Donnie Darko—the psychological thriller from which it’s assumed that Darko draw their name—has amassed one of the largest cult followings in recent history. While it originally flopped in theatres (largely due to poor advertising in the wake of September 11th), it rapidly gained notoriety and even came to be considered one of the “greatest independent movies ever made.” It’s also considered to be the film that kick-started the careers of Jake Gyllenhaal and Drew Barrymore. If you haven’t seen the movie, you…well, I mean, you should, for any of the aforementioned reasons, but you should know it has a way of getting in your head. Despite some of its elements aging a little poorly to 2021, it remains obvious that it stands as an enormous influence into contemporary thriller films both past and present.
But what does that have to do with Darko, the contemporary deathcore outfit comprised of Emmure’s Josh Miller and Chelsea Grin’s Tom Barber? Well, Darko didn’t flop at first (or at all), and one could argue that their means of publicity and advertisement has been a wholesale success—which leaves one option. Darko—especially on their self-titled debut full length offering—have a way of invading the listener’s head. Creating crushing, technical and oppressive deathcore that manages to be both hyperaggressive and insanely catchy, the band draw influence from Horror and Thriller cinematics to complement the unnerving manner in which their music grips the mind. In short, Darko is a robust collection of tracks that see the band move well past the humble Dethmask EP, into something more diverse and engaging without losing the speed and rambunctiousness that made them stand out so strongly.
The manic instrumentation that defines Darko is brought on by none other than Josh Miller himself, and throughout Darko’s12 tracks and 42 minutes, Miller goes absolutely ape shit. Songs like “Splinter Cell” and “Mars Attacks!” are excellent evidence of this, with break-neck percussion serving as a foundation for jarring, spastic fretwork. Other songs—like “Daniel” and “Pale Tongue” have a more moderate pace, with atmospheric elements woven beautifully into Miller’s otherwise chaotic patchwork. Then, songs like “Donna” are an example of Darko experimenting with haunting, emotional and ethereal soundscapes, feeling like a totally different side to the band than anything the listener has heard to date. Across the better part of an hour that Darko dominates the listener’s attention, elements from deathcore, nu metal, progressive metal, post-metal and post-hardcore all appear, with bright, explosive drumming working hand-in-hand with thick bass and riffs that can simply be best described as “wild” (“Mars Attacks!” boasts an opening lead that sounds like something you might…well, hear on Mars, assuming sound transmission worked the same way in space.) The band’s infinitely improved production and song structure over Dethmask becomes apparent from the first cut, and they don’t stop there, with Miller’s mastery over spazzy, sinister leads and gut-wrenching grooves slicing deeper and deeper with every track.
Just as Miller’s instrumentation and songwriting blossoms on Darko, the vocal element from frontman Tom Barber takes on new intensity and fervor. While sticking with a predominantly grisly and muddy low end through much of Dethmask, Barber’s range on Darko’s self titled release is impeccable to say the least. “Splinter Cell” and “Mars Attacks!” see Barber’s untouchable low end paired nicely with mid-range screams and shouts, while “Daniel” and “Donna” both see a new side to Barber aimed at complimenting the more melodic and atmospheric styles of the respective tracks. Barber’s diversity and dynamism is arguably the best on Darko that it’s ever been—a bold statement with a discography as immense as his—but tracks like “Donna” or “Daniel,” when juxtaposed alongside “Pretenders” or “Splinter Cell” are proof enough. This doesn’t even begin to consider the extra dimensions added by the broad range of guest appearances abundant throughout Darko—from Ben Duerr to Courtney LaPlante and beyond, Darko spared no expense in making their debut full length a simply colossal effort.
Blurring the lines between heavy music subgenres, Darko have come out of left field as a relatively modest “supergroup “ (superduet, maybe?) to flip conventional -core stylings on their collective ear. While “deathcore” feels, probably, closest to the heart of Darko’s dizzying maelstrom of metallic stylings, the truth is that—much like Donnie Darko—the band are one of those acts you just have to experience first hand, and truthfully, there is no better time than now.
For Fans Of: Emmure, Disfiguring the Goddess, Spiritbox
By: Connor Welsh