Pittsburgh's Dofka (founded by their aptly named lead guitarist, Jim Dofka) is the type of heavy metal band I really love stumbling upon. After 20-years of sporadic existence and extremely sparse releases, the band battens down the hatches and puts their collective nose to the grindstone in an effort to truly make a splash in an already morbidly colossal sea of heavy metal acts. Their previous efforts seem novice in comparison, at least in terms of the visual element, but the entire presentation behind the surprisingly self-released Humanity Bleak is of a caliber befitting of a veteran troupe with a lifetime's worth of releases and a record label's cash very close at hand. The cover art is striking and promptly grabs the eye, the production is bright and polished just enough to give each player ample opportunity to shine, and the 45-minutes worth of righteously satisfying heavy metal is enough to make any progressive/power metal enthusiast skeptically meditate on why the Hell any fitting label with a sound mind wouldn't jump at the chance to sign this obviously talented band.
Dofka's most palpable strength comes from the wizardly manner in which Jim works the frets. His nimble, bubbling lead-sorcery copiously paints each and every tune here, and he often erupts off the page with a similar flare that hearkens early/mid 90's U.S. thrash scene blazers such as Tim Calvert and Lee Altus, so those with a penchant for fiery, resilient guitar-play should move to the head of the line. But the thrash associations end there, as the album's often slower, snaky pace coupled with the lofty clean vocals comfortably lands the band within the progressive/power end of the metal spectrum. For comparison's sake, think along the lines of a decidedly "American" version of why you'd hear from a band like Pyramaze or Vanden Plas circa 2004/'05. And while Jim's smooth axe handling undoubtedly takes a lionshare of the spotlight, it's really the entire Dofka enchilada that makes the album so wholly satisfying. There's obviously veteran's experience behind all the player's wares, and the smart, soundly infectious songcrafting, particularly through the first six cuts, gives the album the kind of legs that's sure to keep it fresh over the long haul.
Humanity Bleak also employs fairly generous use of gruff death metal vocals that nicely counterbalance D'Cagna's fluid, higher register, and they do wonders in terms of ushering in some added heft and darker flavoring to the core of the record. The front end uses them more intermittently to drive home choruses and refrains, but the chunky, more aggressive strike of "Immaculate Lie" leans on them heavily, and the album closes out on a surprisingly stout note by letting D'Cagna's voice blend into the backdrop as the grumbling, hoarse vox put a decidedly fierce period on the Humanity Bleak story.
Thankfully, Dofka skip the seemingly resolute prog/power modus operandi of soiling an otherwise hearty batch of tunes with at least one overly flowery ballad, and I'd confidently state that there's not a rotten apple amongst the bunch here. Again, it's mind-boggling to think a band of this caliber remains unsigned, but I suppose that can be chalked up to the fact that this record just hasn't landed in enough laps yet. If you count yourself a fan of the genre and like the idea of helping a band reach their due reward, here's your chance to get in on the ground floor. Barring any of the sort of typical roadblocks bands typically face -- personnel changes, career changes, etc. -- I fully expect to see Dofka make much more than just a ripple in the progressive/power metal pool; Humanity Bleak is a cannonball of a record.