One of the more fascinating projects to be revived during everyone’s pandemic-induced free time, Darkwoods My Betrothed has returned with their first album since 1998’s Witch-Hunts. Angel of Carnage Unleashed (Napalm Records) sustains their old style for the most part, showing off a variant of Viking Black Metal with hearty Symphonic flourishes. Of course, it’s always interesting to see how time will toy with a preexisting formula, especially one that has gone undisturbed for twenty-three years.
As somebody with only a passing familiarity with the band’s nineties albums, the involvement of Tuomas Holopainen was what caught my interest. While the Nightwish leader was involved with their previous releases as a session keyboardist, this is the first to credit him as a full member. He does a pretty good job of supplementing the mysterious mood with an array of twinkling piano, string patches, and atmospheric swells. It’s not the flashiest performance in the world but until I listened to this album, I didn’t realize how much I missed hearing him play without a million layers of orchestra stacked on top.
Of course, the keys play a mostly backing role and the rest of the band offers plenty of solid musicianship to go around. The production is inevitably cleaner than the old days and new session drummer Kai Hahto (Also of Nightwish) offers more intricate blasts, but the presentation maintains a cold, otherworldly aura that avoids sounding too polished. The guitars put in razor sharp patterns with occasionally chunky rhythms and the vocals feature the returning mix of standard shrieks and drunkenly bellowing cleans.
The songwriting also adheres to the band’s mix of melody and brutality, even pushing it forward to further extents than before. ‘Murktide And Midnight Sun’ is driven by predominately clean vocals and a straightforward structure while the piano trills on ‘Where We Dwell’ have a playful edge that throws back to the days of , albeit applied to a completely different genre. ‘In Thrall To Ironskull’s Heart’ is taken straight out of the late-era Bathory playbook, boasting an introspective acoustic beginning that transitions into a triumphant march that would’ve fit right in on Nordland. Fortunately, tracks like the opening ‘Name The Dead’ and ‘Massacre’ balance things out with more orthodox Black Metal violence.
Overall, Darkwoods My Betrothed’s comeback album is an incredibly pleasant surprise. One could certainly expect something serviceable to come from musicians of this pedigree even with the decades long silence, but the musicians clearly had fun making it and it’s fun to hear them reach back to a side of themselves that hasn’t been seen in a very long time, especially Holopainen. It’s a strong enough entry points for newer listeners and old school fans should enjoy the homecoming. Who knows if their schedules will be clear enough to give this another chance?
Buy the album here: https://darkwoodsmybetrothed.bandcamp.com/album/angel-of-carnage-unleashed
8 / 10