Friday, October 12, 2012

Darksun - Memento Mori (2012)

When you have power metal on the brain, as so many of us do so often, your mind takes a trip around the world in search of the greats, the up and comers, and the pretenders. But rarely does Spain come up on your map of symphonic destinations. Darksun, the veteran six piece from the city of Asturias, have been carrying the bulk of the load for the Spanish scene for the better part of ten years. Rather than toil in the second tier of their genre, they hope to take the next step, a giant leap into the upper echelon. On "Memento Mori," Dani Gonzalez and company reassert themselves as a band with a laundry list of strengths, and few weaknesses.

Pulsing with classical orchestrations, the title track is a short but powerful step into the world of these Spanish power metallers. Like the opening act of a play, it launches everything into motion, right into "Rompe el Hechizo." Hearing the rolling of the letter "r" is nothing new, but placed atop a distorted guitar and thumping drums, it is a new facet to enjoy. Beauty comes in the form of balance, not only between vocals and instrumental, but in every aspect of the track itself. Strings are used as accents throughout, heightening the experience of a crushing rhythm section. That same duo of bassist Adrián Huelga and drummer Miguel Pérez takes center stage in the opening moments of "Surcando el Tiempo" as well, packing a punch into beat. There is something in the flow of the music itself that may bring to mind Dream Theater at times, but without all of the frills and lace. Instead, you get a more straightforward approach, albeit it intricate and varied. In the chorus and bridge sections, drumming is key with a flurry of double kicks. But, not to be outdone, guitarists David Figuer and Tino Hevia produce a flash of virtuosic guitar that is both memorable and functional.

The start and stop dynamics in the first stage of "La Última Esperanza" is well conceived, giving the ideal rise to full speed. By now, vocalist Dani G. has given you plenty of evidence that he is a capable frontman, crafting melody after melody, hitting all of the soaring high notes his bandmates leave open for him. This track falls into the "basic" side of things, if not a little generic. Despite being well written and executed, it lacks a degree of originality to hammer it all home. Fortunately, it is followed closely by "De Metal," which boasts some of the more rich use of orchestration and synthesizers. Every crashing cymbal rings in your ears, crowded in with layer after layer of distortion. The issue here lies in the way the final mix was balanced, leaving the guitars a touch to loud, muffling the more subtle keys behind. The light ethnic touches of "El Templo de los Horrores" are a welcomed change of pace, even when they fall in, arguably the most stripped down track on the album. Basic chugging guitar chords make up the bulk of the verse, with low end horns blaring through at times. The bridge section, however, separates the men from the boys, with some blazing guitar work and composition.

The problem is that, by the time "Mil Vidas" begins, you think you have heard it all. Luckily, you couldn't be more wrong. A coarse scream opens the track, and sets something different into motion. It isn't a complete departure from the normal power metal structure, but rather a wrinkle. Those screams return here and there, giving a much needed bit of variation to things. It works wonders in separating this track from the others, and making it a stand out. The longest track on the album, "De Hielo y Fuego" also has some of the more "larger than life" production work. They step out of their comfort zone, if only slightly, and give you a song that delivers on all levels. The instrumental is one of their best, combining the most complete set of drum patterns, with screeching and wailing guitars. And for the first time since the opening minute of the album, the classical orchestrations get to share the spotlight, providing a wondrous bridge. A heavier edge comes back on "Nacido de la Oscuridad," but partnered with some clean passages that can only be described as fragile. Gang vocals enter here and there, for added depth, but they still rely on a darting and dazzling guitar solo to round things out. As if they knew something was lacking, "Escrito con Sangre" brings it all back around in thunderous fashion.

The closing trifecta of tracks all feature guest appearances. On "Dentro de Ti," Manuel Ramil joins for a stunning piano ballad. The delicate tickling of keys is accompanied by a single voice, light and airy. There isn't a clutter of instruments, fighting for position, but rather a completely stripped down and simple piece that is both beautiful and humbling. Even when a booming drum comes in, the tempo is set. To see Primal Fear vocalist Ralf Scheepers featured on "Fragile" wasn't a complete surprise, but a pleasant one. His signature voice fits perfectly into the dense instrumentation at play, adding a touch of class and grit to the track that may have otherwise good flat. The album is completed by a collaboration with now legendary bassist and vocalist of Rage, Peavy Wagner. It may be a stretch to call "Broken Dreams" the best track on the album, but it is sure to resonate with you long after the album is over. Something in the way Wagner presents himself musically, it collides with the Darksun sound in a impressive way.

While there are small problems scattered throughout the album, Darksun manages to, once again, show how strong their music can be. Time and again they prove their mettle, pushing out track after track of standard power metal. No, there isn't a whole lot of lateral movement to be had; they aren't reinventing the genre on "Memento Mori." But what you can be sure of is that you won't be disappointed with anything you find on this disc, or their others. Competing in a genre that is flooded with bands, big and small, from all over the world, Darksun would be the obvious choice to carry the flag of Spain into the arena. And with yet another well performed album under their belt, they won't be leaving any time soon.


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