I, like so many other music fans, cringe at the term “supergroup.” What, a bunch of passionate creatives can’t branch out beyond their best-known or most popular work to try something else, with new collaborators and a new vision? Creatives being creative? How fucking dare they! In the realm of death metal, this concept is far from new, as many of the early bets of the gruesome subgenre can be traced to not just one, but multiple acts with measurable success, if not horrific notoriety. Old habits die hard, as many death metal acts could begrudgingly be called supergroups anymore.
So is the case with Darkened, an international killers’ row with its members’ previous affiliations ranging from Bolt Thrower (drummer Andrew Whale) to Despirited (vocalist Gord Olson), as well as Entombed A.D. (bassist Tobias Cristiansson) and many more. After a four-track EP Into the Blackness in 2019, this transcontinental collective set out to form their first full-length, and the result is the sludgy, blood-soaked Kingdom of Decay. This is a master class of death metal across all of its eras, taught by veritable masters of the craft, and the final result reaps those rewards as a result.
From the first acoustic notes of the intro “Nekros Manteia” ringing out over the storm that brews, it’s clear that Darkened are looking to set things ablaze, and the torches come out on the first proper track “Dead Body Divination.” Equal parts melodic and manic, this opener tears open the veil, and ensures that death metal is alive and well. Moments on tracks such as the follow-up “1000 Years” and “The Burning” add in some D-beat, another nod to death metal’s hardcore minglings of its yesteryear.
Further celebrating the old ways are songs like “The Old Ones” and “Cage of Flesh,” as they dip into sludgier, doomier material, proving that while death metal made its money on executions, it made its reputation on dissections. As far as slower, bludgeoning tracks versus vortexes which rip through the killing fields, this album strikes a balance better than most, and it’s hard to say that one method is performed better than another. In either case, the double kick work of drummer Andrew Whale must be celebrated for keeping the faith across all but the intro and outro tracks, which are designed as instrumentals without percussion anyhow.
This isn’t an album I would immediately recommend to newer death metal fans, as it feels like something that should be reserved for conversations of “well, if you liked that, you’re gonna love this.” Make no mistake, Kingdom of Decay might be my personal favorite death metal album of 2020, but that comes from years of digging through the viscera of countless other acts that came before it, some of those being the previous hosts of the five legends behind Darkened. While the phrase “by fans, for fans” gets bandied about, it applies firmly to this record in particular.
Kingdom of Decay is available now via Edged Circle Productions.