The Dark Nears is the first release by this North Carolinian duo, formed in 2007 by Joan Palmer who -in an admittedly pleasing inversion of the gender roles that seem endemic to metal – handled all of the album’s songwriting and instrumental duties but for the vocals and the majority of the lyrics, which were handled by bandmate Jon Slough. Trocaria style themselves as “symphonic metal,” but that denomination belies the band’s overall lack of production value; the symphonic backdrop on this album amounts to little more than a few trilling, repetitive keyboard lines and the occasional overlay of cheap and tinny sounding synthesizer string sections. More than anything else, the band’s skeletal, undernourished sound reminds me of some early acts in the Gothenburg scene, and indeed, Slough’s occasionally harmonised mid-range barks recall the young Anders Friden on Dark Tranquillity’s 1993 album Skydancer. The production and the vocals are about where the comparisons to Skydancer end though. Skydancer, after all, had memorable melodies and engaging songs and was… well… good.
There’s nothing offensively wrong with The Dark Nears, so to speak, operating as it does within the well-established aesthetic parameters of empathetic tragedy and humanistic suffering common to gothic and melodic death metal. The music evokes these emotions correctly, but the only way The Dark Nears could possibly be considered exceptional is in just how tepid and uninvolving it is. It’s an album that’s laborious to listen to from end to end, that makes the eyes glaze over from one undistinguishable track to the next and the synapses plead for more stimulation than the aural information they’re being met with can afford. The musicianship is basic in the extreme, the riffs predominantly consisting of a stream of perfectly regular 16th notes that lock in so exactly with the programmed drums’ 4/4 beat that you’d think that any sort of variation or syncopation were alien concepts to Palmer. Well, OK, that’s not entirely fair; Is It Just A Shadow? has a neat little groove to it, and the drum machine comes out with a few unexpected bursts of double-kick that took me aback on The Burning Man, but these are just two drops in a very flat, very shallow, very boring pool. Trocaria’s supposed symphonic elements would likely come across as limp and insipid even if they had Nightwish’s budget to realise them, but as it stands, any attempts at bombast or grandeur are immediately squashed by the soggy, lukewarm recording. Any kind of hook or memorable flourish is nowhere in sight for practically the entire runtime.
If there’s one thing that’s sort of strange about The Dark Nears – and in this case, “strange” doesn’t remotely mean “less boring” – it’s the incredibly sluggish tempo throughout; if I had to guess, I’d wager that the album probably averages under 90 beats per minute. Despite this, the guitars maintain a pretty steady 16th note chug throughout, and this throws a bit of a wrench into trying to fit it into a generic classification. There isn’t nearly enough emphasis on sustained notes for it to be doom metal, but not enough momentum for it to really be anything else either. It creates the impression of an album that’s been slowed down to make up the runtime; at 42 minutes long, I can’t help but think that The Dark Nears might work better as a 20-minute EP if all of the songs were played twice as fast. The songs would probably still be flat and undistinguished, but it would be a step in the right direction.
I’m disinclined to be too hard on a new band who are trying to make a name for themselves in the overpopulated metal underground; nevertheless, integrity dictates that I evaluate what I hear honestly, and Trocaria’s debut album is amateurish in execution in almost every possible regard. If Palmer and Slough want to carve a niche for themselves, then The Dark Nears isn’t nearly good enough.
01 Gates of Hell
03 Is It Just A Shadow?
05 The Burning Man
08 The Dark Nears