The new self-titled album from Brisbane gothic shock rockers Darkcell, has retro-futuristic pull, throwback vibrations and LOTS going on.
First off, it’s worth mentioning that Darkcell is stalwarts of the scene up in Brisbane (and abroad) they have been plugging away for 10 years, garnering a solid fan base and are known for their generous relationship with their followers, two things that immediately get respect from me. Their sound draws heavily from industrial and goth-rock but their 2019 self-titled release also has elements of Nu-metal, straight-up rock and even nods to the edgier fringes of pop.
The album begins with a broody, synth-led intro track, no surprises here and strings the listener along until shoving us into the album’s opener, The Great Big Nothing.
A powerful opener too, chugging riffs, gothic synths and a soaring chorus are an accurate reflection of what’s to come. Lyrics about “rats in cages” and “looking up at the sky” feel very familiar and are a slight worry. Dracman’s vocals on the album flirt with true harshness but rarely stray from the palatable shouting and borderline ‘yarling’ commonly found in the genre.
The Great Big Nothing gives way to the second track Reign of the Monsters.
This track literally starts with a big, shouted ‘Let’s go!’ before another standard breakdown. Just like you’ve heard a thousand times. Which depending on your taste will give you a big dose of sickly-sweet nostalgia or make your eyes roll a little…or a lot. There is a ‘La La La’ section and even a *clap clap* on this track too which add to the catchiness but subtract from the hard edge. The synths are the highlight, providing a Hammer Horror Theremin vibe and the main riff feels like the pump-up music from a loading screen in a racing game from 2008.
Burn the Witches is next but unfortunately has a more plodding pace and some of the energy cultivated in the initial two tracks is punctured. You can really hear the industrial influence in Burn the Witches and again Postmortem Matt’s synth sections are memorable and imaginative.
The 5th tune Scars and Stripes is much more satisfying, the pace has quickened, and the core has hardened. However, a couple of cringey inclusions, a sound bite of a gun cocking and a curious rap/nu-metal section.
With Godless the ‘La La La’s are back again and the track is inevitably forgettable.
Night Rider is a slight departure from the played-out riffs and waves of goth but doesn’t work. The track has heavy pop-rock influences. It seems to attempt sexiness, but it’s sleaziness the listener is left with.
The next track Carnevil is exactly what you’d expect from Darkcell, it starts with that classic circus theme, it’s catchy, totally fun and silly. Personally, the less serious more tongue in cheek Darkcell is a better fit. Even down to the hokey play on words and killer clown/carny themes. It just feels right for the band. Reminds me of a kid drinking a Monster in a BAM t-shirt. There’s even a sax solo here, told you this album had a lot going on.
Hail to the Freaks I’m sure is a crowd favourite when the band perform, and I’ve read they’re awesome live. Totally a return to that late 90s early 2000s goth rocky anthem. But I did find myself singing the chorus from earlier songs over the top of this tune, a sure sign the album may have just outstayed its welcome. An almost Tom Morello styled solo here unfortunately not a saving grace.
Sold My Soul more of the same, with again Matt’s 90s style sci-fi synths intriguing but ultimately leading to more plodding and chugging. Muted and augmented vocals evoke Marilyn Manson sounds.
The final track Midnite is a highlight for me. Moody, cinematic and with the inclusion of a clean singing, female guest vocalist there is some restraint shown here and more subtle textures. The sincere emotional approach is earned where previously it was snatched. A good ending to this album.
Darkcell’s 2019 self-titled release certainly doesn’t sound like it was released this year, more from a time gone by. A time of swooped fringes, eyebrow piercings and guys named Jared. If you like Slipknot, if you like Marilyn Manson and their ilk or have ever had dyed black dreads, you will get a lot out of this. You’ll be excited by the genre’s maintenance and by some sick Aussies who have made a positive impact on the global scene. This album is fun, and the package is whole and clear. But if you like a more extreme, uncompromising, caustic sound, probably best to stay away.
There is no chaos with Darkcell, which is something I really missed. The ’evil’ is more for fun and the aesthetic than it is for any authentically anti-human sentiment.
This is a solid goth/industrial album for sure and I bet the Darkcell guys are fun. Respect.
Release Year: 2019
Label: RTD Records
Reviewed by Jim Smith