When it came to promoting their full length debut ‘White Noise’, Finnish prog metal band were taking no chances. The first digital single appeared almost a full year before the album itself, and they subsequently drip fed their potential fans different tracks over the following months. This was no hit and run PR campaign. What’s more, in an effort to attract a variety of ears, they ensured those early digital singles covered a lot of musical ground. It was a campaign that worked. For those who didn’t enjoy the melodic metal of ‘Drown’ – an In Flames meets progressive metal workout – there would be the epic ‘Inverted’, a tune where the band abandoned their metal stance and embarked upon a very unfashionable 70s sound. Hey, if that were good enough for Opeth, going massively retro could work for others, and in the case of this massively uncommercial single, it proved a master stroke for Darkness. If anything, it was that unexpected shift which genuinely stoked up the excitement for the album itself.
When approached as a whole album ‘White Noise’ does not disappoint. Its six tracks showcase a band who care as much about huge, conventional, metal-derived melodies as complex twists. Using a very 80s twin lead guitar to open ‘Fade Into White Noise’ as opening bait shows just as big a desire to mix things up. It’s the sound of an unfashionable melodic metal band from the Frontiers Records stable rather than the expected prog metal, but that’s not to say that it isn’t well handled – quite the opposite, in fact; it’s perfectly executed with a superb melody and tone, and after sliding into the body of the track, there continues to be an unexpectedly old school heart beating furiously. The verses are quiet; a cleaner guitar adds spacious melodies against a fluid bass, mixing a slight proggy influence into some thoughtful rock sounds, but it’s when hitting the chorus that the number comes into its own. Once a world of harmony vocals and an AOR-tinged tune begin to shine brightly, the twin guitars make more sense, and although the sound remains a little old fashioned, a more modern production sound and a fuzzy guitar part give things an important lift. Overall, it sounds very little like anything you’d expect – assuming you’d heard ‘Drown’ and ‘Relentless’ in the lead up to the album’s release – but it’s still an enjoyable rocker, and the kind of semi-catchy number that makes for a very accessible opener.
‘The Game’ clings onto the same 80s influences, particularly notable through a soaring lead guitar sound and some brilliantly stabbed synths, but adds a proggy edge via a more mechanised rhythm. The general feel of the track could be written off as being “unsettled” due to a tempo that is more than occasionally set off balance by weird stops, but thanks to a melodic metal chorus bolstered by a blanket of keys adding a very Scandinavian sound akin to later period In Flames, there’s a half decent song keen to escape from the artiness. Despite a slightly cluttered approach, the lead guitar playing makes the number worth persevering with – especially the twin lead during the coda – and some of the prog metal riffs introduced at the eleventh hour are rather strong. In isolation, this number has some great moments, but compared to the rest of the album, it just feels a little too laboured. That said, despite this being the album’s weak link – at least song-wise – those willing to put in some hard yards might glean the listening rewards in time.
In a change of mood, ‘Salvation (Slava Ukrani)’ opens with programmed beats and hard droning synths. Taking a bit of electronica, downtempo and darkwave into a light prog sound is an interesting move, since it doesn’t allow anything flashy for the vocal melodies to hide behind. Armed with a thoughtful melody, Pete unveils an anti-war lyric that isn’t complex, but is very effective, even with bits of it masked by various effects. When the rock part of the tune hits, Darkness share their love of big melodic rock sounds through more soaring lead guitar melodies and a vocal hook that sounds as if it were designed for a crowd vocal. The combination of melody and lyric is almost perfect, but if anything leaves an impression, its a couple of impassioned spoken passages calling upon everyone in the world to stand with Ukraine and against the war. In time, this will become an important time capsule – as much as Pink Floyd’s far more widely heard ‘Rise Up, Rise Up’ – and for those who don’t care for political/social messaging, there’s still an absolutely cracking lead guitar here, which adds more of a prog-ish flair to the usual twin lead sound.
Joining some strong self-penned material, a cover of Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Drown’ is treated very respectfully. The original track’s basic tune stays firmly in place, but the band adds various elements which allow it to sound much grander. There’s more bass, which in turn adds more depth to the core melody, and the verses are stripped down to allow a lead bass to fill a lot of space, whilst light post-rock guitars occasionally shimmer with a superb tone. Approaching the louder parts of the track, a growlier vocal makes this sound more like a deep cut from a Scandinavian prog metal band, and the original’s militaristic drums are transposed to a lighter, almost jazzy feel which works brilliantly. The wordless vocals are retained for the climax, but these have also been rethought. Instead of reproducing something that sounds like a youth choir on a day trip to a recording studio, the big whoahs are now shared via a couple of female backing vocals which contrast the lead perfectly, but also add to the slightly proggy quality that Darkness have brought to the piece. It’s an odd move adding a cover tune to a debut such as this, but the overall mood and the changes made actually make the track fit so well, it ends up sounding like an original cut. It isn’t by any means ‘White Noise’s best tune – even with its status as a pre-release single – but it’s great in its own way.
Those looking for something more obviously derived from the prog metal world should make a bee-line for ‘Tilted Vision’, which fills four minutes with chugging riffs that occasionally sound like a more melodic take on ‘Awake’ era Dream Theater, and huge melodies that draw from an Arabic influence. The verses and bridges are pure prog metal, a feel emboldened by angry vocal effects, and a mid section delves further into Tool-like drumming to underscore waves of proggy keys, but you’ll find some big melodies here too. Firstly, there’s actually a chorus – something the likes of Dream Theater are prone to forget – which adds more of a melodic metal stance, counterbalancing the heaviest edges with ease. Secondly, guitarists Panu and Pete have chosen to fill an instrumental break with some very retro neo-classical melodies, and the resultant solo sounds like one of Yngwie’s old bangers, but played with less speed and more finesse. It doesn’t care for fashion, but it really suits the track and actually has the effect of making the returning chorus hook sound bigger and even more appealing. In terms of this album’s “big picture”, the constant shifting of styles makes it hard to pick out stand out tracks, but this is excellent.
‘White Noise’ is an album loaded with strong material. Varied, yes, but often strong. …And that’s before taking ‘Inverted’ into consideration. Whether heard as a stand alone piece, or as part of this larger body of work, it’s easily one of 2023’s finest prog tunes. Right from the off, a world of clean toned guitars convey a love for latter day Opeth and even ‘Argus’ era Wishbone Ash, and moving through the track, moments of sedate acoustic guitar, synths and vocals echoing old mellotron moods open up a world of very retro prog. This would be enough to make it one of the album’s standout tracks, but fluid and funky bass work and a couple of nods to Floyd via Gazpacho each bring something extra to a very 70s sound, and in doing so, make the lengthy listen even more appealing. A heavily wah-wahed solo offers more of a link with some of the band’s harder sounds, but never takes the listener out of the very retro musical soundscape that’s gradually been built, and at the point where you think they couldn’t add any more to the kitchen sink arrangement, there are militaristic drums and a couple of Beatle-esque melodies, a choir of vocals and an unexpectedly sweary refrain to create a more frivolous climax. It’s a nine minute journey that has no care for sitting comfortably alongside some of the album’s more metal oriented tunes, and in many ways is all the better for that. A culmination of all of the band’s experiments to date, this epic tune is worth the price of a download or a physical disc alone. It’s sprawling musical approach really deserves wider attention from the prog community and deserves to bring Darkness Is My Canvas a new wave of fans.
In terms of prog-oriented albums, ‘White Noise’ is often chunkier than the most melodic Opeth, but always more accessible than their black metal infused earlier outings. It’s got more of an interest in old fashioned rock than ninety percent of the riff heavy Dream Theater wannabes that have flooded the market over the years but occasionally is happy to share as much of a heavy edge, and from a metal viewpoint, the album’s weighty musical canvas reaches further than most. If this is your introduction to Darkness Is My Canvas, it’s fair to say you’ll experience a world of great sounds. Sometimes it’ll feel as if you’ve discovered three new bands at once – and you won’t necessarily take to all of them immediately – but over time, the sometimes dense, sometimes arty, often massive approach favoured by the material will eventually reveal itself as a work to treasure.