DarkBlack's Midnight Wraith sounds like a blast from the past despite making its way into record stores this year. This short but slick EP tackles traditional heavy metal, recalling the glory days when bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy reigned supreme.
It also reaffirms the notion that lightning rarely strikes twice. The energy of the aforementioned legends is lacking in DarkBlack, a band who seems like a pale shadow of such greats. Musically speaking, Midnight Wraith is fun but forgettable, the instrumentality always airtight but rarely intense. Its five songs focus on melody instead of heaviness, forgetting that the golden era metal bands always attacked the masses with both. Vocalist/bassist Tim Smith is particularly hurt by this reality, his wails rarely hitting the right combination of harmonizing and emotional highs.
Such flaws will likely go overlooked by the open-minded and fans of heavy metal's fundamentals. Midnight Wraith wisely masks its shortcomings in brevity – this disc is meant for metalheads who don't mind a speedy jaunt down memory lane. The result is a throwback album as fleeting as memory, brief in its recollection of the music of yore.
"Doom Herald" recalls this epoch with a hunk of heavy metal easily the EP's best. Galloping riffs and searing melodies jockey for position, recalling the axe wizardry imbued in Iron Maiden. In keeping with this parallel, Smith channels Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, delivering a performance that's his most convincing moment on the album.
Sadly, the pace immediately slackens with "Power Monger," a solid but unremarkable tune that tries showcasing the band's slower side but stutters musically at points. A few of the guitar melodies sound familiar – never good two songs into a record – and Smith's vocals don't reach the same climax as the increasingly searing music backing his voice. By the time a prolonged jam session kicks in, this one has worn out its welcome.
"Golden Idol" is all about melody and rhythm, its bass and guitar lines ambling along through warm, comforting heavy metal bordering on classic hard rock. Its flirtations with lighter fare make it one of the EP's more tepid tunes, a mid-paced rocker that jogs rather than sprints over the finish line. The album's title track contains more force, breezing by with gripping riffs and attention-grabbing leads. The drumming is equally stellar, switching rhythms with the ease of one changing their coats.
"Broken Oath" ends the album by inviting listeners in with a lush melody before breaking loose into full-speed-ahead heavy metal. The chorus is suitably loud and proud, while the guitars contain an arena-ready quality most of the other songs lack. The whole puzzle fits together so well, it's as if the band is making up for lost time.
Midnight Wraith thus marks a quick but distracting dive into heavy metal's youth but little else. Facing backwards in time, it ignores innovation on the off chance genre purists will appreciate its authenticity. The problem with this approach is how high heavy metal's founders set the bar – DarkBlack has trouble competing with the masters of yesterday. For those considering an album purchase in the present, one could do far worse than Midnight Wraith, but only if they don't expect more than an echo of a mightier era.
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. His writing also appears on his Heavy Metal Hensch blog at The Washington Times.