They Say :- DARKEST ERA formed under the name Nemesis in mid 2005. They wrote their first song, ‘Battle of Cul Dreimne’ at their first full practice. The song had an unintentional Celtic leaning which was to permeate the band’s writing from then on. Originally taking influence from early Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy and Irish folk music, their self titled demo, Nemesis, was released in mid 2006. A collection of raw, energetic and twin guitar driven songs, it began to bring the band to the attention of the European true metal underground.
In August 2010, DARKEST ERA announced that they had signed a worldwide deal with Metal Blade Records, and wasted no time in entering the studio to record their highly anticipated debut album. They traveled to Foel Studios in Wales at the end of August to lay down 8 tracks of dark, stormy, epic Celtic Metal with producer Chris Fielding at the helm.
The result is ‘The Last Caress Of Light’, a record which mixes the melancholy and atmosphere of Irish Folk with the epic might of heavy metal bands such as Warlord, Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy. The album stands out from all else as a record of intense emotional power and honesty; holding the listener within a dark heavy metal storm and not letting go until the last chords have rung out.
We Say :- There is an incredible music scene on the go just across the Irish Sea with bands like Trucker Diablo, Million Dollar Reload and the resurgent Thin Lizzy creating a buzz that is starting to be felt across Europe, and even further afield. Now the latest band to stake their claim for a place in this illustrious roll call are Northern Irish outfit Darkest Era who have recently released their with their debut album The Last Caress Of Light on Metal Blade records..
You are usually well advised to approach anything labeled as Celtic- or Folk- metal with a certain degree of trepidation, badly played music is badly played music whether it’s got genuine ethnic instruments in it or not…
So…. how do Darkest Era fare ?
Well by the time they are half way through the opening track The Morrigan the band have already drawn you into their world and you are well and truly hooked. If these is such a thing as the “essence” of Irish rock then here they have it nailed pretty damn well. The bands sound is rooted in the foundation laid down by bassist David Lindsay and drummer Lisa Howe and although there’s a definite “celtic” feel here it’s delivered without wandering into shamrock and leprechaun cliche territory. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that this is a track that seems to channel some of the the emotion and feel of Phil Lynott and Gary Moore with songwriting, musicianship and an arrangement that is worthy to be in the same sentence as those greats.
The second track, An Ancient Fire Burns, takes things in a slightly different direction with guitarists Ade Mulgrew and Sarah Weighell delivering the sort of Iron Maiden-esque guitar harmonies that even Maiden rarely produce these days as the song gallops along, before things get seriously heavy for Beneath The Frozen Sky. This is where vocalist Dwayne “Krum” Maguire really comes to the fore with a performance as strong as any you’re likely to hear.
Things do get a bit shamrock and leprechaun for Poem To The Gael, a really simple traditional arrangement that’s very well done that we’ll let them off 🙂
Although the spirit of Thin Lizzy, rock-mode Gary Moore and Maiden clearly runs through this release it’s never to an extent where it becomes overbearing. Indeed there is enough variation in here to stop The Last Caress Of Light sounding quite like anything you have ever heard before. Check out the stunning melodies the band call into place in some places, the galloping NWOBHM riffs they use in others and the killer choruses and intricate hooks that abound throughout.
As you listen to this album you get the real feeling that these musicians are all accomplished masters of their craft, and it’s a struggle to find any downsides to this release at all. It’s certainly a polished release and it certainly qualifies as one of the most well rounded debut albums that we have heard recently.
We spoke to guitarist Ade Mulgrew to fill in some of the background on the band..
What are the musical backgrounds of the band members, I’m guessing traditional Irish music played as big a part in that than rock ?
Actually most of us started playing instruments in the first instance to play rock and metal. Traditional Irish music for us is something that is more ingrained into the subconcious, because it is part of the cultural tapestry and very popular with older generations. So you would’ve heard it from your grandparents when you were very young, for example. Personally, as I started listening to a wider variety of music, I rediscovered folk music and it crept into the music I was writing. We also discovered some metal bands that were influenced by folk music or folklore, Bathory for example and it gave us the confidence to explore a more celtic atmosphere in our music. We can all play a few Irish folk songs, certainly, and some of us dabble with the bodhran, whistles, mandolin and so on. But in terms of playing, our background is rock firstly.
The album certainly has a celtic feel but manages to sound original with the more “metal” elements while it mostly steers clear of the Irish rock cliches. Was this just the way things worked out or a conscious effort not to be totally pigeonholed with the “celtic rock” label ?
Well I suppose the intention is to not come off as cliché, but as a songwriter that is something you try to avoid anyway! When you think of Celtic Rock you imagine something fairly specific but I honestly think our sound is quite hard to nail down, it straddles a few different sub genres. The Celtic element is more about atmosphere; the kind of lyrical style, rhythms and embellished chords and so on, as opposed to just playing jigs and reels on guitar. Having said this, the forebears of celtic rock for us are Thin Lizzy and Horslips, and we would definitely take influence from them in different ways.
There’s a great scene over in Northern Ireland at the moment, is it a good time to be doing what you do against that backdrop ?
Well, it is a healthy scene in terms of the kind of bands that stop off here on tour now. We have great international bands playing here every week, and Iron Maiden are playing Belfast for the Irish leg of their tour for example, as opposed to Dublin. There are plenty of great local bands coming through as well, but the Northern Irish scene is very small in the grand scheme, as we have a really small population. It’s basically centered in Belfast. The Irish scene in general is quite healthy now. We still don’t have as big a following as you might think here, because the kind of music we play isn’t as popular as death metal, for example. But we still have plenty of local support which is encouraging.
Reading some articles on you, why do you think you are often mentioned along with Labelmates Primordial. There’s not a great deal of similarity between your music or were you more alike in the early days ?
Well I think there are some aspects of our music that people draw comparisons with. We build chords in similar ways and I suppose use similar rhythms, but the music is a lot different if you ask me. We have a similar kind of atmosphere in places but we are much more a heavy metal band. We have different kind of vocals, guitar solos, choruses, things Primordial don’t do. In our early days we were more NWOBHM style so I don’t think it stems from there, more the progression we made on our first EP. I also think it’s lazy journalism in a sense, most people who’ve really listened to the record find a much different identity in there. It can be annoying when people don’t look past the surface. Also the fact that it was Alan Averill who signed us to Metal Blade also puts the name in peoples heads straight away. But that’s the way it goes sometimes really, we will outstrip it eventually when people become more familiar with us.