Dantesco - De la mano de la muerte 4/5

Reviewed: 1-13-06


1. Tiempo de calma
2. Tempestad
3. Cronicas de la muerte negra
4. Morir de pie
5. Mi vengaza
6. Dantesco
7. Traidor
8. El principe de valaquia
9. Oda al fin del mundo
10. Ataca la bestia
11. Pavor nocturnus

Sometimes the most rewarding releases are the ones that are slightly off the beaten track, you know, the ones that require a little extra effort to track down and to understand, that don't fit neatly into a pre-designed cookie-cutter formula, and that offer a different take on a sound that you know and love. Puerto Rico's Dantesco have unleashed just such a CD in 'De la mano de la muerte'. Start with their Puerto Rican heritage. Have there been other internationally acclaimed metal bands from Puerto Rico? If so, I'm not aware of them. From the eerie cover art (a painting featuring the grim reaper walking hand in hand with a smiling little girl under blackened skies) to the Khaosmaster record label, one's natural inclination might be to assume that this release falls under the black/death genre heading. Such an assumption would be incorrect and most unwise.

Describing Dantesco's music is difficult because, while there are obvious frames of reference, I've never heard anyone combine these elements quite like they do. The underpinnings of the band's sound lie in the fertile fields of classic melodic doom metal, previously tilled by Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus and currently honed by those pioneers, plus the likes of Doomshine and Forsaken. For example, the chord progression in the refrain of "Mi vengenza" immediately brought to mind the Swedish doom gods' "Black stone wielder". And singer Erico la Bestia sometimes sounds a bit like Messiah Marcolin, as well. But it would be unfair and inaccurate to tag Dantesco as a paint-by-numbers classic doom band along the lines of Thunderstorm or Well of Souls. You see, Dantesco bring far more than Candlemass influences to the table in terms of guitars, tempos, arrangements, and voices.

With respect to the axework, the duo of Daniel Ortiz and Joel Carrasquillo are much more frenetic than your standard Iommi-inspired axe tandem, offering up a healthy portion of blazing soloing and awe-inspiring melodic runs and harmonies that conjure no one more than Hank Shermann and Michael Denner of Mercyful Fate. As if that's not enough, bassist Ramon De Jesus offers a stunning, shimmering classical guitar interlude smack dab in the middle of the title track. Let's see your run-of-the-mill doom band try that! Moreover, Dantesco are not a band that locks into a lumbering, lugubrious pace and stays there; to the contrary, the incidence of uptempo passages is much higher than one would expect on a doom metal CD. These guys are no more a straight-up doom band than their Greek brethren in Battleroar. From an arrangement standpoint, the tracks are epic (average song length is around 6 minutes) and filled with unpredictable twists and turns recalling the best writing of While Heaven Wept ("Oda al fin del mundo", anyone?), or even early Fates Warning to an extent. Then there are the remarkably versatile vocals of Erico La Bestia, who delivers the Spanish-language lyrics in an array of styles ranging from the operatic (think the male choirs of Therion) to the traditional metal (imagine a slightly rougher version of Paragon's Andreas Bubushkin mixed with just a pinch of Graham Bonnet perhaps) to the occasional high-pitched wail a la King Diamond or vintage David Wayne.

When all these ingredients are added to a simmering cauldron of metal chops and old-school attitude, the result is an impressive stew that isn't exactly innovative, but that doesn't particularly sound like anyone else. Personally, I find Dantesco's brew to be intriguing and intoxicating, with a surprisingly cohesive sound, a niche vibe unlike anyone else's, and a very cool, genre-bending take on traditional heavy metal. A niche release like this isn't destined for mainstream success, or even broad-based acceptance among the true metal community, but somehow I don't think those objectives are what Dantesco had in mind. Open-minded metalheads who love Candlemass, Mercyful Fate and Therion, and who are comfortable with Spanish lyrics, should snap this up without delay. Everyone else would be advised to check out some samples first to see if Dantesco's special blend of metal insanity might be the cure for what ails you.




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