The review itself starts a bit further down, the first six paragraphs are just a brief explanation for those people who have no idea what any of this metal stuff is about.
Metal is weird, but not in the way that the people who listen to it would want normal people to think. One of the many reasons it’s so odd is its fans – again, not in the way you’d think. They’re among the most loyal of any fanbase, really. Sure, a gang-banger might shoot you for dissing Tupac, but a metalhead will find your Facebook and tell you you should die in all manner of inventive ways because you don’t get it. Some people mistake that as aggression, but it really is loyalty. This loyalty is why absolutely nothing I have to say here actually matters, but I’ll explain that toward the end of this summary.
You see, there are three types of people who will see this review is about a metal band and they’ll all react predictably. The first set will see the name Exist Immortal and see the genre and immediately think ‘NO. Not a chance in hell, I’m going back to listening to The Notorious D.R.E and his nice music about police framing drug dealers by arresting them for carrying drugs; or some Avicii Guetta, because he’s a super cool awesome talented guy.’ These people were a lost cause from the get-go, so I don’t think it’ll bother the band.
The second set will have heard Enter Sandman at some point during the noughties, through a quirky male friend with long hair or female friend with short hair, and assume that’s all that metal really is. They will or won’t listen to the track attached, depending on their reaction to the above-mentioned sandmanning. If they do, almost all of them will panic and do something violent to their keyboard to turn it off, some will laugh a little out of fright, and maybe one person will feel a connection and read/listen on. Things could only have gotten better than type one, in fairness.
The third set is the one Exist Immortal is aiming for – the true blue metalheads who grew up on a steady diet of Sabbath, Slayer, Anthrax, and later on, Killswitch Engage – remember that last one. This third set makes up about 2% of the market, according to the numbers I just pulled out of my arse to prove my own point. You’d think that these people would all love it, being such a small group with so much in common, but you’d be very wrong. Because… METAL. Or more specifically, subgenres of metal.
Black metal, classic metal, power metal, thrash metal, nu metal, hair metal, folk metal, metalcore, neo-classical metal, and goblin metal (whatever the fuck that is) are just a few subgenres. There are a bunch more if you want to check out on some fact-based website; in fact, there are quite possibly more subgenres of metal than seats in a symphony orchestra. So, why is there such a saturation for such a small sector of that music market? Back to square one, students (I can say that because I used to be a teacher) LOYALTY, and of course, because… METAL. In the end, if someone is loyal, 99% of the time, what a reviewer has to say is completely immaterial – it’s the reason Metallica can get away with not having made a good album since last century and still be considered the zenith. So, bearing in mind that the rest of this won’t have any bearing whatsoever on what the people who are actually reading this will think, here goes.
Darkness of an Age is the extended edition of Exist Immortal’s debut album and if I could sum it up in one word, I’d say safe – or as safe as you can get when it comes to growling metal. In music, there are always boxes to tick – in classic rock, you expect 2 verses, 2 choruses, a middle 8, a guitar solo, and an outro chorus. It’s formulaic, but it works; if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be the formula. So, is there a formula to metal, then? More and more, we’ve been seeing bands ebb back and forth between soft and heavy and I for one, can’t really see the point of it in most songs, but that’s just me – some people are into that. The Void is a perfect example of that. Does it make sense in the song to stop growling or to include that breakdown around the two minute mark? All I can say for sure is that it requires a very strong melodic vocal to pull it off without sounding generic. Some people will think that Meyrick De La Fuente does have such a voice, others won’t.
EDM, as anyone who doesn’t really listen to EDM calls it, is popular right now. It’s bled into everything, and unfortunately so, in my opinion. It’s homogenised music in a way that hasn’t been seen since synth got big in the 80s, and we all know how that turned out. Dub, or pale immitations of dubstep have been popping up everywhere from Katy Perry to Madonna. Granted, Nine Inch Nails brought electronic music into the alternative/metal scene over 25 years ago, but it’s become mainstream in modern metal to the point that 80% of the metal charts have some sort of electronic influence or component, seemingly just to keep up with the Joneses.
Exist Immortal classify themselves as ‘Tech Metal’, which, while a legitimate subgenre in itself, just happens to be à la mode. It’s hard not to be cynical about it when metal seems to becoming metronica or, if you want to indulge me in being a smart arse, electroplating – coating something in metal with the use of electronics. I don’t think Exist Immortal are guilty of that, by a longshot; they’re a legitimate metal band with some proper chops. There’s some interesting guitar and bass work on this album, In Parallax and Delirium stand out technically and the tones are all clean, in the production sense. Then there’s the lyrics that could only ever be metal – it’s bona fide. It’s not pretending or anything, it’s just a little bit off being inspired.
It’s a consistent album in as far as there are few surprises along the way. The one big one being the final track, Insanity Project, Part 2. It’s that warm shower you take after a three hour mosh-pit. In honesty, it’s the reason I didn’t dismiss the album as bandwagoning the first time I listened it through. It shows that there is some real depth to Exist Immortal, and also that they’re more on the Trent Reznor end of the spectrum than Enter Shikari. It even shines a light on some of the composition choices earlier on that could have been misunderstood. Perhaps it’s an indication of what’s to come in the future.
Personally, I’d bump up the levels on the vocals from the copy I have. I don’t know if it’s a coding or a conversion issue, which seems to extend to YouTube, but they could stand to be a little higher – after all it’s not like growling is supposed to be subtle.
All in all, to put it bluntly, they remind me of Killswitch, that band I mentioned way back during ‘Metal for Dummies’, but Exist Immortal are missing that something that could make them exceptional. Maybe it’s more polish or taking more risks… but I don’t think that there’s a clear-cut answer. Some of the electronic stuff works for me, some of it doesn’t. I’m not sure how much it adds to the album overall, but it’s a foundation to continue building on. The album is released on March 23rd.
Honourable mention to Michael Houldey, who is a walking Wikipedia when it comes to all things metal.