Release Date: Jun 2, 2015
Record label: Canary Dwarf
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock
A glorious return to form for the flamboyant rockers, at the second time of asking. During their five years apart in the late noughties, The Darkness’ stellar early success seemed increasingly like some sort of insane cheese-dream. Their gloriously unembarrassable approach to rock’n’roll, with its catsuits, castrato vocals and old AC/DC riffs, had been packed away alongside trucker caps and June Sarpong in a drawer marked: ‘2003: Do Not Open’.
Beginning with a spoken word intro ("One by one the kingdoms fall/they looked upon this isle and took it all/harbingers of pain/Edmund the martyr cut down by a Dane on the orders of Ivar the Boneless") and ending with a torch- and morning star-waving power anthem delivered with throaty gusto by bass player Frankie Poullain, the Darkness' first post-comeback album and fourth studio outing overall may also be their best to date, effortlessly pairing Spinal Tap-inspired braggadocio with meaty metal riffs and soaring pop hooks, with both a lusty wink and a resolute kick in the teeth. Having proved themselves, more or less, to still be competent and creative schillers of all things late-70s and early-'80s metal with 2012's Hot Cakes, the band sound as locked in as they did on their 2003 debut, offering up a surprisingly bold and diverse, relentlessly likeable smorgasbord of hard rock posturing that manages to touch on nearly every iteration of the genre. Built around one of the best riffs to appear out of the ether in ages, opener "Barbarian" sets a mean pace (it's also a fine perfunctory retelling of the Great Heathen Army's homicidal siege of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of England during the 9th century), but the band, much like the sons of Ragnar, seem hell-bent on pillaging every last corner of the keep.
In the grand scheme of things, it's strange that the whole Darkness story even happened on the scale that it did. At the time of their breakthrough in 2003, popular guitar music was firmly planted in another part of the spectrum. We were on the eve of emo's Noughties revival, in which vulnerability and introspection were all the rage, while the charts had the mirthless fuckery of Keane to look forward to.
The Darkness are a retro enigma, a classic rock anomaly, stuck somewhere between Wolfmother and Spinal Tap, that leaves listeners either highly addicted or harmlessly aloof. The band’s discography is, by now, half cocaine-fueled Zeppelin on acid, half rough-and-tumble rockers with something to prove and everything to gain. Their musical evolution hits home on Last Of Our Kind, wherein the Hawkins brothers and co.
On first hearing The Darkness' fourth album, this reviewer had to check that Justin Hawkins was still a part of the band. His trademark falsetto is drowned among the stomping guitars on the majority of tracks and the band's fun pop sensibilities are largely forsaken. This is their darkest record yet, but it's saved from drudgery by a heavier sound delivered with furious energy.
“One by one the Kingdoms fall…” goes the spoken-word monologue that opens the fourth Darkness album. In comes the riff, a quaking, thrusting monster over which Justin Hawkins screams “AHHHHHH!” and gabbles about the Viking invasion of East Anglia in AD 865 (“Reducing the feeble citadels/To ashes and blood stain”). Then, of course, is a preposterous guitar solo.
Old-fashioned rock band celebrating the form by acknowledging and therefore subverting its more ridiculous aspects, or tired joke band taking the piss out of rock? On the evidence of lead track Barbarian – and, indeed, the whole album – it is, as always, hard to say where The Darkness’ true intentions lie. Either way, the fact remains that a non-ironic Barbarian-style song such as Yngwie Malmsteen’s I Am A Viking is both funnier and more satisfying precisely because of its straight-faced silliness and unselfconscious virtuosity. Which isn’t to say that The Darkness have nothing to offer.
You know your mate who thinks they’re really good at impressions? The one with the ‘great Ed Miliband’, who insisted on boorishly squeezing it into every conversation on the election. You know how initially it’s sort of funny just how bad their accents are? The fact that their ‘South African’ actually sounds Scottish, and ‘Cheryl Cole’ sounds Texan? But then they mistake your pitying laughter for actual enjoyment and keep going. Forever.
Hard rock got a desperately needed infusion of vitality when England's the Darkness burst onto the scene in the early aughts, sequins and tassels streaming and Justin Hawkins's wild vocals bringing a grin to our faces. The four-piece had a superb blend of self-aware tongue-in-cheekness matched with a genuine respect for and devotion to glam metal at a time when most would only admit to liking it ironically. Since then, their career has followed the trajectory of most hard rock bands: punishing touring schedules, rehab, the departure of founding members (but luckily not Justin's brother, guitarist Dan) and meh follow-up albums that fail to live up their early promise.