Singer Don Doty about Dark Angel’s second effort Darkness Descends
1986 was definitely the best year for Heavy Metal and Thrash Metal reached its peak in that year. A lot of influential classics have been released, including Reign in Blood, Game Over, Doomsday for the Deceiver, etc. But undoubtedly Darkness Descends was the most aggressive and violent album of 1986 and singer Don Doty answered my questions regarding the masterpiece.
Don, after the release of the debut album We Have Arrived drummer Jack Schwartz was replaced by Gene Hoglan, who previously had been involved in local act Wargod and was the drum tech of Dave Lombardo. What did go wrong with Jack? How did Gene get in the picture exactly? Was he immediately your first choice or did you audition other drummers as well?
Hello, it’s good to hear from you! It has been a bit of time. We are coming up on 35 years. Well that old expression time flies really comes into play. And on a quick note I want to thank all of the fans and friends because alot of fans became really good friends for all of the support they have given. And so they and yourself know that all the encouragement is what makes the difference between being a fly by night band and one that olds up in time. Ok, starting with Gene, well we knew what we wanted and although Jack could play it, it was taking a toll on him. Jim brought in Gene he could play what we wanted and then play it over again. Another thing was distance: Gene lived close, Jack was a 3 hour drive at times.
When did you start working on Darkness Descends? How long did it take you to come up with newer songs? It seems, Gene Hoglan played an important role in the songwriting, but all of you were taking part in it as well. Was it a band effort at that time?
We basically did what we had to do. We wrote because we needed more songs. We wanted a longer set. It took us a bit of time to come up with the songs. And that was because we wanted to be different. We had our own groove. And as long as we worked together things came out rite.
What do you recall of the recording sessions?
The recording session was intense. They booked us late night or early morning it seemed so we could get as much time as we could in there.
According to Gene, you commenced recording of the album on April 14 1986, on the day, when Reagan bombed Libya. Could you concentrate on the works under such circumstances? Did it make its mark on your mood?
You know we do what we have to do. I really don’t think it would of mattered if it would of been the end of the world. We knew what we wanted and nothing was going to stop us. If any thing I remember saying aaahhaaaerrrrrrra kill them all. I think it may have been due to something I was listening to, a certain album at that time. Lol
Whereas the debut was a mixture of traditional Heavy Metal and Speed/Thrash Metal, mainly a collection of demos recorded on various occasions, Darkness Descends did not have that heavy metal sound and was defined in a very brutal way. What is known as Thrash Metal, do you agree with it?
You have to remember there weren’t no genres back then. We just wanted to be as brutal as we could.
Would you say that you appeared as a completely different band and it was actually your first chance to show off what you were capable of?
No, we were still Dark Angel. We just wanted to be heavier, faster, more brutal.
Did Darkness Descends completely fulfill the promise that was already apparent on We Have Arrived?
Yes, I thought so Darkness Descends was everything we wanted.
Did the recruitment of Gene Hoglan make a difference for the band, both creatively and musically, as through his drumming he took your sound into new and different levels of speed and aggression?
Gene played his part he brought something to the table like we all did. Each one of us put all we could into it. Remembering that Darkness was in processes before Gene came in, so his new creativity was much welcomed.
The band had found the true formula of most intense Thrash Metal, and the result is an excellent combination of ultra-fast riffs, very hard-hitting drumming, and striking vocals. How do you explain this?
The best way would be to ask yourself: have you ever done something and it just worked? In other times you’ve done something and it was so difficult. And it was the same task. Sometimes things just work out and when we were all together, things just clicked.
Did Darkness Descends take a relentless approach with a lot of anger and attitude behind it?
Yes, we hit what we were going for.
Are the riffs from Eric Meyer and Jim Durkin much more focused this time and is the songwriting more advanced?
Yes, because we had spent enough time together to work off each other.
Did you sound considerably more brutal here than you did on We Have Arrived?
You know I actually have listened to the vocals on both. We Have Arrived was different with a different mind set. You can still hear the characteristics of my voice. But on Darkness it was balls out no hold back.
Do you think that Slayer was still on this same spectrum of aggressive, brutal thrash, but Dark Angel took that and made it even more devastating?
Slayer and Metallica are great bands and we listened to them. I’m sure they listened to us. We come from the same town pretty much. We were all doing our own thing and like today there are so many different genres out there. We do not have that luxury back then. We were all playing music. We are playing at our own way and because it’s come so far, people have actually been able to label what we were doing which is really cool.
In your opinion, are the seven songs of this album played in an insanely fast fashion and every track has standout moments that set them apart from the others?
Our goal was to make each song its own song. And although we will be playing the next one, we wanted it to sound uniquely different in its own right.
What made you to re-record Merciless Death from We Have Arrived?
Well, to be completely honest we were running short on time and we needed one more song and I remember writing Merciless Death kind of as a theme song. So it only seemed appropriate.
Did Black Prophecies show the progressive side of the band, that would be the main component in their further releases?
Black Prophecies was one that Jimmy and Gene were working on but due to the time we had to finish it in the studio. Black Prophecies is a song to show that we could all work together in a crunch.
Did this release possess a completely apocalyptic atmosphere?
We made our mark. I’m just glad others noticed.
The song Darkness Descends is about the comic book characters known as the Dark Judges from the Judge Dredd comic book series and even contains their famous statement, „this city is guilty, the crime is life, the sentence is death”. Death Is Certain (Life Is Not) deals with euthanasia, Black Prophecies deals with Nostradamus and Perish in Flames deals with a nuclear apocalypse. Does it mean that the album lyric-wise is varied, instead of being satanic and evil, that was characteristic or stereotypical at those times?
Exactly!!! That was our point. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to be different and yet unique.
How do you view, that at the album’s release there was practically no record out which could beat Darkness Descends in terms of extremity and brutality, many tracks are faster than most of everything else recorded prior to this moment?
Good job us. We put alot into that album. And just like today there are band out there that are doing the same music but in a new way. I think its C.A.F.
Was the mid-to-late 80’s truly a glorious time for Thrash Metal around the world?
Truthfully yes, it really was. I am blessed to be part of such a movement that has changed music as we once knew it. I remember watching Star Trek and waiting for the soundtrack to start. It was the fastest thing I had ever heard on television. Go get him Captain Kirk.
Did Dark Angel definitely reach its peak on this record?
I think so, record sales say so, but there are others who would beg to differ.
Is Darkness Descends the pinnacle of the band’s discography, a definitive album both for the band and for the genre?
I am proud to say that we were able to contribute to metal.
Is it correct that the semi-legendary Speed Kills compilation honoured Dark Angel with the words „Slayer’s closest rivals”?
Yeah, funny, everybody knows we were better live. Oh shit, I mean we did what we were going for and they did the satanic thing. And they were very good at it and still are. OK, I”m leaving that in because if you can’t relax and have some fun you need a life. You know, the really cool thing about Dark Angel was we went out in the crowd and we showed everyone we were real. I think that encouraged a lot of people to start their own bands. Pretty cool shit.
Were you probably trying to destroy the notion that you’d be another Slayer clone?
No, we just wanted to play music. Never really cared what other people thought.
The band went on tour with Possessed in support of the record (the Gates of Darkness tour), but behind the microphone stood Jim Drabos of Death Force, what happened with you at this point? Did you do any shows with the band to publicize the album, by the way?
I had already told the band that I would be leaving. I was getting married and having a child when they came back from the tour. They played a couple more shows and I did do them with them. My last show was at the Country Club in Reseda in ’87.
Dark Angel reformed at first between 2002-2005 and since 2013 they have been active again Did you show an interest in rejoining them?
This is a soft subject. If you’re into Dark Angel then you will know what and how I tried to bring us back together. And I was public about. You will see I asked Ron to come up and sing with me. It would have been one hell of a show. But it got squashed, thanks to Gene. And he did what he does, labelled me and took the band to do some shows. I had booked some shows like Sweden Rock and Deathfest so there was a good opportunity for us to play. They were cancelled because I wasn’t booking them now and funny how Dark Angel just happened to play the same place as that I had booked.
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scene? Are you perhaps involve in any outfit?
Yes, I still follow a little bit. I did start a band called Eliminate. I enjoyed playing on the stage again. I was blessed to play with some really cool musicians. We were able to write some new songs as well. I had to stop I was in an accident and had to go into surgery. They put a metal plate in my head and did brain surgery. I am very blessed to be here and would like to thank the fans for there continued support. My sister posted pictures and I am very thankful to her and all she has done for me over the years.
Don, thanks a lot for your answers! Anything else that you would like to add to this feature?
Well, that I just might put some guys together and bring Eliminate back out. We can play some new music and through in a couple of the old ones. If you see us playing, come on down, introduce yourself and have a good time! I see you at the show. CHEERS!