When The Darkness burst into the public consciousness back in 2003, the first sonic reference point for most critics was Queen, and it was hardly a stretch to connect those dots. Frontman Justin Hawkins’ powerful night-at-the-opera vocal histrionics and the band’s Glam-bedazzled accompaniment left little room for alternate conclusions. And given the distinct lack of anything remotely similar to classic Queen since Freddie Mercury’s tragic death in 1991 (even from Queen itself), no one seemed to mind; the band’s debut album, Permission to Land, entered the U.K. charts at No. 2 and subsequently spent a month in the top slot, ultimately selling a million-and-a-half copies at home.
Although the band built a substantial fan base well before the release of Permission to Land, only two labels exhibited interest in The Darkness at the outset. The band’s outrageous live show and over-the-top songs gave industry executives the feeling they were merely a novelty act. But Atlantic Records’ gamble paid off; The Darkness won three Brit Awards and two Kerrang! Awards in the year following Permission to Land.
The band’s sophomore release, One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back, generated even more Queen comparisons due to the presence of longtime Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker at the controls. Unfortunately, the album sold considerably less than its predecessor, and while it eventually scored platinum certification, Permission notched five times that amount.
And so began The Darkness’ great unraveling. Hawkins went to rehab for substance abuse issues, while the remaining members — Hawkins’ guitarist/vocalist brother Dan, guitarist/vocalist Richie Edwards and drummer Ed Graham — added bassist Toby MacFarlaine to become The Stone Gods.
Justin Hawkins had a hit single as British Whale with a cover of Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us,” then formed a project called Hot Leg. But by the end of 2010, all of The Darkness’ offshoot bands had gone on hiatus. In 2011, The Darkness reunited with original bassist Frankie Poullain for festival gigs and its third album, 2012’s Hot Cakes. In 2014, Graham departed to concentrate on home life and was replaced by Emily Dolan Davies, who played on the band’s visceral and conceptual fourth album, 2015’s Last of Our Kind, but left before its release. She was supplanted by Rufus Taylor, the drumming son of Queen skinsman Roger Taylor, renewing the Queen connection.
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