Today I’ll be shining some light on riffs long forgotten in the Dark Age of 1984. Much of the 1980’s was an embarrassment of riches for metal. Seemingly every year saw albums catapult bands, and even entire genres, to the leading edge of the metal phenomenon. In the rush and tumble of so much groundbreaking music, it was easy for stellar albums to get pushed to the wayside by albums considered legendary almost as soon as they were released. 1984 was no exception; Metallica continued to Ride the Lightning, bringing the thunder to the thrash metal storm, while Iron Maiden, already the World’s Best Band (in my humble opinion) somehow elevated their position with Powerslave. And all the while, smaller bands oozing talent nipped at their heels, discovering riffs and vocal styles and production techniques never before conceived.
Little room, then, for a power metal band like Dark Age, unsigned and unknown out of Los Angeles, California. Their self-released debut EP merited them a spot with Greenworld Records, who boasted King Diamond on their roster — but the volatile world of metal soon saw Greenworld Records dissolved and Dark Age forever broken up.
Fortunately for us, however, YouTube and its intrepid denizens make marvellous cataloguers and preservers of music that otherwise would have been forgotten entirely. So let’s get on with the music.
Every band I’ve covered in Riffs from the Crypt so far has had one song that should have propelled them to the mainstream. Songs that just kick ass, that every metal fanatic should hear. Dark Age’s offering is “Warrior”, which I’ve directly linked to. I don’t care if you laugh or cringe at “Warrior, come out to plaaaay!”, so long as you recognize how impressive the vocalist Robert Stevens’ pipes are. And this is far from the most improbable note he’ll reach, even in this song!
This band is loaded with talent. If you like the dual guitar melodies rollicking through “Warrior”, the ridiculous solos, and the audible, Maiden-esque bass driving the song forward (played by James McGearty of Christian Death!), you’re in for a treat, because Dark Age is an inexhaustible source of them.
Speaking of ridiculous solos: “Warrior”, although it is the most complete and polished song on the record, might have the least impressive guitarwork. Try the aggressive album opener, “Metal Axe”, for some tasty licks. The main riff, with a little downtuning and a meaner guitar tone, could easily pass for a thrash riff; but it’s the guitar leads, dueling and darting through most of the track (or for that matter, the album) that demand attention. There might not be anything groundbreaking about Johnny Ljissacs’s and Alan Foley’s fret-shredding solos, but by golly, this is some of the fiercest guitarwork on any album I’ve heard from this era. Even the ballad, “Tales of Medusa”, is serenaded by entirely too fast lead guitars for most of its runtime.
Dark Age is a remarkably consistent effort for a new band. There are hardly any poor moments in the EP, and the high points are mountainous peaks. Consider: the terrific balance of melody and all-out shred in the “Rock Revelation” solo (9:30); the rising climax to “Tales of Medusa”, punctuated by a crescendoing scream (6:07); the breaking-point tension boiling over before Stevens’ most insane shrieks (17:05).
Dark Age are certainly a bit rough around the edges. The production is only as good as their circumstances allowed, and Stevens could benefit from a little more restraint on his earsplitting shrieks. But Dark Age is a band of excess. Both Side Tiger (Side A) and Side Dragon (Side B) glorify all that was good about metal in 1984 in their gleeful leads and inhuman shrieks and fantastical lyrics. Anything more than a cursory listen to Dark Age should reveal a band that deserves a renaissance.