Darko (US) – Oni
Released: September 26, 2022
Josh ‘Baby J’ Miller | Guitar / Drums
Tom Barber | Vocals
Britannica defines Oni “in Japanese folklore, a type of demonic creature often of giant size, great strength, and fearful appearance. They are generally considered to be foreign in origin, perhaps introduced into Japan from China along with Buddhism. Cruel and malicious, they can, nevertheless, be converted to Buddhism. Though oni have been depicted in various ways in Japanese legend and art, sometimes also as women, they are characteristically thought of as pink, red, or blue-grey in colour, with horns, three toes, three fingers, and on occasion with three eyes.”
After starting off as a fun experiment, Darko (US) have become one of the most fascinating contemporary deathcore projects in the heavy music scene. Darko comprises two omnific individuals; Chelsea Grin‘s Tom Barber, (also known for his vocal stint with Lorna Shore from 2010-2018) and Josh ‘Baby J’ Miller most well-known as the drummer for SPITE and ex-drummer for Emmure (2016-2021). With Chelsea Grin about to drop double-album Suffer in Hell / Suffer in Heaven and SPITE having just unleashed almighty record Dedication to Flesh, these two American deathcore aficionados have had a busy year.
A quick history lesson on the deathtronic beast known as Darko will take you back to 2020 with their debut EP Pt. 1 Dethmask (with singles like ‘Mars Attacks‘), shortly followed by their 2021 self-titled debut LP Darko, packed with singles and features (like Spiritbox‘s Courtney LaPlante and Shadow of Intent‘s Ben Deurr). With 2022’s Oni supposedly completing the consecutive LP trifecta, they’ve already been alluding to Pt. 2 Dethmask in the works; but today the focus is all on Oni. A crucial element worth mentioning about Darko is that everything they’ve done so far has been fully independent – no labels, no publicity, no third-party merch store, and to this day – no shows. The success they’ve had to date has been fully based on their own doing, a highly impressive feat in the modern music industry.
What’s worth calling out in this brief history lesson is that Sacramento-based Baby J is a multi-instrumentalist for the band, rocking both drums and guitar – just check out their ‘Dragon Chaser‘ live playthrough to get a feel for how this works. Beyond this lead-single, Baby J and Barber spent most of 2022 drip-feeding a diverse bundle of singles, edging toward the big Oni announcement and release. The other tracks we’ve heard already include ‘Acid Inject‘ and two others with some big heavy scene features – ‘Come Home‘ featuring Rory Rodriguez of Dayseeker and ‘Ana‘ featuring Taylor Barber of Left To Suffer.
Feeling hyped enough yet? Let’s finally pull apart Oni which has finally been released in its entirety. The sophomore album starts with hypermixed intro ‘Begin‘ where you feel immersed in a videogame as a male robotic voice takes you through the tracklist before it dribbles into the first proper track ‘Looking Glass‘. These two rascals then engage in what feels like their bounciest track yet, kicking off this album with a bang alongside a very high breakdown standard that is set very early on.
Ryo Kinoshita of Crystal Lake needs no introduction and to have him on a Darko album is pretty wild. The track Kinoshita is on is called ‘Hyperkill‘. This one starts similarly to their 2021 LP era with that healthy mix of ambience and unforgiving drums. Barber elicits his verses with this intent to destroy it and pack in the lyrics as fast as possible which delivers brutal energy, all part of his signature style. He does this, all while a soft high-pitched tone slowly tings in the background on the back of the carnage. Kinoshita dives in with a monstrous verse early in the piece, matching Barber’s energy and together they unload a hellish mood for this packed 44-minute record.
When ‘Dragon Chaser‘ was debuted, the world first heard the live and raw playthrough before the studio version, which in my opinion is a really unique and non-conformist method – and a slick one at that. Granted, this was the first post-Darko single shared, the anticipation was huge. What direction would they take for their 2022 micro-era? Notably the production was marvellous with packed technical instrumentation, mixing and vocal energy. With highly mixed EDM tones, Barber gives his deepest melodic growls as Baby J channels all his passion into guitar and drums. At that three-quarter way mark everything stops for that iconic line “I am not one of you” before the pandemonium ensues.
It’s always exciting to hear from the Demon King himself, so I was stoked to see that Dark Souls 3 inspired track ‘Rosaria’s Fingers‘ was listed in the tracklist with Kyle Anderson of Brand of Sacrifice. With a ridiculous fast-paced grounding on this album, this song carries on in the same vein. Imagine you walk into a packed nightclub with all the flashing lights and strobes, but instead of trance music surrounding you, it’s a Darko live concert. With a trippy overlay, Barber takes Anderson into the labyrinth where you can imagine them facing one another in some kind of deathcore battle purging their varying styles. Compared to Kinoshita who complemented Barber’s sound, Anderson sounds completely different, highlighting the contrast between the two and providing huge vocal variety.
‘Infinite Beauty‘ is the interlude you’ll need to catch your breath after the insanity recently consumed on these openers. Alike the ‘Come Home‘ single directionally, this track slows things right down and accentuates highly mixed harmonic clean vocals. This continues until tension in the drums progressively builds until it sinks into track seven. With shock that we’re already at the halfway mark, ‘Evolving‘ kicks in featuring Shaolin G of hardcore/hip-hip group UnityTX. The song hits like ‘Looking Glass‘ with that bouncy push, with both tracks hitting that serotonin button after a thick juxtaposition from each of their respective preceding meditative tracks. Shaolin G jumps in midway with a rap-verse that works wonderfully with Baby J’s drums before a surprise breakdown hits like a tonne of bricks. Barber then jumps in with an “I’ll take it from here” attitude.
Not sure what ‘R.T.G.O.B‘ stands for, but knowing Darko, it’s something mystical and evil – let me know if you find out. Sonically and lyrically, the track sure does feel as evil as it seems with the boys strengthening all those deep tones with immense elongation and punchy beats. Petering out with palpitation effects, Darko take us into ‘Gantz‘ where that ballistic energy is balanced with that perpetual aura across this record; contemporary deathcore fans will lose it on this one.
Title-track ‘Oni‘ has Barber draw on clean vocals which he’s been experimenting with a bit on this album. This is one of the best things about the Darko project, it’s unlike something you’d ever hear on a Chelsea Grin record (I would imagine anyway). ‘Oni‘ encapsulates the calming essence of this album’s creativity and exploration in just a couple of minutes.
‘Ana‘ is the most recent single Darko released before Oni was dropped and it was monstrous, particularly when paired with their previous single ‘Come Home‘ which we’ll get into later, not to mention coming straight after the quiet title track. Again, ‘Ana‘ includes Taylor Barber who’s also recently dropped a new EP And Dying Forever (with yet another single out later this week). “Press start” a robotic female voice announces before Baby J melts into a blast-beat-led march. With guitars and ambient tones layered over, the two Barbers (who may or may not be brothers) elevate the vocal depth of this track to a demonic level. With EDM stop-starts and complementary slow-downs to the instrumentation, Darko fully engineers that delicious tension before crunchy and ballistic breakdowns.
As the end of Oni slowly approaches, we’re holding tight to this rollercoaster ride as ‘Sand Script‘ begins. This deep-cut revisits Baby J‘s pounding drums across a deathtronic engine room of chaos. Together these tones and Barber’s nasty growls will entrance you completely as all the right grooves kick in. We heard ‘Acid Inject‘ after ‘Dragon Chaser‘ and it followed on quite seamlessly with some Rings of Saturn / Aversions Crown-like aliencore taking charge. The rhythm of this song is fast like a cheetah and they take you on the journey with them, to the point where you don’t know how you’re going to ever handle a song slower than this again. Spanning just over two-minutes, this eloquently mixed track defines Oni very characteristically.
‘Come Home‘ is possibly the most interesting and entrancing song on this LP, and wildly takes you to that slow pace you never thought you’d handle. Despite singles like ‘Donna‘, not many fans would have been expecting this direction from the band. Again, the track features Rory Rodriguez wh provides more than a smaller feature on this one and gives it his all. Mixed with remnants of Dayseeker‘s ambient sadness, ‘Come Home‘ is coupled with a music video shaped by a forest chase. With mellow guitars/drums, Barber showcases his super-gentle clean vocal style again before he dabbles in a raspy sort-of-in-between unclean section. Rodriguez comes in with a lovely bridge and verse which is where the song reaches its pinnacle. The electronic variables play a key role here, but in a completely different and softer way to the rest of the record.
Finally, the second Darko LP closes with ‘Redo‘, an outro that plays what sounds like the entire album bring played backwards in fast-forward, and it is the most hilarious and perfect way to end this insane record; like a soundtrack to death where your life flashes in front of your eyes.
Darko‘s Oni has this way about it that simultaneously gives you everything you expected, and also nothing you’d ever expect. The way Tom Barber and Baby J channel their heightened creativity to their on-brand approach delivers the freshest deathcore album you could ever imagine. I don’t give a lot of 10/10 ratings, but here we are.
Darko – Oni tracklisting
2. Looking Glass
3. Hyperkill feat. Ryo Kinoshita of Crystal Lake
4. Dragon Chaser
5. Rosaria’s Fingers feat. Kyle Anderson of Brand of Sacrifice
6. Infinite Beauty
7. Evolving feat. Shaolin G of UnityTX
11. Ana feat. Taylor Barber of Left To Suffer
12. Sand Script
13. Acid Inject
14. Come Home feat. Rory Rodriguez of Dayseeker