DarkBlack's debut LP, Sellsword was a great blending of late 70's early 80's Heavy Metal which pulled a lot of influence and inspiration from Thin Lizzy and wrapped it up in a box that conjured hints of Slauter Xstroyes. With Midnight Wraith, DarkBlack have dropped a some of the heavier elements of that album and some of the more intricate riffs, streamlined the style and incorporated a more decisive approach to what they want DarkBlack to sound like. In this case, it's a heavy dose of more Thin Lizzy a long with some of the sharpness and vibe of Diamond Head. DarkBlack don't simply milk old cows though. Comparisons to less referenced bands like Blackfoot fall well within range of the band's overall sound and with both Sellsword and also with Midnight Wraith these classic influences are plastered all over the band's riffs and sound. Highlighting these early Heavy Metal influences are guitar tones which would fit right at home at that period of time. The guitars are crisp and clear, very natural and bright while the bass is clunky and solid thump that stands out easily against the bright guitars. You can hear the sliding of fingers, plucks of strings and subtle (im)perfections that make appearances all over the place. It's a no bullshit recording.
Tim Smith's vocals are one thing which I don't yet fully love. I don't loathe them either. I just wish they were a little clearer. He's got a good voice and a good delivery but just as on Sellsword they are a bit buried on Midnight Wraith. It's difficult to really distinguish words. There is a hefty amount of reverb on them which seems in direct conflict with the clearness of the instrumentation. The emphasis is clearly on this aspect of the band - the instrumentation - and it hurts a bit because great vocals have to be present to make a release like this stand out. With so much throwback to those early years of Metal, a period when having a great vocalist was imperative and having great vocals on albums was such a huge part of what made bands like Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest and Rainbow famous, for DarkBlack, this is a segment of their music that needs some work. Tim isn't a bad vocalist either. I don't know why they would hide him in the background as they have.
Either way, the songs on this album are all really enjoyable. Opening track "Doom Herald" is immediately memorable, ear catching and tone setting for the rest of the EP. Even though overall, the five tracks have more of a Hard Rock feeling than the debut LP, they are nowhere near that cusp of ballessness and boredom which so many bands that try this style find themselves at. I think of a band like Riggs, whose full length album was god-awful hard rock but their track Radar Rider on the Heavy Metal movie soundtrack was killer hard rock, borderline metal. It's like that. DarkBlack are Radar Rider. They are the exception and not the rule. DarkBlack find ways of highlighting moments of harmonies with the perfect underlying notes such as halfway into "Doom Herald" or during the solo section of "Golden Idol" when you get this great sweeping tingle of melody and harmony in one fell swoop or an unexpected collaboration of melodies.
Though "Power Monger" and "Golden Idol" have their moments, "...Idol" in particular, the final two tracks are the best here. "Midnight Wraith" is just a bit rougher and just a bit more dark though and is the best song here. The refrain or chorus sections build up some pressure and tension and when drummer Eben Travis pounds through sections of the song, it sounds like he's putting his drumsticks straight through the snare and the beater through the kick. It's hard and vicious for a band that for the most part keeps it cool and concise. With "Broken Oath," DarkBlack open with the most memorable harmonization and melodies on the release. Tim's vocal lines are a bit more fluid on this track too. Midnight Wraith ends strong and opens strong. It shows a band that might be heading on a collision course with awesomeness.