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Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams
4 stars Even the initial impressions of this album can give a hint about what is included in the music: a beautiful, obscure cover by Travis Smith, inspired from a work originally by H.R. Giger... Heart of Darkness is the second, and unfortunately last, effort of this project of inspired musicians, which sounds a bit different from their debut. The main reason as described by Dan Rock himself on the official page was ''... the loss of a loved one to drugs, sadly added to the loss of my father in a car accident during the sessions''. Indeed, the sound of the album is covered with 'sadness' and 'grief', but also with even more weird melodies. To the latter, the presence of Brian McAlpin (guitars, ex-Psychotic Waltz) has assisted.

Contrary to their debut, this is not solely an instrumental album. The voices of 4 different vocalists on 3 songs break the 'monotony' (if you can find it here...) of the instrumental tracks. From these, Transitory Angel and Not Today represent the more melodic moments on the record, both being simple in structure but beautiful at the same time. The same happens with The Sound of Nothing which introduces some aggressiveness in the vocals and guitars sections, in the vein of Rage Against the Machine (!!!). The overall sound of the album could be described as 'innovative, experimental sci-fi prog metal'. This is more evident in the tracks where Dan Rock collaborates with Brian McAlpin, which, in my honest opinion, represent the highlights and could have easily been part of P. Waltz works... Flight to Nowhere, The Dream and Look to the Sky are brilliant moments of inspiration, comprising of excellent guitar work, double guitar ''dark winding long harmony solos'' and acoustic/keyboard intervals. All tracks are included in the Dark Millennium compilation, under the name of P. Waltz, which came out the same year.

The rest of the tracks are more keyboard-based, presumably deriving mainly from Siggi Blasey's ideas; not that impressive comparing to the compositions of the two guitarists, but still interesting and experimental, unveiling (yet again) influences from Mike Oldfield. Dark Paradise, the opening track is probably the most attractive of this category. There is also a ''hidden track'' at the end of the album, consisting of a telephone message (the message D. Rock's father left just before he died!) and almost 9 minutes of rain (!). This, along with the 'secret' postscript that D. Rock leaves to his loved one on the official P. Waltz page, make this album a painful, deep, real-life experience; it makes it harder when you know the whole story behind a record.

Musically slightly more complete and more mature than Marching Into Oblivion, I would clearly recommend this album for a first experience with Darkstar to everyone interested in experimental prog-metal. Fans of P. Waltz probably have it in their collection already, with one way or another...

Report this review (#187656)
Posted Saturday, November 1, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars For their second album, Dan Rock and Siggi Blasey hired another rhythm section to complement the Darkstar ranks. The difference is hardly perceptible but the album still manages to avoid the problems of the debut: it has just enough dynamics and the song material is a lot more varied.

Dark Paradise sets a great synth ambience, supplemented with touches of piano, lead guitars and vocal samples. Especially on this track it reminds me of the instrumental side of Kevin Moore's Chroma Key. Flight To Nowhere adds more guitars and soloing on top or the typical solemn pace. And then the craved for variation happens. The drumming on The Sound of Nothing is hardly spectacular, but at least the pace is shifted up a gear. Not only that, this track features vocals, ranging between a melodious take on Ozzy's voice known from Psychotic Waltz and some aggressive rapping. A welcome change.

And the changes continue. If the debut album suffered from monotony, then this album is starting to get overloaded with style variations. Transitory Angel is almost an indie rock song, reminiscent of the shoegazer stylings of My Bloody Valentine or the Pale Saints. It doesn't make for a coherent listening experience but it's a nice track.

Infinite Distance and The Dream return to known Darkstar atmospherics, with just a bit more dynamics then the previous album. Good. The next instrumental, Look To The Sky sounds like a lost demo from Psychotic Waltz, like an unused backing track from Faded, another highlight on this album.

The acoustic opening from Not Today has vocals that sound very reminiscent to Alice In Chains' acoustic albums Sap/Jar of Flies. The melodies are very pleasant but the vocals are slightly insecure and might have benefited from some extra rehearsing. The album ends with the synth-focused Last Drop Of Light. The untitled track is nothing but the recording from a thunderstorm.

Heart Of Darkness marks some improvements over the previous album but sounds a bit hurried and shoddy at times, giving it the feel of a really good demo. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#261571)
Posted Tuesday, January 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Heart Of Darkness" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US/German progressive metal act Darkstar. The album was released through Institute Of Art Records in 1999. Darkstar is a project initiated by Siggi Blasey (Sequencing, Sampling) from German progressive metal act End Amen and guitarist Dan Rock from US progressive metal act Psychotic Waltz. John McKenzie performs drums on the album and Danik Thomas plays the bass. "Heart Of Darkness" was recorded in late 1998. Partially in San Diego and partially in Frankfurt.

Stylistically the material on "Heart Of Darkness" continue down the same ambient/atmospheric progressive metal road as the material on the bandīs debut full-length studio album "Marching Into Oblivion (1995)". Only this time around there are some tracks on the album which feature vocals (both male and female). The album is dominated by instrumental tracks though. Epic sci-fi atmospheres, melodic guitar themes, huge synths and sequencing, and the occasional sample (thereīs for example a George Bush sample from the Gulf War on the opening track "Dark Paradise"). Although the instrumental tracks generally work better than the material featuring vocals, itīs not without itīs charm that Darkstar have opted to include vocals. To my ears "Flight To Nowhere" is THE highlight of the album though. A pretty amazing instrumental that builds towards a harmony guitar finale, which canīt help lead the listenerīs thoughts toward Psychotic Waltz in their prime.

While "Heart Of Darkness" is overall well produced and features a layered and detailed mix, it unfortunately suffers from exactly the same issue as itīs predecessor did. The drums and the bass simply arenīt that well sounding. The former doesnīt feature the most pleasant sounding tone and the latter is more or less buried in the layered mix. It doesnīt help that both the drums and the bass arenīt playing anything which add to the music either. They work solely as a solid rhythmic backdrop to the atmospheric keyboards and the melodic guitar themes. Itīs not a huge issue, but itīs not exactly a positive feature either.

Upon conclusion "Heart Of Darkness" is a relatively interesting sophomore release by Darkstar and while I donīt think it quite reaches the dark sci-fi majesty of itīs predecessor, itīs still more than worth a listen. Dan Rock is a phenomenal guitarist with a floating personal style and guitar tone, and his playing on this album is worth the price of admission alone, but the material is generally of a good quality too and despite a few issues with the sound production and the anonymous playing of the rhythm section a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives)

Report this review (#2241672)
Posted Saturday, August 3, 2019 | Review Permalink

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