In the shadows beyond the fringes of commerce lurks the true artist, be he or she a painter, storyteller, sculptor or musician, one whose audience might ever be contained within a 500-mile (or kilometer) radius were it not for the internet. Consider one Hal Darling, of Omaha, Nebraska (not exactly a hotbed for much of anything as of late), a percussionist and synthesist who plies his aural trade exclusively within studio confines. By ruling out live performances, Darling erects richly textured forays into hyperkinetic vistas that would require a sextet to reproduce onstage—if Moraz & Bruford had been influenced significantly by the soundtrack works of John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and Wendy Carlos, with Frank Zappa supervising a tune here & there, and had the engineer accidentally mastered most of the tracks to double-speed, then you may have a good idea of what Hal Darling does. Borrowing the acronymical approach taken for many film titles, Darling titled his sophomore effort D2R, and he didn't forget to bring a couple of guests: Uri Gatton, performing on acoustic, electric, and MIDI guitars; and Athan Gailis, on woodwinds, and natural & MIDI'fied brass.
Originally a drummer, Darling took a liking to playing synth keyboards sometime ago, and his rig isn't chintzy, by any means: a Kurzweil K2600, E-mu Proteus 2000, and Alesis Quadrasynth were employed, along with a trio of Korg synths: a KARMA, Wavestation, and 03R/W. While this is a very electronic-sounding affair, all manner of percussive timbre is still very real—no sequencing—as conveyed over a kit of Ludwig, Tama & Paiste drums and cymbals. While entirely instrumental, D2R provides some insights into the mind of its creator by way of off-the-wall titles like "Prom Vomit," "Rope Of Sand," "Aggressive Biological Behavior" and "Mr. Smith Shows The Children How To Smoke A Cigarette." There's much here for the avant crowd to like, as well.
"Clown Of Fire" opens the album at breakneck speed with chaotic drumming, an octave-jumping organ lead, manic guitar soloing, and more meter & tempo shifts than you have fingers & toes—that's not counting the quieter passages, either! Pipe organ, a synth glasspeggio, menacing lefthand string arpeggiations, and more freestyle drumming make "Black Rhyme" a page right out of Goblin's handbook, circa Profondo Rosso. "Prom Vomit" takes a xylophone to task alongside staccato sax notes and Zeuhl drumming worthy of Christian Vander. The Bachian "Where Seraphs Despair" is the first piece to move us to more docile plateaus, an all-synth work that evokes a mood best captured previously by Larry Fast on Audion. "Rope Of Sand" and "Aggressive Biological Behavior" restore the status quo with jazzmetal percussion, giant string chord stacks, piano and woodwind abuse, and comically spontaneous spot-detours into lounge lizard interludes. "An Unsettled Score" is Beelzebub's composition for [synthetic] violins, celli, and tympani.
Building slowly over a rolling wave and and layered eight-note chime, string & bass [an analog-sounding bass would have worked better] loops, "Run" enters into a hearty gallop before escaping into mid-80s Tangerine Dream-esque textures—talk about truancy! There happens to be an abrupt cutoff and rapid fade-in [of more powerhouse drumming] that negates the vibe the composition gradually built up; even if D2R struts a groove more in line with methamphetamines than organic mood-lifters, this maneuver still takes something away from the tune, when it shouldn't have to. "Dog Dreams" adheres to the now-familiar scheme at large, while "A Breach Of Species One Through Five" is Vangelis on crack cocaine, all forty seconds of it. The pleasantly-titled "Mr. Smith Shows The Children How To Smoke A Cigarette" wears a not-so-subtle Spanish design on its sleeves—the oboe solo and strings tend to make this sound like a Magellan track, albeit with much more dissonance.
Darling's approach can be perceived as a little too consistent by the time "Asunder" tickles your taste buds for one last scouring. This can be assessed during the recording of his third offering, which will assuredly be no less adventurous than D2R. Orchestral synths & real drumming should not always have to sound like Mannheim Steamroller—Hal Darling is the yang to Chip Davis' yin!