Dark Mirror - Portrait of evil 3.5/5

Reviewed: 4-1-10


1. At the edge of reality
2. The portrait
3. Forever young
4. Through oblivion
5. Asylum
6. Red carpet
7. Still standing
8. The arrival... unholy crusade
9. Karma
10. From the ashes

I guess I never thought to equate traditional heavy metal with Iowa, whose most noteworthy (shameful?) contribution to the heavy music scene in recent years was Slipknot. Lo and behold, here are Dark Mirror, a four-piece from Waterloo, Iowa who have been kicking around for around 5 years. 'Portrait of evil' is actually their sophomore release, with the debut 'Visions of pain' dating back to 2007. Both CDs were recently issued by Killer Metal Records, a small German label known much more for their obscure, limited-run vinyl releases than their CDs. In fact, I believe Dark Mirror is the first act for whom Killer Metal has ever released music in the CD format. Clearly, Dark Mirror is doing something right.

'Portrait of evil' is the kind of cult, underground CD that is capable of stirring up fanatical devotion in certain quarters. It's got this mystical quality, like if King Diamond, Halloween (the Detroit band), Jag Panzer, and 80s Metal Blade bands such as Omen and Lizzy Borden, were all jamming together. Contemporary comparison bands might be Twisted Tower Dire, October 31 and Ravage, to a degree. The music is always good and sometimes even outstanding, sometimes approaching (albeit never reaching) thrash, but never sacrificing melody, especially in the harmony guitar department. The lyrical subject matter is often engaging, especially the Dorian Gray-inspired "Forever young", the creepy "Asylum", and the Conquistador tale-with-a-twist in "Unholy crusade". The CD even has a haunting, shimmering 2-minute acoustic piece to set the mood for "Forever young". And the cover art is both eye-catching and professional, again being directly linked to "Forever young", although the Phoenix image on the back cover also ties into "From the ashes" and the vinyl sleeve of Dark Mirror's debut is also depicted in the image. So what we have here is a fine mid-80s styled traditional U.S. metal CD, executed by a band that has obviously taken great care to put its best foot forward.

Would that I could stop here. 'Portrait of evil' really is a worthy outing by a talented band. Unfortunately, my reviewer hat compels me to identify grounds for constructive criticism where they exist, and there are a couple of significant caveats here. Most obvious is vocalist Alonso Donoso, who is surely a love-him-or-hate-him kind of singer. He spends much of his time in a warbling upper-register shriek that some will find off-putting. I've read reviews comparing him to 3 Inches of Blood's Cam Pipes, and there's some accuracy to that analogy, although Donoso has a somewhat more versatile and varied delivery. Listeners who can hang with (or even appreciate) Donoso's voice will find 'Portrait of evil' to be a gem of classic U.S. heavy metal at its best. But some of you will not be able to stomach the voice, so listening to samples in advance is highly advisable. My only other reservation with this CD is that the lyrics to a couple of songs seem incongruous with the rest of the material, and with each other for that matter. Specifically, "Red carpet" is a rock'n'roll party song whose lyrics wouldn't be out of place on a Poison CD (sample line "You'll have to come to one of our shows/You'll see sexy girls dancing all around" and another line about after the party's over and the booze is gone, "your turn has come to pick one of us" presumably for one-on-one debauchery). And, over on the other end of the spectrum, "Still standing" appears to be a proclamation of religious faith and belief. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with either of these topics. It's just a bit jarring to have songs about sex parties and loving God side by side with tracks about insanity, rapacious conquerors and sinister paintings.

Notwithstanding these qualifiers, 'Portrait of evil' is absolutely worth investigating for devotees of 80s U.S. underground metal. Sure, Dark Mirror have some work to do before they release their magnum opus. But they are a promising band and are off to a good start. Iron out the lyrical inconsistencies, and perhaps tone down the over-the-top vocal histrionics a bit, and Dark Mirror could do some serious damage in true metal circles.




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