DARKEST HOUR

"The Eternal Return" (Victory Records; 2009)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Darkest Hour has been one of my listening mainstays since I delved deep into the heavy metal realm lo so many years ago. Over the years I’ve loved how the band has evolved without straying too far from their established blueprint. The band’s latest effort, “The Eternal Return,” is cause for celebration.

Longstanding guitarist Mike Schleibaum is joined in the six-string attack by new guitarist Mike “Lonestar” Carrigan. Schleibaum and Carrigan effortlessly make it sound like they’ve been playing together for years. The blistering riffs and rapid pacing are perfectly counter-balanced by strong melodies that provide the yin-yang of aggressive urgency and heartfelt emotion. The solos leap out of the speakers which mirrors Darkest Hour’s unforgiving intensity and emotional approach.

John Henry’s vocals haven’t changed all that much – his impassioned delivery is still somewhat limited by his lack of vocal range. But I’ll take the passion he brings to each Darkest Hour album anytime over any expanded range, real or perceived. Henry’s lyrics are still bleak and foreboding – but he revels in his version of the truth and it fuels the band’s unrelenting approach.

The rhythm section of bassist Burnette and drummer Parrish are as solid as any unit I’ve heard since the turn of the century. This duo provides a furious and focused pace that is the heart of the band.

“The Eternal Return” does not stray from the band’s previous efforts – however, the slight refinements evident on this album have allowed the band to reach new metallic heights.

“The Eternal Return” was produced by Brian McTernan. McTernan worked with Darkest Hour back in 2001 and his steady hand and familiarity with Darkest Hour  proves to be a stabilizing influence this time around.

Impressive artwork by Lloyd Winter rounds out this outstanding effort.

Darkest Hour is John Henry on vocals, Mike Schleibaum on guitar, Michael “Lonestar” Carrigan on guitar, Paul Burnette on bass, and Ryan Parrish on drums.

For more information visit http://www.darkesthour.cc/.

"Deliver Us" (Victory Records; 2007)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

A new Darkest Hour album is always a highlight for me. It’s been a great experience to witness Darkest Hour’s on-going progression from a local stalwart to an internationally known entity. I was specifically impressed with the maturity Darkest Hour displayed on “Undoing Ruin” and generally impressed with the ongoing progress the band was making in their musical evolution. With “Deliver Us” I knew that Darkest Hour would be hard pressed to match the intensity and melodies exhibited without losing any of their trademark aggression.

Upon listening to “Deliver Us” it is apparent the disc bristles with infectious energy and bubbles with the band’s trademark venom. Darkest Hour has remained valiant in the pursuit of aggression and melody – while “Deliver Us” isn’t necessarily a huge improvement over “Undoing Ruin” it does demonstrate that the band has the knack for this particular style.  Overall, a little more of a melancholy sound seems to be creeping in – but this is consistent with the increased use of melody in Darkest Hour’s overall approach.

“Deliver Us” explodes with a variety of colors and retains the unique dynamics that the band is known for. Increased elements of melody and swing/sway are prevalent as well. The swing/sway is something you have to see and hear when the band performs live – the band’s ability to combine speedy riffs with booming sustained chords is a bit of calling card for the band’s mature sound. It’s something I’ve been fortunate to witness as that part of the band’s style developed in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s in various settings here in the Maryland area (although t doesn’t necessarily translate as well in a studio setting).

Some points on “Deliver Us” Darkest Hour sound like they’ve intentionally moved closer to that magical balance of aggression and melody as once perfected by In Flames on “The Jester Race.” “Deliver Us” is both instantly likeable and something that grows on the listener after repeated listens. The disc flows well and seems longer than the almost 40 minute running time – which in this case is actually a good thing as it seems like a complete effort that truly encapsulates Darkest Hours creativity at this point. 

“Deliver Us” is satisfying all the way through and perhaps the band’s best effort to date. If you even remotely liked “Undoing Ruin” you’ll want to pick up this one.

“Deliver Us” was produced by Devin Townsend. Townsend’s producer abilities are well noted on these pages and “Deliver Us” is another impressive accomplishment.

Darkest Hour is John Henry on vocals, Mike Schleibaum on guitar, Kris Norris on guitar, Paul Burnette on bass, and Ryan Parrish on drums. 

For more information visit http://www.darkesthour.cc/

"Undoing Ruin" (Victory Records; 2005)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

If I were to end my tenure with Rough Edge today I would look back fondly on a few bands that were constants during my five-and-a-half year journey into all corners of the metal realm. One of those few bands would be Darkest Ruin. I have witnessed Darkest Hour grow from a local Washington, D.C.-based band with a bit of national recognition in the hardcore community into one of the melodic metal genre’s heavyweights with worldwide acclaim.

With “Undoing Ruin” Darkest Hour have edged even closer to constant and consistent use of melody to bolster their frantic hardcore/melodic metal hybrid. The songwriting on “Undoing Ruin” is another leap forward for the band. The guitar tandem of Schleibaum and newcomer Kris Norris weave a tapestry of seeming rushed, but always well constructed riffs and musical ideas into well-ordered ‘chaos’ that teeters between sheer mayhem and well-coordinated sonic blasts.

Vocalist John Henry has even taken steps to change his constant hardcore shout/rant to include more drawn out and emotive screams. Over the last few Darkest Hour albums I thought John Henry’s vocal styles were keeping pace with the band’s musical evolution. With “Undoing Ruin” I think he’s done a phenomenal job of matching the musical changes over the last three records. Not that Henry’s vocal style has changed that much – it just seems to fit a whole lot better.

“Undoing Ruin” flows well. Opening tracks like “With A Thousand Words To Say But One” and “Convalescence” only give small glimpses into Darkest Hour’s slowly evolving style. The impressive “Low” bookended by beautifully melodic instrumentals “Pathos” and “Ethos” proving that the band has figured out how to construct songs that not only stand alone, but play a significant part of an album as a whole being bigger than the sum of its parts. At the conclusion of “Undoing Ruin” it’s tracks like “These Fevered Times” and “Paradise” that set new high standards for the Darkest Hour’s future musical efforts. 

Once again Darkest Hour have teamed up with another great producer. Devin Townsend’s sharp ear and musical guidance have obviously contributed in great measure to Darkest Hour’s ability and confidence to take their slowly evolving style into uncharted and more melodic realms. 

“Undoing Ruin” was produced by Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad).

Darkest Hour is John Henry on vocals, Mike Schleibaum on guitar, Kris Norris on guitar, Paul Burnette on bass, and Ryan Parrish on drums. David Young contributed keyboards and piano.

For more information visit http://www.darkesthour.cc

"Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation" (Victory Records; 2003)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Darkest Hour’s brand of hardcore and Swedish-style death metal continues to impress even as it hasn't changed a whole lot over their last three releases. And that's not a particularly bad thing. The folks that didn't (or couldn't) appreciate "The Mark Of Judas" or "So Sedated, So Secure" are not likely to appreciate Darkest Hour's latest effort "Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation." But those of you who have listened to and have liked Darkest Hour over the last four or five years are going to have a good experience listening to "Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation."

To record "Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation," and for added inspiration, Darkest Hour traveled to the world famous Studio Fredman in Sweden to work with Fredrik Nordstrom who had worked with some of their musical predecessors. The long trip pays off as Darkest Hour add even more 'oomph' and pizzazz to their already aggressively impeccable approach with a typically impressive production job from Fredrik Nordstrom. The nine tracks on "Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation" are a solid addition to the growing stable of sturdy material the band has released over the last few years - often in the face of adversity.

Veteran guitarist Mike Schleibaum and six-string newcomer Kris Norris are a formidable time. Bassist Burnette and drummer Parrish do a terrific job holding the rhythm down while doing quick change ups in tempos. Vocalist John Henry hasn't changed too much, though - Henry's vocal style is a 'love it or hate it' style, but fits the band quite well. Personally, I find myself wavering between the extremes, but end up on the 'love it' end of the spectrum more often than not.

While all of the band's material on "Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation" is solid, a few specific tracks are worth discussing. "Accessible Losses" is a prime example of the band's improved compositional skills and has many examples of the band's still relatively new ability to judge the appropriate time to ease back on the charging throttle of the guitars to let ringing chords add a touch of dramatic flair to the music. "Pay Phones And Pills" musically recounts the band's early frantic material while at the same time highlighting the band's growing maturity.

As if the band didn't have enough inspiration recording "Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation" the band enlisted the support of ex-At The Gates/current The Great Deceiver vocalist Tomas Lindberg to sing on "The Sadist Nation" and ex-At The Gates/current The Haunted guitarist Anders Bjoeler to make an appearance on "The Misinformation Age."

The disc ends with the stunning 13-minute instrumental epic "Veritas, Aequitas." This track shows Darkest Hour employing everything they've learned over the last decade or so into a remarkable tune. Making guest appearances on this track are The Crown's Marcus Sunesson and Soilwork's Peter Wichers.

One contributing factor to the band's growing confidence is probably the fact that the band has landed on a label that isn't likely to dissolve any time too soon. Victory Records is able to provide the kind of support that lets a band worry about their music instead of whether or not they're going to be treated professionally or not.

"Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation" was produced by Fredrik Nordstrom (In Flames, Soilwork, Dimmu Borgir). 

Darkest Hour is John Henry on vocals, Mike Schleibaum and Kris Norris on guitars, Paul Burnette on bass, and Ryan Parrish on drums.

For more information visit http://www.darkesthour.cc/

"Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation" (Victory Records; 2003)

Reviewed by Jeff Rogers

Darkest Hour are melodic death metal and, although I can't get into their brand of screaming and speeding guitar, these guys do have some passion within their lyrics. They aren't just some corner, sign-holding protestors but more like guitar holding activists. They have a song titled "Oklahoma" that tells the story about how they were arrested and not given due process for a false drug possession.

Their take on the media is not focused on one particular news provider. In fact, they want you to seek out other alternative sources. I'm pretty sure they are referring to bloggers and those who don't follow the mainstream media that toss out PR crackers in hopes of being part of the stats that help to push a show to the top.

The music is fairly basic death metal and they've got some hard chops to work with. After a while, it starts to sound the same so I focused more on their written word and how they interpretate their world. Their global view is pretty clear: they don't like how it's been going and they aren't going to march willingly into any traps that might be set.

This disc was later released with a bonus DVD that has an alternative video for "The Sadist Nation" and footage from them recording and some tour dates. It’s a nice little gift from the band. Thanks!

Darkest Hour: Mike Schleibaum – guitar; Paul Burnette – bass; Kris Norris – guitar; Ryan Parrish – drums; John Henry – vocals.

For more information, check out http://www.darkesthour.cc/ or http://www.myspace.com/darkesthour.

"So Sedated, So Secure" (Victory Records; 2001)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Over the years, Darkest Hour have evolved from a hardcore band to a band that could easily be compared to At The Gates. Darkest Hour have also overcome the hurdles of their two previous labels, both of which folded shortly after releasing one of the band's CDs each. Victory Records seems an unlikely label for Darkest Hour at this stage of their career, but I can't think of a better situation for them in terms of recognition and support - it should be a rewarding partnership for both parties, not to mention all fans of heavy and extreme music.

With "So Sedated, So Secure," Darkest Hour keep things neat and tidy with eight songs of tightly wound aggression that borrow equally from their hardcore beginnings and their more metallic present. My favorite song is "A Cold Kiss" which, unfortunately, upon first listen sounds like it has been lifted from a discarded In Flames recording session, but really is indicative of what Darkest Hour has done to incorporate the Swedish melodic death metal sound into their own hardcore origins. "The Last Dance Massacre" pretty much follows in the same vein in a more epic fashion.

John Henry's vocals sound so much like Tomas Lindberg upon first listen that you'll be wondering if the two are in fact the same person. Familiarity with the material quickly reveals John Henry’s style to be unique enough for it to seem silly to make such comparisons.

Darkest Hour are to be commended for their tenacity and commitment. When the results are as good as "So Sedated, So Secure" you can’t help but kick back and enjoy the results.

Fans of At The Gates, early In Flames, and early Soilwork would be wise to check out Darkest Hour and "So Sedated, So Secure" as one of the United States' premier examples of the melodic death metal sound.

"So Sedated, So Secure" was produced by Brian McTernan.

Darkest Hour is John Henry on vocals, Mike Schleibaum and Frederick Ziomek on guitar, Billups on bass, and Ryan Parrish on drums. Brian McTernan performs all keyboards.

For more information, check out http://www.darkesthour.cc/

"The Misanthrope" (Death Truck Records; 1996)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Virginia's Darkest Hour recorded "The Misanthrope" in 1996. Although this record is not indicative of the more melodic sound of 1999 and beyond that they've employed, it is a good primer on the strengths of what the band can do.

A solid reference point for Darkest Hour recalls At The Gates. Darkest Hour is a hybridization of hardcore and death metal tempered by gruff vocals without death metal's raspy-ness. The music is a perfect complement to the murkiness of cloudy, depressing days. Darkest Hour is unafraid to use a variety of musical weapons to paint their stories with a deep guitar tone and rumbling bass. However, it may just be the spacious drumming that creates a vacuum of sonic space for the intense guitars to fill in the empty spaces. The metallic riffing of "Fathom" and "Crossroads" are particularly good. 

All six tracks on "The Misanthrope" showcase the band's ability to construct foreboding tales of misery and frustration. In fact, Darkest Hour is unparalleled in conveying the sort of immediate hopelessness that the world presents to us each day. Each song indicates a defining moment in time where it seems the song's protagonist is forever changed by the loss of innocence and growing maturity. However, the band is careful to point out that the death of a close friend has changed them in a positive way - that although life is short, life is special. 

"The Misanthrope" was produced and mixed by Darkest Hour and Howard Pyle.  

Darkest Hour is Blakemore Henry on vocals, Mike Schleibaum on guitars, Raul Mayorga on bass, and Matt Maben on drums. 

For more information, check out http://www.darkesthour.cc/

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

 

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Copyright © 2009 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 19 Feb 2017 13:24:23 -0500 .