It was a nice surprise to learn recently that Darker Half were releasing a new EP. The Australians made quite a splash on American shores in 2014, with an extensive DIY tour highlighted by a terrific performance at the Warriors of Metal Fest in Ohio. They won over new fans every night, not only through their infectious brand of melodic power metal but also through being genuinely good dudes who were easy to root for and a whole lot of fun to hang out with. Although Darker Half had been a going concern since 2003, they were making a concerted push to break out of their homeland with 2014’s excellent ‘No Surrender’ album, a re-recording of some of the strongest material from their previous albums plus a few killer new songs. Now they’re back with ‘Classified,’ a five-song EP that Darker Half used as a launching pad for their first recently-concluded European tour.
‘Classified’ finds the band in fine form. The core elements of Darker Half’s sound remain unchanged. They still play guitar-driven, song-oriented melodic heavy metal with bursts of thrashy energy, plenty of speed, and even a few curveballs to keep the listener on his/her toes. It’s a sound that’s not a million miles removed from countrymen like Lord or even Ilium, but Darker Half have a unique vibe in the way they combine their influences and work through different subgenres from one song to the next while still coming across as a cohesive, unified whole. A huge part of the band’s individualism lies in the remarkable voice of guitarist/vocalist Vo Simpson, who manages to navigate stratospheric heights with power and control. He’s easily understandable and never grating, which is no mean feat for an upper-register wailer.
I’m generally not a huge fan of EPs because they feel like an appetizer rather than a proper meal, but ‘Classified’ wins me over because the five songs expertly showcase the different dimensions of Darker Half’s sound. “Aliens Exist” and “Voice of the Dead” are fast, catchy power-metal gems that will have you singing along and playing air-guitar on the sofa in no time. “Heaven’s Falling” is a bit more restrained but with huge melodies, a tailor-made single with an interesting wrinkle in the form of the gruff “don’t judge me” backing vocals in the chorus. “Genesis/Genocide” showcases the thrashy side of the band, and is the first writing contribution of new guitarist, Jimmy Lardner-Brown, who comes up with some strong riffs and a cool song overall that fits well within the Darker Half sonic construct. The curveball on this EP is track 3, a seven-minute experimental beast entitled “The Deal.” I’ll be honest: I kind of hated “The Deal” the first time I heard it. The verses begin in half-spoken form with this repetitive synth/bass line that reminds me of stuff that Queensryche did on ‘Rage for Order’ (think “Screaming in Digital,” maybe?) or even countrymen Voyager. But the guitars kick in for Vo Simpson’s catchy chorus. The dynamics of the song have really won me over. It’s well-written and well-executed, with a kind of creepy vibe, which is only fitting given the lyrical concept about a Faustian bargain. In the final analysis, I realize that “The Deal” is the song that really pulls this EP together and stamps the Darker Half identity on it.
I don’t know what’s next for Darker Half, but I ardently hope that the ‘Classified’ EP is simply a glimpse into great things on the horizon. For now, though, check out ‘Classified.’ I know that distribution is spotty in certain parts of the world (USA, for example), but Darker Half have presented a really good batch of songs wrapped in a modern, powerful production that plays to their strengths. Devotees of melodic power metal (the Nocturnal Rites analogy I’ve seen in other reviews is apt), the Australian variant of power metal a la Lord/Dungeon, or just catchy, thoughtful heavy metal in general would be well advised to track down this very fine EP.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~