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Darker Than Black

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Cage's third full-length finds the San Diego band digging even deeper into the secret garden of trad metal. What mysteries await in those fertile depths? Well, the glowering album introduction, "Darker Than Black," lays it out for us. It seems to have something to do with an evil force in the universe and cauldrons and other such tools of the black arts, but you'll forget the clumsiness of this device when Sean Peck unleashes the full-octave madness of his incredible singing voice. "Kill the Devil" is such a genuine piece of metal, it's simply unbelievable that the song wasn't recorded by Iron Maiden in 1983; 20 years has done nothing to dilute the power of, well, power metal when it's done right, and Cage has the style down pat. Dueling guitars trade martial riffing with spiraling, twisting to the heavens solos that occasionally mesh with the insane upper registers of Peck's voice. But he isn't simply a Rob Halford clone — the vocalist proves to be quite expressive, shifting to a crawling, scraping death metal style throughout. On the foreboding, sludgy "Chupacabra," Peck seems to be using the alter ego as some sort of devilish response to the shining sword of his normal wail. This is lost in the complicated mythology of the album, but it's a nice aesthetic move to temper the histrionics with some darker elements. (The effect works particularly well on "White Magic.") "Eyes of Obsidian" features some great harmonious riffing from the guitar corps, and ramps eagerly into a virtuosic section with all kinds of technical instrumental touches. When the chorus harmony gives way to a keening solo, only to have the drums drop into a cavern for a moment, and then return to support a final, mountainous vocal overture, it might just be time for fans of classic power metal to thank Cage for keeping the genre alive. While the band is definitely strongest in its fast and loose moments, the Queensrÿche-ish, eight-plus minute epic "Wings of Destruction" does feature some mind-blowing technical and vocal work. It might also contain the answer to the album's dark thematic riddle, but with all the talk of demons, tyranny, and magical battlefields, things get a bit confusing. No matter — Darker Than Black is incredibly strong throughout, and sends up a flare to the metal community that the pacing, passion, and power of traditional metal still has teeth. [This U.S. version of Darker Than Black includes the bonus track "Antimatter." There's also a hidden Spanish-language version of "Chupacabra."]

Darker Than Black, Cage
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