There have been times when I’ve been shocked to learn that a band that I like is actually a solo project. The idea that one person could been talented enough to tie all the different pieces of music together by themselves is both impressive and inspiring. Acts like A Transylvanian Funeral and Funeral Fornication stand among my favorite black metal artists, all the while containing little to no input from a third party musician. But, as Darkened Spawn’s early 2017 release The Rise of the Occult is sure to remind you, a black metal solo project is not nearly as easy to manage as some acts make it seem.
The beautiful cover art and promise of an album-wide narrative had me excited to dive right in, but much to my disappointment, the guitar work is the only passable performance across the entirety of The Rise of the Occult. There is a handful of memorable riffs that can be found throughout, but even still the guitar is nothing special and should not have been left to carry everything else. The guitar tone is clear, straightforward, and lacking a personality, which might have been okay if there was something else to fill in the holes left open. Unfortunately, albeit predictably, mediocre drum programming does little to compensate for generic guitar work. Percussion is rarely a strong suit for solo projects, but it’s still not an excuse for such a lifeless backing track.
The vocals are an entirely different problem in of themselves. There is an obnoxiously strong vocal distortion effect that immediately clashes with the squeaky clean guitar tone and dull drum programming. Because the vocals are so different from the other sounds, they stand completely alone. The instruments can lean on one another and sort of mask their mediocrity by working together, but the vocals have nothing to fall on. As a result, when the vocals are weak, the whole song falls apart. The title track should have been the climax of the release, naturally; instead, it was a shoddily spoken monologue with a weak vocal effect that I assume was supposed to make it sound scary or mysterious, but gave it the effect of sounding like a middle school video project from the mid-2000’s. I think that’s why a lot of bands choose to use samples, or even call in guest vocalists to do important story-based narration for a release. It’s just too easy to sound lame when including a spoken word bit, and if that bit is exposition for your narrative, you need your listener to pay attention. “Rise of the Occult” is undoubtedly where the album fell beyond saving; all the potential that I could see glimmering through in some riffing was quickly obscured by a jarring amateur audio book that was dragged on for longer than any other track. I almost couldn’t make it through this track, the feeling of fremdscham that it was able to instill was obscene.
Nothing on this album is worth listening to, but that’s where Lord Spawn, the one man in this one man band, adds insult to injury. There is a ton of ambiance and an overwhelming number of sound effects that I can only imagine are there to fill the emptiness. I understand that it’s only natural for solo projects to utilize a lot of effects to make sure the sound isn’t lifeless, but too many sound effects has the opposite effect and leaves you with a sterile sound. It works well enough on “Lost it All” and “Fall of Man,” I suppose. Nevertheless, there were spots throughout The Rise of the Occult where I could only wonder how this was allowed to be in the finished release. The abundance of silly noises borders on those Kidz Bop Halloween sound effect tracks at times because of the sheer number of ridiculous choices included.
Needless to say, I was very disappointed. Going forward, I would hope that Lord Spawn works on his narration skills, because they need significant improvement if they’re going to be given as much importance as they are. Even still, there are too many kinks that need to be worked out for me to list here.
Rise of the Occult is out now and independently available through the Darkened Spawn Bandcamp.