If there is one thing in this world that we can all agree on, it’s this: the existence of cyborgs. From film and television to comic books and Nintendo games, cyborgs represent the quintessential two sides of the science fiction coin. The ultimate difference between good and evil cyborgs is a matter of wiring. For example, in the 1991 classic Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the Human Resistance, led by John Connor, captures a rogue T-800 model, rewires it, and sends it back in time to protect its younger self from the clutches of the stronger T-1000. Case in point, it’s all in the wiring, and it’s all about timing. Throughout St. Augustine doom metal duo Dark Castle‘s debut release, Spirited Migration, listeners find themselves caught somewhere in the midst of a colossal cyborg battle that sounds closer to firebombs destroying battle tanks than traditional doom metal.
In the first ten seconds, Dark Castle’s extensive heavy metal onslaught becomes comparable to that of any James Cameron film. Complete with grasping feedback and gripping undertones, the album’s opener, “Awake In Sleep”, feels like a power struggle between humans and cyborgs. Thick, chunky guitars from guitarist Stevie Floyd and boisterous drumming from Rob Shaffer all set against a torrential mid-tempo death march paint this war-torn world with vivid streaks of black and white. Dark Castle aims for the jugular without wasting any time and seriously puts your eardrums to the grounds of these long-forgotten and destroyed cities. The music stretches beyond its limited capacity and delves into something quasi-epic, complete with banshee-like wailing to top off its battle cries. Clocking in at just over a hefty seven minutes, “Awake In Sleep” sets the tone for the rest of Dark Castle’s mission of destroying the extermination and preserving mankind within their own little world.
After what seems like a trek through mine fields while avoiding the onslaught of total annihilation, Dark Castle offers a shimmer of hope with the classically influenced title track. At a mere two minutes long, “Spirited Migration” is a stark departure from the rest of the record due to the usage of acoustic guitars, classical passages, complex scale runs, Middle Eastern-themed picking techniques, and lack of beefy production. The sounds of this lonely guitar crying for help in a lost world sound as if they were recorded at the bottom of a well. The sounds of a twisted, yet jovial circus bleed their way through this daunting piece and certainly give the impression that this supposed war between the races has only stopped for a short period. Good production and great musical foresight cause Dark Castle to be more than just a metal band.
What follows next are the slumbering progression numbers of “Growing Slow”, “Weather the Storm”, and the sinister “Flight Beyond”. These tracks show Dark Castle in its experimental phase by stepping backwards a bit from blistering metal and creating more environmental feels. While the departure is a nice change of pace, some of the ideas slow the progression down just a little too much. “Weather the Storm” is a nice bridge between the sludgy but redundant “Growing Slow” and the colossal “Flight Beyond”. The latter works to some degree, but as a whole, this middle section feels uneven and could have been better with a reduction in time on each of the songs. That isn’t to say, however, that Dark Castle can’t create great soundscapes; here its magic just runs a little dry.
With that being said, they finish the album with a bang. The album’s final curtain calls, “Grasping The Awe” and “A Depth Returns”, cap off a pretty stellar run for this Florida band’s debut. Dark Castle howls at the moon for one last battle cry amidst a sea of slow tempos and echo-driven, delayed guitars. One thing to appreciate about these guys, which I mentioned before, is their uncanny ability to interlock together and create some seriously dynamic music. For two metalheads jamming around in “the oldest city in the United States,” Dark Castle comes up with a pretty ballsy debut to show for it. Some elements work well and others don’t. That’s just how most records go. However, for Dark Castle, when it’s on, the band sounds excellent.
As “A Depth Returns” ends the band’s larger-than-life battle against the cyborgs, Dark Castle calls it a day. The battle never stops, and these guys finish with a brutal debut album underneath their belts. They’re an acquired taste without a doubt, but if you want to rack your brain with something that has a bit more substance than your average run-of-the-mill heavy metal band, Dark Castle’s drawbridge is open for business. John Connor can live in peace, at least for now.