The Darkness Flails Across the Land
“Get your hands off my woman, motherfucker.” Out of any mouth, this is an ultimatum. But soaring in falsetto over a retooled version of the riff from Urge Overkill’s “Sister Havana,” it’s flash pot Valhalla. Justin Hawkins knows this. He’s the fruity-haired, falsetto-throated frontman of Norfolk, England’s The Darkness, who with sparks flying, drumsticks twirling, and spandex stretching in all the right places have answered the famous musical question “Why don’t more bands sound like Savatage?”
Of course, The Darkness doesn’t really sound like Savatage. They sound like every great New Wave of British Heavy Metal band that Savatage was trying to sound like – Maiden, Priest, and the rest – but keep their fists gripped tightly around the Rainbow Rising-era ballsack rock of Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio’s Rainbow. Naturally, all of this was eaten up like watercress tea sandwiches by the British music press, who initially eviscerated the band’s guitar solo scissor kicking and histrionic vocal simonizing, only to see and embrace the genius (or at least marketing genius) behind the enormous Marshall backline.
And after Hawkins and his headband’d gave the dog a bone at South by Southwest last March, their US press has been bulging like a cucumber wrapped in tinfoil. (Check the prominent pub in Rolling Stone‘s “hot list” issue and the stodgy Kurt Loder MTV news segment, or just continue reading this orange and black bandwagon broadsheet.)
Since the source material is so bombastic, it can be difficult to see the line between parody and influence. After all, this isn’t skinny suits, anti-melodies, and arty, literate references to Television or the Velvet Underground. It’s 12-foot drum risers, zebra stripes, and foofy lyrics like “Flames licked round the sacred spire / And the congregation’s last line of defence [sic]”. Yet this couplet – from “Black Shuck”, the fab opener to their debut full-length Permission to Land – makes it crystal clear that if The Darkness is gonna cop the grooves of British hard rock circa 1978-1983, they’re gonna revel in the pretension, too. If you don’t believe that they at least mostly mean it, you’ve got another thing comin’.
Permission really is a good time. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” and “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” show off Hawkins’ highfalutin yowl over crackling, stadium-ready rock and roll that makes you want to do that instrument-less lead singer stationary run popularized by so many tube-sock wearing mouthpieces of the Reagan era. Later, The Darkness adds their own preposterous prepositional phrase to a lyrical cliché with the harmonized guitars and British steal of “Love on the Rocks with No Ice”. The record finishes up (at a concise forty minutes) with – uh-huh – a power ballad. What’s great about “Holding My Own” is the way Hawkins flutters the title line. What did he say? “Somhodinevon”? “Staying old in nylon”? The former could be one of those fantastical lands overstimulated heavy metal singers used to write gatefold concept albums about; the latter could be a final comment on his band’s staying power. After a flurry of fill-up-the-heavens guitar solos and triumphant flaming cymbal drum fills, “Holding My Own” ends with a breathy intake of air – the real final word on The Darkness. Emasculation meets exploding power stations, and tribute shares a tour bus with tight hooks and tighter cat suits.
Buy your Darkness bar mirror/jean jacket back patch now, and show your support for this newest wave of British heavy metal’s one-band campaign against the last vestiges of nü metal. Fifteen minutes is the number of the beast!