June 10th, 2014
Never Surrender actually starts off really strong, showing off a foundation of Heavy Metal and Power Metal influences. “Nemesis” is a highly melodic track with enough attitude behind the main verses to assert a mixture of riffs and vocal range similar to King Diamond and Primal Fear, all the while including a hint of majesty along the lines of Helloween to the chorus. The guitar solo that hits about two and a half minutes nicely suits it, though at the very start just sounds incredibly ugly, sticking out like it was out of tune or done by someone who spent a few months learning guitar and tackling a solo as a guest musician for an established band. It’s an awkward blemish to an otherwise solid and addicting piece that stands out as much as the faster battle anthem title track. “Never Surrender” features plenty of hooks and a good amount of falsettos thrown about, especially in the background of the chorus for some added bite. The drumming is top notch as well, being well paced and even a bit restrained when hammering away at the kicks in a mid-tempo pace between the far more impressive solos that hit just past the halfway mark.
“Stranger” takes the group into more of a Hard Rock direction without losing that Heavy Metal vibe. The way the vocals are handled against the simpler chords and drum rhythm that both make banging your head along mandatory are all quite reminiscent of Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath, as well as his solo material. The additional bell effects that start up about three minutes in are a nice touch, and the deeper growling that acts like a quick gang chant earlier adds some tension to the occult filled atmosphere and melodies that sometimes find organs buried just enough in the background to not overpower the track. “Blinded by Darkness” falls into this exploratory area as well, finding the band taking on more of a restrained Mercyful Fate formula that lacks the vibrant bite most of the songs here have until the guitar solo where those restrictions end up being shed.
“As Darkness Fades” is more of an epic Power Metal piece that relies on tighter guitar work and chugging passages more than saturating it with rich hooks and enthusiastic speed. The aforementioned organs return once more that feed the grander presence when necessary, but, truth be told, they aren’t actually needed. Darker Half do a fantastic job at pacing things out well enough to work with the slower to mid-grade tempos and keep them engaging. There’s even a drop in the music about five minutes in that lets the guitars slowly build back up from a softer tone before going into an extensive and emotional guitar solo to enrich the song’s powerful climax. “Lost in Space” and “Heads are Gonna Roll” share this trait as well, but each have their own somewhat unique little life as far as the sort of environment being created goes, though both can’t seem to shed that King Diamond influence. While these two still do enough to keep you engaged, it’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” that basically throws everything the group established up in the wind and decides to make that influence equally as painful to listen to as it is obvious.
When you stop and look back at Never Surrender though, you can’t help but feel that this might in some way be a concept recording based around the band’s name. This album is literally as if presenting some engaging music that feels lighter in many ways for the first half, but then at the very end just grows darker and darker. Much of the dynamic performances give way to a much less colorful world, as if the release literally were progressing towards the darkest end of the spectrum. If this actually is the case then bravo to Darker Half for taking an extreme initiative to do something out of the ordinary for the sake of their name. In fact it’s absolutely brilliant if this is the case. But even if it were, the fact that Darker Half basically takes everything they built and with the last three songs shed themselves of it and go in a blatant Them-era King Diamond semi-tribute group makes what could have been a superb idea into something just executed rather poorly, which is just a terrible shame.
Even with that probability lingering in your head, it’s just hard to look past the less-than-unique material that slowly starts to congeal together into one similar lump by the time you hit the fairly lifeless “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” The only positive side is that these seem to not work out too well on the album, but after having heard some of those later tracks live, you can take solace in knowing they definitely translate better on the stage then they did in the studio. Whether you’re a long time fan or just recently discovered Darker Half, Never Surrender is an album that has enough solid material to keep you coming back willingly, even past the half way point of no return.
01. Nemesis – 4:51
02. Never Surrender – 3:56
03. End of the Line – 5:15
04. Stranger – 5:58
05. As Darkness Fades – 7:26
06. Duality – 4:26
07. Blinded by Darkness – 3:43
08. Lost in Space – 6:40
09. Heads are Gonna Roll – 6:00
10. Anthem for Doomed Youth – 6:06
|Initial Pressing Score: 7/10