Friday, March 25, 2011

Dark Angel - Time Does Not Heal (1991)

Much like their cover model had transformed from a frightened girl to some hunted street walker in pink, Dark Angel spent the two years between their Leave Scars and Time Does Not Heal in the throes of maturation. Whether or not this is welcome would really depend on who you asked, but seeing as the Californian brutes had already released the raw, forceful cult classic (Darkness Descends) and the sloppily produced, yet punishing viper's nest of unforgettable ideas (Leave Scars), it would have been destitute to merely repeat either experience. Time Does Not Heal goes the distance, expanding on the lyrical elements of its predecessor while sporting the most professional refinement of any album in their career.

I, for one, am thankful for the modifications. I won't claim that this record is ultimately superior to Leave Scars, but it's nice to finally be able to hear each of the band's talented instrumentalists in equal measure, from the muted fervor of Eric Meyer and (Jim Durkin's replacement) Brett Eriksen, to the intense control of Gene Hoglan, to the bass, thick and pluggy here but favorable to its presence on the prior outing. Another metamorphosis has transpired in the vocal region, as Ron Rinehart has decided to splay his meter out in a broader path of almost operatic chagrin. He still hacks and barks when necessary, but in general he gives more breath to the lines, creating an unnerving sense of melody above the rather blunt brutality of the guitars. Semi-technical, rich in hostility and not unlike Heathen's Victims of Deception with its mildly processed edge of modernity.

There are some incredibly well composed pieces here, beginning with the title track and its opening salvo of acoustic guitars that attract the frenzied swagger of the electrics in a clash that better resembles the Leave Scars material. "Pain's Invention, Madness" is hands down one of the best pieces in Dark Angel's career, a bombastic juggernaut of atmospheric chords that glide over the muted substrate, simple and catchy chorus riff, and an impressive, schizoid climax with repressed Rinehart screaming at around 7:00. Note that the general length of the tracks has not changed from the previous output, all of these are between 6-9 minutes in length and offer some substantial variation throughout. "Act of Contrition" is not a personal favorite, there are some wonderful guitars but here I felt Rob's voice stretched a little too awkwardly, but the savage "New Priesthood" and "Psychosexuality" more than compensate, and the entire closing third of Time Does Not Heal is magnificent, in particular the roiling slugfest of "Sensory Deprivation" and "A Subtle Induction", the latter making use of some thick, percussive bass elements in the odd intro.

This might not be the fastest of Dark Angel's offerings, as the band seems to hang closer to the mid pace and substitute weighty low end rhythms for a mesh of exhilaration and acceleration, but it's no less proficient and technical. Even though bands like Deathrow, Artillery, Coroner and Mekong Delta had released bewildering musical epics by 1991, this was still impressively structured composition for its day, far more ambitious than the lions share of miserable tough guy groove metal elements that were beginning to inoculate the West Coast thrash scene (well, those bands who hadn't turned to funk or grunge). Time Does Not Heal is yet another of those marginally late wonders to the Golden Age of the genre. It constantly feels as if it's hanging on the precipice, above a beckoning chasm of oblivion, along with the other natural successors to the heavily structured thrash of Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood, Terrible Certainty, Eternal Nightmare, Taking Over and so forth. It's an appreciable, intelligent and intricate swansong, although it wasn't aware of that at its time of conception; and the third Dark Angel disc in a row worth its weight in headbanging release.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(the only truth in life is pain)

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