Bands from all around the world have attempted to blend their cultural identities with that of the standard metal sound, but not all of the efforts have been successful. Many of the Scandinavian bands have found success fusing their dark folk music with metal's bombast and power, while bands like Angra and Sepultura have married tribal rhythms to the pounding beat of metal. These efforts have worked, because the culture they have added to the mix bolstered an element of the metal sound that already existed. Celtic influence has been less successful, though fairly often tried, because the rollicking sound you associate with the island is not the sort of thing that is common in metal. Working the two into a cohesive blend is not easy, and explains why most of the times it is done well are in the rock world, where more fun is allowed.
Darkest Era tries once again to make metal with a Celtic flair, using their influences as inspiration for what they hope will be a new wave of popularity for the cross-breed. They attempt to do this not simply by adding Celtic adornments to their traditional heavy metal, but by slightly reinventing the wheel. The opening riffs of “Sorrow's Boundless Realm” doesn't take you to the Emerald Isle so much as to the gates of Hell, with guitar work that fuses traditional metal with elements of early-wave death metal. That style is quickly subsumed by the traditional structure of the body of the song, but the introduction is a smart one, because it takes your mind away from the failed attempts at doing the same thing, where there was no new ground broken, merely window-dressing added to a mediocre blend.
As the record progresses, the Celtic influences are far more subtle than I would have expected, a move that shows Darkest Era's maturity. Instead of letting the influences take over their sound, they have made sure they sound like themselves first, and their inspirations second. This means that some people who are looking for something that sounds a bit more ethnic will be disappointed, but it's a big win for the majority of metal fans.
The comparison that comes to mind is that Darkest Era sounds like Slough Feg, if that band didn't have a sense of humor. Both bands trade in the same kind of riffing, but Darkest Era does it with a deeper roar, a far more metallic sound that gives the music the kind of heft I had always had to imagine for myself.
From a critical standpoint, there's nothing I can complain about. “Severance” is an album of epic metal that manages to be heavy and melodic in all the right spots, and doesn't short-change their songs in the face of what could have been an easy gimmick. There's a lot to like about the album, with its potpourri of almost everything under the metal sun. Just about everyone will find something in these songs to enjoy, whether that's the thick guitars or the melodic vocals. Darkest Era may not have many competitors in this space, but that doesn't mean they're coasting.
In fact, the only negative things I can say about the album isn't actually about the album at all, it's about me. For all the merits I see in “Severance”, I still don't find myself coming back to it and wanting to hear it again and again. I'm not normally a fan of epic metal, nor am I much of a fan of Celtic music, so I'm not susceptible to all the charms Darkest End has to offer. Still, I can recognize a good album when I hear it, and “Severance” is a fine slab of epic metal with a little local color thrown in.