The New Year has already graced us with some fantastic progressive metal offerings. There are years where I’m just not as much into metal, but I’m really finding myself getting lost in these new releases. The latest one is Darkwater’s long-awaited third album, about nine years in the making. “Human” releases on the 1st of March, and I’m excited to see how it will be received by the community.
I have been a fan of Darkwater since the beginning. “Calling the Earth to Witness” in 2007 was a wonderful album with some really strong tracks. It may have been a bit more on the Dream Theater side than I wanted, though. “Where Stories End”, however, saw the band find their own sound completely, and the results are still stunning to hear. “Human” follows the second album more in tone, but there are moments that do remind me of the debut, too.
The band currently consists of Simon Andersson on bass, Tobias Enbert on drums, Markus Sigfridsson on guitars, Magnus Holmberg on keyboards, and Henrik Båth on vocals and guitars. These players are still at the top of their game, as they offer thundering riffs, jaw-dropping fills, and piercing keyboard melodies. Henrik’s voice is one in a million and completely unforgettable.
“Human” is a long album, clocking in at about 76 minutes in length. It feels like a huge effort on the part of the band, both musically and lyrically. Musically, the band is playing their modern brand of progressive metal, but the amount of melody and the excellent mix really elevate the whole experience. The album breezes by, feeling both heavy and melodic, dark and bright; like some fomenting storm of progressive brilliance.
Let’s talk about the lyrics for a moment. The album is about the burdens that we share as human beings: the human condition, so to speak. Addressing the pain and scarring in this life, specifically the inner fight for value and peace that we all find within ourselves, the album comes across as sincere and intensely emotional. Henrik really comes through vocally in this regard, and some of the lyrics really hit hard and are memorable even after just a couple of listens.
The album features tons of very strong tracks. From the rush of emotions in “A New Beginning” to the eerie and Middle Eastern vibes of “Insomnia” to the riveting chronicle that is “The Journey”, every single track seems to be powerful and expertly crafted. I mean, seriously, this album is a joy to hear from beginning to end, like a speeding locomotive of shining melody and powerful riffs. Yes, the band pictures are appropriate.
I have some favorites on the album. “In Front of You” is my definite favorite on the album, at least at this time. It is grand in scale, cinematic in structure, and the main riff is gravy. “Alive” Parts 1 and 2 remind me of “The Play” off their debut. These tracks are theatrical, enormously melodic, yet feel very personal. If you have watched the video, you can see the anguish, despair, and fight for life that the lyrics address. It’s enough to give goosebumps, but dark enough that even I tend to keep my children from seeing it. “Burdens” is heavy with piercing keys. It’s quite an emotive song, and the heaviness of the guitars really communicates the message.
The last two songs on the album are a great couplet. “Turning Pages” reminds me of “Where Stories End” quite a bit. The chorus is probably the strongest on the album, and I absolutely love the keys. Honestly, the main riff gets stuck in my head all the time. I specifically love the lyrics on this song because of the feelings of leaving your broken past where it belongs: in the past. The album ends on a beautifully crafted note of hope with “Light of Dawn”. The message here is to keep fighting, to keep pressing on to the hope within us. It’s a majestic and uplifting end to an epic journey.
Where does this album place in Darkwater’s discography? That’s a difficult question. I like it more than the debut by a substantial amount, but it is pretty much neck and neck with the second album. My fear for progressive metal bands is that they will simply fall back on Dream Theater tropes to release an album, but Darkwater has completely avoided that. This album is fresh, melodic, and inspired. So, yes, I will probably consider it my favorite from the band in time. Along with Evergrey’s latest, I see “Human” as the definitive prog metal release of 2019.