All in all I’m more than happy with the new (and improved) Darkwell. Definitely recommended.

Written by Henric van Essen

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