By Bob Nalbandian

Expanding Senses
Nuclear Blast
3.5 EYES

Usually, when a band decides to streamline things, it's a portent of bad things to come, as soundmen everywhere inch the 'suck' fader up a notch and what made the band a unique and special entity gets lost in a sea of ill-advised marketing plans. Hard to accuse Swedish pit bulls Darkane of any of that, though (anyone who's seen the album cover for their last record, Insanity, should know that marketing isn't a strong point with these fellas!) - despite a ratcheting back of the chaos found on their last album, the changes they've made are all for the better, and Expanding Senses is their best album yet! Vocalist Andreas Sydow is much more integrated into the music this time out, with a versatile voice recalling Chuck Billy and Strapping Young Lad mainman Devin Townsend (somehow a huge influence on Swedish singers). The tempos are as thrashy as ever, though drumming dynamo Peter Wildoer turns in a slightly more restrained performance - actually, everyone does, allowing the vocal hooks and killer choruses ample room to breathe and assert themselves in the listener's mind. There's still hints of the godly chaos of before (see the beginning of "Violence From Within," or the Testament-esque "Parasites of the Unexplained") - but witness how the band drops into a huge groove and a thrilling chorus in "Violence From Within"! The studio flotsam that Danne Bergstrand throws in to create the sonic-tornado effect is still there as well, but for once, the songs are the main focus on a Darkane record, and rightfully so, as these songs are awesome! "Chaos Vs. Order" (where former vocalist Lawrence Mackory guests) is one of those alternate-universe hits, or at least it oughta be, while "Fatal Impact" will raise goose-bumps. Expanding Senses finds Darkane at an enviable position in their career - mature and established enough to be masters of their craft, but still scrappy and hungry enough to create a record with tons of aggression, lethal intensity, and enough energy to power a city block! This is a dark horse among a season of heavy hitters on the Nuclear Blast roster, but damned if it doesn't trump them all, placing Darkane in the highest echelon of Swede bands thrashing it out this year. One of 2002's must-haves. Keith Bergman

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