Even the most devoted hard rock fan would be forgiven for not being up to date with The Darkness. They rose to fame in 2003, when the music world was still coming back from the hangover called grunge and found out the hard way that the proper medicine for that was not the wimpiness of The Strokes, Radiohead or Franz Ferdinand. Out of the blue came the leotard-clad Justin Hawkins, a man able to conjure guitar licks that would make Boston’s Tom Scholz proud and also sing in the stratosphere. Along with the monstrous riffage of his brother Dan and the competent low end of bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham, they seemed destined to save the world one chunky riff with macho lyrics at a time. Unfortunately, they suffered from “second album syndrome”, and imploded in a cloud of angel dust after “One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back”. The resentment between the brothers split the band in two different acts, Hot Leg and Stone Gods, both of which failed to replicate their initial impact. It took them a while to get their act together, but they returned in good shape and relatively unscathed with the album “Hot Cakes” in 2012. And while their initial expectations were never materialized in terms of fame and commercial success, they have been consistent since then, and have maintained a dedicated fan-base.
Fast forward to 2019, and they have another album in the can, the infamously titled “Easter is Cancelled”, their first ever concept opus. The ten-track record produced by Dan Hawkins (who also produced the band’s 2015 release “Last Of Our Kind”), promises to examine the role of the musician in the barbarous culture of the world today, and their almost divine responsibility to challenge the establishment with opener “Rock and Roll Deserves To Die”. Love, loss, heartbreak and their usual non-PC sense of humor are sprinkled throughout this tale, and redemption is ultimately found in the brotherhood of band friendship and the power of the guitar, as brought full circle in the album closer “We Are The Guitar Men.”
Asked to chime in on the meaning and creative process of the new album, Justin enigmatically says: “At the end of days, humankind must consider the essential truths of existence. The Darkness, your vanguard in life’s journey, have stared into the abyss. The observations we bring from the edge are set out in a new record album, titled Easter is Cancelled. This far-reaching communiqué examines man’s brutality to man, the dichotomies that we live within and the alternate realities that exist alongside our blinkered comprehension of the Universe. The song cycle defines human existence through a parable – the slow lingering death and eventual glorious re-birth of rock and roll. In the search for perfect sonic equivalents of core truths, every musical instrument of the world has been explored and exploited to its fullest extent. Endless days in studios, museums, spiritual retreats and places of learning turned into endless months, as deeper and deeper layers of truth were uncovered, translated and set for eternity in sound. The result is a literally Biblical record, and those who have said that rock and roll is the Devil’s music should listen and understand that it is, in truth, the voice of God. This is the grandest statement any band has ever made, and the endeavor has taken its toll. In achieving such a mighty goal, a line is drawn and this will be the last traditional music album from The Darkness – having confronted the eternal and ultimate, we must now move on to higher art forms. The future is an open door. Who’s in here?”
Following the cover of the previous album “Pinewood Smile” – which had a massive close up of Justin‘s cheeky grin – seemed a difficult proposition, but they rose to the challenge. The front illustration of “Easter is Cancelled” is a reaffirmation of the band’s intention to shock, depicting its members saving Justin, aka Jesus, from crucifixion. Not your regular Jesus though – this one looks like he’s more prone to cross-fit than to being fit on the cross. Offensive imagery and impenetrable concept aside, let’s move on to the music.
“Rock and Roll Deserves To Die” has already been revealed to the public, and it’s every bit classic The Darkness as one would expect: after the mandolins and flute adorn the delicate beginning, it explodes into one of the crunchiest riffs this band was ever able to produce, with Justin reaching those hair-ripping, ridiculously high notes. Echoes of AC/DC’s “Let there be rock” and Dale Evans’s “Happy Trails” (immortalized by Van Halen) can be spotted on this track. It’s followed by “How Can I Lose Your Love”, which starts with a looped arpeggio and AOR open chords, and evolves into a cool ballad that would be a great fit on “One Way Ticket to Hell…And Back”.
On “Live ’til I Die”, another The Darkness trick is in full display: the ability to combine simple chords and a standard song structure into something grandiloquent and over the top. One of the highlights of the album, the rock waltz “Heart Explodes” is a showcase of Rufus (son of Queen’s Roger Taylor) ability, and sees the band breaking the fourth wall and talking about the hardships of writing a ballad: “they’re easy to come up with, but they’re difficult to play”.
A quick stop on the usual rifferama and over-the-topness is heard on the short track “Deck Chair”, where Justin exercises his abilities as minstrel in the gallery. Ending up with a bluesy solo, it works as a prelude to the title track, and the contrast is palpable. “Easter is Cancelled”, with its many dynamic shifts, display Devin Townsend levels of craziness, although with zero progginess. Another high octane, angular rocker that the fans usually expect from a The Darkness album, “Choke On It” blurs the lines between hard rock and metal, as otherwise exemplified on songs from previous efforts, like “Concrete” or “Barbarians”. This one is a cross of AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses and a c**katoo, with Justin’s voice every bit as strong as it ever was, proving once again that age is just a concept, at least for some of us.
Elsewhere, “Heavy Metal Lover” amps up on the humor, with the depiction of a female metal fan who “looks so happy when carving meat”. Mentions of Obituary, Baphomet’s Blood, Cannibal Corpse and others are put side to side on this track which shifts from ballad to thrash in every turn. The band still finds time to flirt with country on “In Another Life”, a song that also alludes to one of their biggest hits, “Love is Only a Feeling”, from their debut album “Permission to Land”. The closing song “We Are The Guitar Men”, as the name suggests, is a homage to the six-stringed instrument, and sees the band surrendering to their mission of being cosmic troubadours. Maybe a little less saccharine and a little bit more punch here would have made for a more appropriate ending, but all in all, this is a worthy effort.
“Easter is Cancelled” is a great addition to The Darkness’ catalogue, and while it won’t change the naysayers’ opinion about this band, it’s definitely going to please the die-hard fans. Just like all of their albums, this one is full of songs that will grow and expand exponentially when played live. The masters of flamboyance are back, with loose morals, tight pants and existential questioning thrown in for good measure.
Released By: Cooking Vinyl Limited
Release Date: October 4th, 2019
Genre: Hard Rock
- Justin Hawkins / Lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, keyboards
- Dan Hawkins / Rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
- Frankie Poullain / Bass, backing vocals
- Rufus Tiger Taylor / Drums, backing vocals
“Easter Is Cancelled” tracklist:
- Rock and Roll Deserves to Die
- How Can I Lose Your Love
- Live ‘til I Die
- Heart Explodes
- Deck Chair
- Easter Is Cancelled
- Heavy Metal Lover
- In Another Life
- Choke On It
- We Are The Guitar Men
- Different Eyes
- Confirmation Bias
- Sutton Hoo
The band who put the d in debauchery is back, and now it features a brainy concept as well. “Easter is Cancelled” sees The Darkness adding depth to their lyrics, which take a messianic stance on a couple of tracks here. Mixing all-guns-blazing guitars and high shrieks with a few more mellow moments, this one is custom made for the long time fans. An album that sparks curiosity and amps up the expectation for the live versions of its songs