“The soundtrack to a world unbalanced…” This is the declaration made by the debut album from South Africa’s Terminal, and Blacken the Skies delivers on that statement, providing sharp and hard-hitting anthems that paint various scenes of violence, authoritarianism, modern dystopia, and corruption throughout its brief running time. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Thomas Mark Anthony crafts a record ripe with his own personal influences from growing up in South Africa as a civil rights and anti-apartheid activist, resulting in a introductory release that effectively captures his grim view of the state of our planet and delivers it to the listener in the form of a true gothic/industrial musical hybrid.
The album begins with a brief yet ominous intro track, foreshadowing the opening “Terror Ride”, which immediately hits you with everything that Terminal is about – a big, well produced mix of gloomy guitar riffs, programmed percussion, industrial noise, and an immediately distinct deep baritone vocal telling a tale of an out-of-control world heading to its doom. Their sound feels like a cross between Cyanotic and Type O Negative, while not being too much of either to sound like a copy; this aesthetic carries through much of the record but especially on standout tracks “Fault Line,” “Godfire,” and “Deadline,” all of which were released as singles.
On the subject of the lyrics, it is worth mentioning that the delivery of the vocals on much of this album is a highlight and a defining feature of Terminal. “Deadline” in particular paints the picture of the fate that can befall journalists who get too close to a buried truth and uses creative wordplay in the song title to describe both a story due date and the end of someone’s life. The line in the chorus, “Heedless of the tides that fast arise, shining in the dark the truth denies, silent in the name of sacred lies,” when delivered in Anthony’s deep growl adds some real menace and depth to the track’s theme.
One additional thing that album (and Terminal as an artist) does very well is relating to its marketing and visual aesthetic. The band logo – featuring three bombs falling from the sky – is immediately “black T-shirt ready” and the album art is gorgeous, perfectly depicting the vibe this record is going for. The line above referencing that Blacken the Skies is a “soundtrack to a world unbalanced” is actually a great description and setup for what you are going to get from a perspective of craft – a collection of tracks separated by the occasional interlude that ebbs and flows and moves from one ‘scene’ to the next; it even ends with an instrumental ‘end credits’ track.
While there are many upsides to this release, it is far from a flawless record. The album is held up by the strengths and merit of the above mentioned four tracks, as well as the dancefloor friendly “Riot Shields,” but starts to thin out from there. “Dance Fall Pray” is forgettable other than a guitar riff that hits a bit too close to MINISTRY’s “NWO,” and “TRMNL” is noisy and very out of place when compared to the rest of the record, almost as if it was created in a completely separate creative headspace.
Overall, this is an extremely solid release for a debuting artist. While not presenting anything inherently fresh from a thematic perspective, Terminal has crafted a record that delivers a consistent narrative, quality production, and a sound familiar enough to pull people in, but unique enough to have them stick around to see what could be next. Blacken the Skies is a mostly pleasing record to listen to and succeeds in drawing you closer to clearly see the bleak vision of our world through Terminal’s eyes.