Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
These days there’s no shortage of retro-styled cosmic rockers: Black Mountain, Witchcraft, Dungen, Comets on Fire, and even the likes of Bigelf, which is saddled with the dubious support of Courtney Love. The question for Portland quartet Danava is how to distinguish itself from that undifferentiated blur of longhaired reenactors. If Danava’s second full-length album, UnonoU, is any indication, the band’s plan for a discrete musical identity starts with promoting keyboards to first-tier instruments. Both lead singer Dusty Sparkles and a member known simply as Rockwell get synthesizer credits; on “The Emerald Snow of Sleep,” Sparkles’ doomy guitar and his moor-ghost wail are swallowed up by an ornate, arpeggiated keyboard intro. On “Down From a Cloud, Up From the Ground,” the baroque synth accompaniments are rich enough to match the precious pomp of Sparkles’ lyrics: “Flowers may die in the frost/But reawaken/Seeds that have been tainted/We all grow in phases.” Danava, like a lot of like-minded bands, draws from a predictable goulash of Sabbath, Zep, and Hawkwind, but its members are also fans of the French prog-metal of Magma and the classic doom sound of Pentagram. And even if Danava isn’t as good at being a faux Pentagram as tourmates Witchcraft, the album’s opener, “UnonoU,” is a solid entry in the Bobby Liebling vein of songwriting. If anything, though, Danava most vividly recalls D.C. glam-metal pioneers Angel, and not just because Dusty Sparkles’ name out-sasses that of Angel frontman Punky Meadows. Both bands add a spunky glam vibe to a meatier metal sound and have an accomplished prestidigitator on keyboards. The guitars sound great on UnonoU too: On “Spinning Temple Shifting,” the steady riffing and the phase effects sound exactly like the song’s title would imply. The song is also a proper showcase for drummer Buck Rothy’s talents, and unlike a raft of retro hard-rockers who turn on the “Nostalgic Audio” filter and bury their songs in layers of haze and fuzz, Sparkles’ and Keith Abrahamsson’s production makes it clear what the various instruments are doing. Danava evokes the sounds of yore simply through songwriting and musicianship, but UnonoU has its flaws, chief among them the disc’s closer, “One Mind Gone Separate Ways,” an act of outright larceny of Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand.” Once again, somebody’s assuming that nobody ever listened to Presence, but it’s all there: same charging guitars, same Robert Plant-like cadence in Sparkles’ delivery. Maybe the band thought we’d be fooled because its song trumps the original’s 10-minute length by three minutes. Regardless, it’s a meandering, unoriginal ending to what is, otherwise, a genuinely ballsy hoot. One more misstep like that, though, and Danava won’t need to worry about standing out in the crowd of hip, hirsute rockers—its biggest concern will be getting lumped in with strip-mall tribute bands like Whole Lotta Led and Led Zepagain.