It has been a long time since the last new material from Sweden’s Darkwater – like almost a decade since 2010’s Where Stories End. Thankfully, that album was not the end of the story as the original line-up is back with 76 minutes of melodic progressive delight. The band’s debut Calling the Earth to Witness (2007) was simply phenomenal – the band setting a tone of melodic, yet progressive crunch with great melodies, copious keyboards and thought-provoking lyrics. But they took a long hiatus after the second release, leaving some to speculate if Darkwater was finished. For fans of melodic progressive metal, nothing could be farther from the truth. Human picks up, literally, right Where Stories End left off. The band didn’t really need to re-invent themselves, but I do think of this release as a kind of “reboot.” Afterall, 9 years is a long time in the music world. The best news is that during that time, these guys have not (individually) been absent from music, so their combined experience has only served to make them a bit more polished and more credible. This is a world-class recording (band produced), mixed and mastered by none other than Jacob Hansen. The sound quality is quite lavish – this one definitely the best-sounding of their 3 releases so far.
The Ulterium Records label carries with it a remarkable pedigree (despite their small footprint) of quality releases (both musical and physical product) for well over a decade now, so expect a beautifully packaged booklet and artwork, along with excellent sound quality in the mix. The music this time is easily categorized as melodic, thanks to the sweeping keyboard presence on almost every track by Magnus Holmberg along with Henrik Bath’s clear and distinctive vocal quality. But Markus Sigfridsson (guitars) always steers the sound in a metal direction with his crunchy guitar riffs and singing leads. Tobias Enbert (who also plays with Markus in the Christian melodic metal band Harmony) anchors the band with solid drumming. Alas, for those not familiar, Darkwater isn’t a Christian band per se, but they do speak to the human tendencies and troubles, the human heart, and ultimately the human spirit within the context of their thoughtful/questioning lyrics and intense emotional catharsis.
This album is massive – 10 songs, 76 minutes with every song in the 6 to 10 minute range, the exception “Alive-Part I” which serves as a short vocal intro (think Pain of Salvation because Bath sounds like Daniel Gildenlow here with his vocal phrasings) to “Alive – Part II.” Darkwater has a distinctive style – a very original sound – largely because they allow the keyboards of Magnus Holmberg an especially prominent presence within the mix. But the one thing I’ve always been impressed with about Darkwater is that they really don’t wear their influences too prominently – they don’t sound like Dream Theater, Fates Warning or any other band for that matter. I think Bath’s vocal style does impart to them an original sound, and they never try to mimic contemporary prog or melodic rock. You won’t find lengthy technically difficult passages, but that is not to say the competency isn’t there for execution. Instead, every riff, solo, groove, fill and lead serve the song in some regard – always the emphasis on melody. It’s their gift. I would say that the only negative about Human would be that every song is quite lengthy – which will likely please the prog fans to no end – but which could disappoint those who enjoy a mix of shorter more melodic and accessible songs mixed in with the epic tunes. Similarly, I think a fair criticism could be that there is a “sameness” to the songs as a result.
Those relatively minor issues aside, the music is wonderful. The keyboards sing in just about every song, delivering all kinds of diversity in soundscapes. No question, this is a lush recording – the mix wonderfully conveys power and precision at full volume. Despite the lengthy nature of almost every song, within the song itself, there is plenty of diversity. Songs like “Insomnia,” the story-like “The Journey” and the Pink Floydian 11-some minute “Reflection of a Mind” are simply stunning. In addition, one of my favorites would be “Burdens.” This song has it all – transparent lyrics, Symphony X like guitar riffs, thundering drums (both bass and toms), piano and guitar echoes and dynamic contrast. This song almost has a Pain of Salvation vibe in many aspects, but that wicked guitar lead shreds and the keyboard outro is very cool. This song then leads right up to the equally intense “Turning Pages,” a song which nicely juxtaposes the heavy and the acoustic. Lyrically, this is one of the strongest songs here because it calls the world to take account of the “lies feeding our society.” It begs the question, “Will we ever break these chains?” and “find our way back home?”
“I can’t take anymore/So I’m turning pages/Need this world to come alive … We need this world to break these lies/Hiding what we would have seen/Lies breaking what we would have seen/Lies breaking what we could have been/Lies feeding our society.” – “Turning Pages”
Darkwater, its great to have you back!
This release is also available in 2LP vinyl. (Review forthcoming)
1. A New Beginning (6:20)
2. In Front Of You (7:28)
3. Alive (Part I) (1:26)
4. Alive (Part II) (7:22)
5. Reflection Of A Mind (11:32)
6. Insomnia (6:46)
7. The Journey (8:04)
8. Burdens (8:15)
9. Turning Pages (9:47)
10. Light Of Dawn (9:09)