Darkwater – Human (Ulterium Records)

Tuesday, 5th March 2019
Rating: 8.5/10

It’s been a relative eternity since the last Darkwater album Where Stories End at the tail end of 2010. Unclear as to why the long break occurred between records, as it appears that there haven’t been any significant lineup changes in the interim. Nevertheless, it’s great to have this Swedish quintet back – as they have a melodic progressive metal sound that is highly infectious while being very sophisticated, incorporating numerous dynamic elements to broaden their style into modern, gothic, and symphonic landscapes while never sacrificing their core principles.

The vocal harmonies shimmer against the outer galaxy keyboard tones and bass/drum underpinning – allowing plenty of space for some entertaining bursts of bluesy, heavy guitar breaks against the wall of down-tuned rhythms. Check out the exotic, Middle Eastern textures to “In Front of You”, the commanding chorus penetrating the brain, while the follow-up lead tradeoffs between guitars and keyboards balance out Symphony X meets Pagan’s Mind philosophies of execution and atmosphere. The band lives for expansive arrangements – which could be worrisome for some listeners, and yet these musicians know how to counterbalance prolonged instrumental sequences with the right groove/hook measures that captivate. It can be as simple as a haunting orchestral/choir refrain against a chugging guitar segment that builds into off-time interplay for “Alive (Part II)”, or the seductive vocal melodies against the mid-tempo music march flow during “The Journey”, it all works in Darkwater’s favor for intense listening sessions that gain deeper insight through repeated exposures. Keeping the lyrics on a personal/emotional context is also a welcome shift from conceptual/headier fare that can take place in this genre. Bassist Simon Andersson gains significance in key spots, setting up the mood for the shimmering “Burdens”, driving home a pounding foundation against the keyboard/guitar bobs and weaves.

It’s a long album at 78 minutes – not for the faint of heart and perfect for progressive metal people on those long travels via car, bus, or airplane. Given the work of Circus Maximus and Evergrey as of late, Darkwater slot adequately in that space where they can be heavy and intricate, but never overbearing and always keeping hooks, melodies, and groove-aspects in mind.

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