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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Dark Black

The Barbarian's Hammer

Review by Mike Korn

If you are of a certain age group (OK, over 40), you will actually remember when heavy metal seemed to discover itself as a genre and blossom into something really special. This would be the late '70's and very early '80's. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was the hottest musical phenomena going if you weren't into sappy techno-pop and bands were starting to sprout all over the place that identified themselves proudly as "heavy metal." Many of these bands had a rough-hewn charm that today's slick practitioners lack completely. I am often nostalgic for the simpler metal of those times.

So, too, apparently is Portland, Oregon band Dark Black. These guys could pass for a forgotten band from the NWOBHM or maybe one of the early American power metal bands like Jag Panzer and Omen. No ProTools or drum triggers for these cats...they plug in and jam. A mixture of Iron Maiden, Saxon, early Metallica and Manowar might best describe the Dark Black sound, which thrives on wailing guitar solos, thunderous drums and more riffs than you can shake a Flying V at.

Complete with Frazetta-style cover, I would say The Barbarian's Hammer is all good except for one glaring problem, which is the singing of front man Tim. To say this guy is unpolished is basically like saying the sun is hot. Sure, rough vocals can have their appeal, but this is going too far. Tim is enthusiastic but can't carry a tune in a bucket. He's tolerable to me for most of the record because the song quality is so high, but when he tries for a shrieking falsetto, I feel like grabbing a gun and shooting the stereo. It's bad, real bad. I imagine instead what a guy like Tim Owens could do with this band. But all in all, "The Barbarian's Hammer" is kind of a cool time capsule release that recaptures the energy and innocence of a vanished era of metal. For more info, and to order the CD check out Dark Black on Myspace.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Wizardman
The early deliberate pace of this tune really reminds me of Saxon and some of the older Maiden. It's not slow but it sure isn't thrash or speed either. A nice headbanging tempo is maintained until speeding up significantly at the end into a kind of early thrash riff. Tim's shrieking falsetto is godawful, but to atone, Ant's screaming lead guitar solos will bring a tear to the eye of every old school axe fiend.
Bracers of the Eagle's Talons
The tempo here is mid-paced and menacing, almost "stalking." This is a cut that goes through quite a few changes during its length, including a relaxed acoustic stretch. As you might expect, though, that's only the prelude to some more blazing leads. Tim's vocals are more tolerable than on "Wizardman" and this whole cut is just pure headbanging pleasure.
The Warhammer
This has got a real Saxon chugging feel to start. It sure reminds me of an ancient favorite but I'm damned if I can recall what it is. Boy, I sure wish they could find somebody else to sing and leave Tim to concentrate on bass playing. The song is very strong but hurt by amateurish vocals. No such problem with Carl's drums, which are at their pounding best during this lengthy bruiser. Watch out for the killer thrash licks about 3:00 in! This is the way it used to be done!
A Tale of Vengeance
I'm reminded of Manowar both musically and lyrically here. It again demonstrates that brooding, stalking feel which gradually speeds up. It's a bit more melodic than the other cuts, with some twin guitar work to add some color.
Axestorm (Sign of the Master)
The drums just about bulldoze everything else on this cut...they were mixed too high. It's an aggressive pounder with slight Maiden-ish touches to it. It's an uneven tune, as some parts really rage yet others sound unfocused.
 
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