REVIEW: Darko (US) – Oni [2022]

Artist: Darko US
Album: Oni

It isn’t unsurprising that Darko—the project that brought us Dethmask and Darko chose Oni as the name for the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut full-length. After all, Oni are known for ferocity and cruelty—and Darko are nothing if not ferocious. The two-man project between Josh Miller and Tom Barber, what started as an innocent (well, maybe not innocent) quarantine project has morphed into something akin to a supergroup, delivering an experimental and eviscerating brand of deathcore that refuses to relent as it pummels the listener to smithereens. That was true on the band’s debut venture, and the group’s voracity is tenfold now. On Oni, the outfit continue to confidently stride the line dividing gut-wrenching, grisly aggression and ethereal, atmospheric groove. With electronic elements that amplify a foundation of fury and cataclysmic aggression, Oni is a melting pot of sounds and styles that flow together brilliantly. The result is something unique that can’t easily be defined in terms of other projects or genres—something that defies convention and labels and exists only as Darko.
One part chaos, one part catchy, one part moody and grim and three-to-four parts crushing, Oni is the product of a carefully constructed recipe designed to develop something terrific-yet-terrifying. Darko’s approach to heavy music is one that’s difficult to compare but even more difficult still to describe. “Looking Glass” and “Dragon Chaser” are two of Darko’s most straightforward and archetypal songs on Oni, and even those see Darko contort the traditional conventions of heavy music. Here, pummeling kick drums provide a rip-roaring sonic current for dizzying fretwork to scurry and scratch atop. Other, more intense songs like “Acid Inject” and “Sand Script” see the aforementioned style be compounded by a dense layer of electronic influence. These songs paint an incredible picture of Darko as a bewilderingly heavy band, but other songs—like the ambient “Come Home” and dynamic “Ana” see Darko’s instrumentation take a turn for the less abrasive and more melodic. Here, percussion becomes less frantic and provides a solid, sturdy foundation with a penchant for playing the pocket—and the fretwork works in beautiful, dialectic harmony with electronic elements to combine darker pop elements into a post-metal and alternative metal soundscape. The smooth means by which Darko can flow from this melancholic breed of melodic metal into songs like “Dragon Chaser” or “Gantz” with its panic-chord-breakdown-ridden glory is nothing short of astounding and speaks monstrous testament to Miller and Barber’s skills as songwriters.
It should come as no surprise that Darko’s vocal element is outstanding—that’s been maybe the only thing unchanged since their debut. Barber’s vocal excellence was established far before his work in this dynamic duet, but with Oni, we see Barber once more expanding—yet simultaneously refining—his vocal range. “Dragon Chaser” is a relative throwback to Dethmask Pt. 1 in a way, using gritty, grimy screams to create a bridge that’s almost poppy and catchy in its sensibility. Meanwhile, “Ana” sees him working alongside up-and-coming heavyweight Taylor Barber (Left to Suffer), further capitalizing on his ability to be both diverse and consistent. “Gantz” is another magnificent song that sees Barber’s heavier range shining center stage, especially as it fades into the majestic, serene title track. Oni is, on one level, another entry in Barber’s curriculum vitae of crushing vocal efforts (Tom, that is, though Taylor’s resume is impressive as well); however, on another level, it sees Barber continuing to stray from his conventionally established comfort zone and match the (for lack of a better term) weird ass shit Miller throws into the instrumental mix. The instrumentation and vocal work play off of one another, amplifying the surreal and unusual elements in each to make Oni an unpredictable joyride.
Oni is Darko at their apex—as much an unapologetic assbeater as it is a whimsical, eccentric experience. With a distinct flair for sci-fi storytelling and an extraordinary amount of sonic whimsy, Oni latches onto the listener and absolutely refuses to let go. Somehow taking the best elements of their year-defining self titled release and amplifying its intensity even further, Darko’s 2022 release is without a doubt one of the most immolating—and impossible to describe—records the year has seen thus far, and likely will see until its conclusion.

For Fans Of: Left to Suffer, Distinguisher, Emmure, Oceans Ate Alaska, Ingested
By: Connor welsh