Dang – ‘Tartarus : The Darkest Realm’ Album Review

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Given the volume of material that arrives at SonicAbuse on any given day, it takes something special to catch our eye from the off, but when Dang arrived with beautifully designed, demonic artwork and a press release describing the band’s debut effort as “a progressive metal / hard rock concept record detailing some of the inhabitants of the pit of Hades in Greek mythology” we knew this was something we had to listen to. Hailing from North Carolina, the four piece found a home with No Remorse Records and spent their time developing this seven track, fifty-two minute long epic following a successful period in the wilderness of the unsigned garnering attention from the likes of Classic Rock offshoot Prog magazine. Drawing from a deep well of inspiration which includes Black Sabbath, Tool, Danzig and even The Mission, Dang’s disparate influences and clear-eyed ambition marks them out as a special act indeed.

Opening with ‘Sisyphus’ (previously referenced Pink Floyd) Dang juxtapose a powerful grove with vocals pitched between Sisters of Mercy and Monster Magnet – part doom-laden narrative, part rock ‘n’ roll drawl. It is the sort of sound that, whilst rooted in more obscure genres, has the potential to cross over to a wider audience with its bold changes in rhythm and style and memorable melody. Hints of the familiar abound, but Dang cleverly bind up their influences in such a way that no one reference surfaces and the band sound fresh and original as a result. With blistering leads and Chris Church’s dour vocals, the band make an instant and impressive impact – something which they successfully maintain overt the course of the remaining six tracks thanks to the varied musical approach and the cleverly crafted lyrics. ‘Salmoneus’ has a huge guitar sound that falls somewhere between doom and gothic metal, whilst the vocals are delivered with power and precision before the whole band shift into progressive metal territory for the epic finale. It demonstrates the musical power and innovation of the band and as the album kicks into overdrive for the powerful, anthemic blast of ‘Titans’ you’re left with the notion that Dang are very special indeed. A mid-paced groove, ‘Titans’ packs an appropriately hefty punch that suggests an unholy marriage between Tool, Alice in chains and Sabbath whilst the lyrics – a startlingly contemporary take on Greek mythology, cleverly treats the subject lightly whilst simultaneously covering all the key points – a trick similarly used by Nick Cave on the storied album ‘Murder ballads’ and it is his vocals that, in many ways, Chris Church’s approach recalls – his voice that of a fervent preacher, forever caught between damnation and grace. Once again the song takes a scenic detour into progressive realms, the music taking on a dreamy aspect that provides respite from the syrupy riffs found elsewhere, whilst the lead guitar work is fluid and graceful before things come to a suitably crushing finale. ‘Ixion’, meanwhile, heads into darker realms, the band shifting from a hypnotic haze that recalls the central section of Pink Floyd’s ‘echoes’ into a full on metal stomp that draws from Soundgarden, Nick Cave and Sabbath in equal measure.

Having already thoroughly engrossed the listener with a brilliantly conceived combination of fascinating lyrics, crunching metal, spacey progressive rock and epic solos, Dang calm the pace with a beautiful, acoustic introduction overlaid with the gentle sound of rippling water. It is a stunning piece of musicianship that draws from Opeth and my dying bride and the opening verse, as beautiful as the music is, still strikes a sinister pose. The song drifts dreamily on before eventually exploding into vivid life with a fast-paced drum beat underpinning the deft guitar work. It highlights the fact that no matter how progressive things get, Dang’s emphasis is firmly on the primal power of rock delivered via explosive guitars. Things take a morbid turn with the intricate opening riff for ‘Tityos’, a dark tale of condemnation and excruciating torture that sounds like Tad covering the Cure before branching off into a pneumatic riff that is pure Tool. The final track, ‘Tantalus’, is perhaps one of the most familiar Greek myths on offer here and it is a fitting conclusion to the album with its twisted tale of infanticide and eternal thirst. Opening with atmospheric guitars, it does not take long for the band to hit a more metallic pose that sees the album on a raging high, Scott’s serpentine guitars wending their way through the complex riffs and pile-driving percussion to great effect. Chris Church, meanwhile, excels himself, imparting the song with the righteous anger of a roadside preacher and you could not wish for a better, more involving conclusion to the record.

With Chris Church’s fevered vocals, Scott Cornette’s endlessly innovative guitar work and a devastatingly tight rhythm section in Brian Beaver (drums) and Matt Lutton (bass), Dang offer up a vastly different take on metallic prog than has been seen of late. While many bands are still taking the porcupine Tree / Opeth route, Dang take the road less travelled and hark back to Tool, Queeensryche, Alice in chains and Nick Cave for inspiration, offering up something quite unique in the process. The subject matter is dealt with well, Chris reworking the Greek myths so that the fundamental elements shine through despite the brevity with which they are dealt, and the artwork of the expansive booklet does much to bring the grim tales to life. Here we have seven songs which offer up plenty of complex moments but which never forget the importance of rock’s visceral power, the guitars often forming a solid wall behind Chris’ mad delivery. ‘Tartarus : The Darkest Realm’ is a brilliantly promising debut, a powerful combination of myriad influences and a stern reminder that progressive music can have teeth as well as beauty and it comes highly recommended.

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