Night Demon’s 2015 debut album Curse of the Damned remains one of the most significant releases in the revival of ’80s-style traditional metal, so the excitement for Darkness Remains was necessarily mingled with a bit of apprehension. After all, there’s an unfortunate pattern among NWOTHM bands to release a stellar debut and then falter on the follow-up. Ambush delivered their phenomenal Firestorm in 2015 then stumbled a short year later with Desecrator, which felt like a generic rehash of the band’s debut. Axxion dropped a high-energy speed metal bomb in 2013 with Wild Racer then resorted to cliched, midtempo songs with pop-rock hooks and unlistenable vocals on 2016’s Back in Time. Speedtrap’s second effort suffered from poor production and otherwise lacked the punch of the band’s first full-length. The list goes on.
Happily, the curse of the middling sophomore album has bypassed Night Demon. The first indication of this mercy is in the outstanding sound production which affords all instruments their due respect. The crisp vocals and rich guitar tones never compete for real estate, and the powerful rhythm section holds enough density and impact to kickstart each song. The songs more than live up to the production’s potential. “Welcome to the Night” opens the album with an attractive instrumental section in which a somber acoustic melody dances with an electric guitar’s disquieting bends, effectively building tension and signaling the incoming attack. When the song reveals its true form, it turns out to be one of the fastest and most compelling pieces of music on the album. Excellent guitar rhythms and driving percussion fuel the fire while a carefully melodic chorus adds a memorable hook.
The excellence of the opener doesn’t quite find its way to the two subsequent tracks. “Hallowed Ground” suffers from a repetitive chorus that stalls the momentum of the verse sections, and repeated spins don’t generate incentive to revisit it. “Maiden Hell” is a lyrical tribute to Iron Maiden that conceptually echoes songs like Megadeth’s “Victory” by packing in as many Maiden song titles and references as possible. This offers a bit of nostalgia for older fans, and the song benefits from quality speed and execution. However, the roadhouse rock vocal delivery collides with the awkward pun in the chorus to create a bit of an oddball song. The fact the music doesn’t sound much like Iron Maiden only compounds the strangeness of it, especially when other tracks on the album certainly do.
“Stranger in the Room” cranks down the album’s velocity for a welcome respite, and it gives Jarvis Leatherby a chance to show off his respectable vocal range. After an enjoyable few minutes of downtempo, melodic heavy metal the song jumps into a surprisingly bluesy, midtempo riff. The slower pace and two distinct faces of the song make it one of the more memorable tracks on the album. From there, Night Demon pounds out a series of upbeat heavy metal tunes that never quite push into speed metal territory. This middle portion of the album is a satisfying chunk of music which, if not remarkable, leaves little to be desired either.
The biggest stumble on the recording is the bizarre “On Your Own.” Musically, the song is the obligatory track about working hard and rocking out, but the lyrics seem to be more about being homeless and trying to find food and shelter. The contrast between the optimistic attitude of the music and the depressive lyrics is jarring, and it’s hard to tell if the suggestion of vagrancy was deliberate or if the band just took the idea of triumphing over challenges a bit too far. Either way, the predictable delivery and distracting lyrics make this one to skip.
The final two tracks pay tribute to seminal heavy metal bands, and both are worthy emulations that retain Night Demon’s own musical stamp. The instrumental “Flight of the Manticore” delivers the sound of Powerslave-era Iron Maiden with a riff that clearly recalls “Back in the Village.” “Darkness Remains” is an homage to early Sabbath, opening with a lowkey melody and distorted vocal style that make it a dead ringer for “Planet Caravan.”
“Darkness Remains” is the closing track on the album, and it signs off with a reflective guitar solo and the lingering touch of a symphonic outro. This completes the cycle begun with the quiet opening on “Welcome to the Night,” and if the bookend song titles are to be believed, the listener has just experienced an album’s worth of darkness. Thematically, it’s a clever piece of album composition, though the high-energy, rocking good time metal music that comprises the bulk of Darkness Remains seems to contradict that idea. Still, the waning symphony of “Darkness Remains” feels like a meaningful way to wind down the listening experience, and it’s easily the most unique moment on the recording.
A pair of covers appear as bonus tracks at the end of the deluxe edition, and unlike many such inclusions that exist to pad an album’s running time, these are legitimate bonuses that could be taken away and not detract from the album’s 38-minute running length. An excellent cover of Sabbath’s “Turn up the Night” is a welcome addition, though the remake of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” doesn’t fare as well. Still, the band makes a respectable effort in transforming the iconic arena anthem into something new.
Overall, Darkness Remains lives up to the reputation of its predecessor with a collection of satisfying traditional metal tracks. The feel-good energy of this recording reveals a group of musicians who enjoy their work, and the assertion of inherent darkness does little to diminish the album’s enthusiasm. The band is adept at a variety of styles, shifting easily from speed metal to classic heavy metal and supporting it all with genuine elements of blues and hard rock. Night Demon feels like a band with a deep appreciation for the history and evolution of heavy metal music, and Darkness Remains pays tribute to iconic pieces of the past while delivering a modern gem with excellent musicianship, sound production, and song variety.
Rating 84 / 100