DARKEST HOUR: The Lost Interview
By Gabriel C. Zolman
Essentially a black/death band cleverly disguised as metallic hardcore, Darkest Hour is American Melodic Death?s brightest hope?especially in approaching the same intensity that hardcore has long since forgotten, and death metal has long taken for granted.
The band began as a young, At The Gates-influenced melodic-death act out of Washington DC, having been a staple of the scene since at least 1995. The group released two early EP recordings, The Misanthrope, and The Prophecy, Fulfilled, before signing to the short-lived MIA label for their debut proper, The Mark Of The Judas.
Frequently mistaken for a religious band, Darkest Hour set things straight on 2001?s So Sedated?So Secure (their 1st for metalcore mainstays Victory Records). Not only a standout record, and a crown jewel in the band?s catalog, the album also served to influence an entire new wave of bands?bands as influenced by Swedish Death Metal as they were by Minor Threat and Earth Crisis. The follow up, Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation, seemed intent on bridging the gap between these scenes.
But then this:
Darkest Hour?s newest opus, UNDOING RUIN, is an important record: it ignores the trends of the day, and goes back to the band?s Death Metal origins. With a thousand and one Screamo and Swedish-influenced fake shemps cluttering the scene?and making a fortune in the process?one might think that Darkest Hour would be hip to join them. Not so; with the help of producer Devin Townsend, the band have sharply retreated from the Metalcore sounds of the previous endeavor, and sharpened their focus anew. You need this record. We all needed it. Most of all?the band needed it. Now buy the fucking thing.
The following interview was conducted backstage at Ozzfest 2004, after one of the band?s many outstanding performances. They easily upstaged many of their tourmates, and provided the Ozzfest crowd with the closest thing to real Death Metal that the Osbourne’s festival would offer that year…. At some point among the myriad drunken shuffles of that day, my tape recorder was?I thought?irrevocably lost. And then?
Recently, I received a special package?a VERY special package?a friend of mine in security had retrieved my recorder, and the tape. Numerous odd goings-on, bizarre snippets of conversations with members of Lacuna Coil and Bleeding Through, and an entire interview with American Melodic Death hopefuls DARKEST HOUR were rediscovered, and poured over, like I?d just found an ancient Qumran scroll.
Enjoy. Drunken banter snipped for coherency, and the interest of the fifth amendment.
Guitarist Mike Schleibaum talks to Metal-Rules.com about the band?s significance:
Given that you?re from DC, do you feel any solidarity with the famous DC Hardcore Scene (Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Henry Rollins/SOA, Government Issue, Scream, etc.)?
I definitely think we are plagued with many opinions that we developed from that era. Musically, we?re not really that influenced by it, though. We certainly liked how those bands operated. In the way we operate, there?s a big DC influence in that.
Your band really pioneered that whole ?American Gothenburg? thing (i.e. US bands influenced by the Swedish melodic-death scene), if you didn?t entirely originate it…
Thanks?that?s cool. To be honest though, I think that it?s maybe arguable that Shadows Fall are just as influential. They were around about the same time that we started, but yeah?it?s definitely weird?that whole scene blowing up since 1998, you know? The bands that are really popular in the genre now were like the tiny local bands back when Shadows Fall and Darkest Hour first went on tour. I mean, even if you look at bands like Unearth?they opened for Darkest Hour several times. Bleeding Through, Eighteen Visions, Every Time I Die?I mean all these bands that are popular now, are definitely, you know, younger bands. This means either A.) We suck, or B.) The scene has just exploded.
As someone so obviously inspired by that early Swedish scene, who were some of your favorite artists from back in the day?
Well, it?s funny, because my favorite bands from back in the day haven?t changed?like Entombed?they were like gods to me. It?s hilarious when I see Entombed come play in America, and people don?t even know who they are. I really like Dismember. They?re also one of my favorite Swedish metal bands. Also, they?re not really popular here, you know? We?d really like to tour with Dismember! And then there are, of course, the bands from Gothenburg?of course, I loved At The Gates; I liked In Flames?but, you know, I got into In Flames a lot later than I got into those other bands. I really liked that band Sacrilege. I always was a huge fan of The Crown, and they?ve been around for, like, ten years. Those are our big influences, but of course there are more?
Who most influenced your guitar playing?
Oh, that?s a completely different list, because, the thing is, I?ve been playing guitar for a long time. Early influences were Zakk Wylde, Dimebag Darrel, James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, Scott Ian?the typical metal guitar influences. I was into American Thrash, and like, Iron Maiden, too. That?s when you?re younger, and those are the bands that you?re most exposed to. Then, you could say I got infected?or got a revelation?when I got into punk. Guitar-wise, that was a completely different world.
Well, punk guitar cuts to the chase a bit more, I?d agree; the emphasis is on doing more with less, because they?re not all great musicians?
Exactly! That was the best thing?at most punk rock shows, I was the best guitar-player there! And I wasn?t even that good! You know what I mean? It was more about community, and more about songwriting than it was riffing, really. But as far as riffs go, I think Anders?the dude from At The Gates?he?s just awesome. He writes riffs that are just?fuck. And I?m like a total riff dude? You know, I?m impressed by stuff like Dream Theater, that can just shred my face off, but when somebody writes a riff that just makes me?just, you know?happy? That?s where it?s at. That is why I love Entombed. That is why I love the bands I do.
The Gothenburg bands were almost symphonic in their riffage. As a riff aficionado, who would you consider to be the greatest riffmeisters ever?
It depends?a lot of people will diss the new Entombed stuff for getting too ?rock n? roll,? but I loved Lars? solo album?it was a total riff factory; people diss the later Carcass stuff, but I think that, you know, the Heartwork album is just fucking?(speechless with awe)?it. Even just the opening riffs of the record?you?re just like, ?Dude?Fuck! I wish I wrote that!? That feeling?you can get that feeling when you?re 40, or when you?re 12 from a good record.
As a fellow old-schooler, who do you respect from the new school?
It?s hard to say?Arch Enemy are definitely keeping it alive. Some of the bands you mentioned in our earlier conversation (Bleeding Through, As I Lay Dying, Black Dahlia Murder, etc.) haven?t really been bands for that long?especially As I Lay Dying or Black Dahlia Murder?those guys are real young. But the band I think that, years from now, will still be legendary?and they?re not that Gothenburg at all?is The Dillinger Escape Plan. I know it?s not exactly the same?but they?re just awesome. Also, while they?re not my absolute favorite out of the genre, I think Killswitch Engage really set the bar for the rest of us. Years ago, I remember this show with In Flames, where all these bands fought over who was going to open?nobody wanted to go on first! Well, Killswitch Engage got the slot. Now Killswitch Engage are headling over In Flames in most cities. That has to say something about what they?ve accomplished.
Speaking of bands like Bleeding Through and Killswitch Engage, both of which have most recently found greater success by incorporating clean singing into the music, do you think that Darkest Hour will ever follow this route? Will there be crooning on the next DH release?
I can say?easily?NO. Because?well, our dude can?t sing. It doesn?t even matter that I don?t like how that sounds. He just can?t sing. To be honest, that whole thing where the dude screams his head off, and then sings all pretty on the chorus?that?s just not us. It?s certainly not my thing.
That style is sort of a subgenre in itself now?I believe it?s being called ?post-death,? or ?Screamo.? (EDIT: This really dates things, doesn?t it?)
Right. That?s not my thing. I like death metal. I?m not saying that any of those bands are bad?I wouldn?t wanna diss any of those people; I?m just saying that, as for Darkest Hour, that?s not who we are. Some people diss our records?they say they all sound the same, or whatever?the truth is, these people just don?t like death metal. And the thing is, if we have to go around and slay all the posers, then that?s what we have to do, man! Just kidding. I know that stuff is popular, but it?s just not what we were influenced by. It?s just not who we are.
That?s actually very refreshing to hear. So many bands now think they?re being ?different? or get so busy ?changing things up,? that they all really sound the same.
Well, I mean, we will change (to some extent)?all bands do. If I look at the Ozzfest roster?it seems like there is a lot of bands like this on there: Atreyu, Unearth, Bleeding Through, God Forbid?just a lot of those bands?and if you think about it, the only band on there that doesn?t sing?is Darkest Hour. The way we will try to push Darkest Hour into the future will be musically, and maybe do different stuff that way. The thing that I love about every At The Gates record, or every Dismember record, is that they all did different stuff, but they all stayed true to what the bands were about. Entombed maybe stretched it?but they always came back!
So then, what do you perceive as being the next logical step for Darkest Hour?
Well, we?ve been fighting this forever? We?ve never been a band that has had a ton of guitar solos, you know? But on this last record, we took some chances on doing a lot more with our guitars. We had a lot of guest players. It really stems from me being the main guitarist, always having this punk mindset?you know, the song is more important than some section where we can throw in a solo. In fact, one of my major gripes with metal bands when I was growing up was there?d be this kick-ass riff and I?d be ready to mosh, and then there?d be this guitar solo?and I?d just get bored. But now we have this new guitar player, and he seems to have a different approach. He definitely into way more metal; he doesn?t seem to have any punk or hardcore influence at all. And it?s interesting, because he really encourages me to take chances in that way. So I definitely think on this next record, we?ll do more solos. We?ll definitely push what we can do?our version of the genre.
Sadist Nation was really quite a statement of intent; and recording it in Gothenburg, with all the guests (Tomas Lindberg, etc.) certainly solidified that, wouldn?t you say?
Yeah?totally. When we were on the plane, we were like, ?What are we doing?!? They are going to hear these songs and hate us! But it was awesome. People see and idolize these guys on stage, and they don?t realize that these guys on stage that they?re watching?all those guys in that band feel that way about other bands, or they wouldn?t be on stage. Every time you see Ozzy Osbourne on stage, you?ve got to remember, that even Ozzy Osbourne is a fan of someone else?s music, or he wouldn?t be there.
What was it like working with Tompa (Tomas Lindberg)?
That was weird, too, because he is such the antithesis of a rock star. A lot of people don?t realize, that he?s such a normal guy, that a lot of the way people treat him, in his eyes, is, you know, weird. People come up and they want everything signed, and he?ll introduce himself to them! I think he handles it really well. It?s funny, we were on tour (with Tomas)?in Arizona somewhere, and we were all hanging out, and this dude walks up and says, ?If it weren?t for you, I wouldn?t be into this style of music.? He walks away. And we?re standing there, and Tomas is like, ?It?s weird when people say that to me.? And our guitar player at the time was like, ?Look, the only thing I had been exposed to was American death metal, and then I heard At The Gates. And that was just it for me.? A lot of people are like that. And they don?t realize that if it wasn?t for these bands, they would never be into the music that they love.
You also worked with Peter Tatgren (Hyporcrisy, Pain, etc.). How did that go?
Peter? That was awesome! He was also the total opposite of what we had expected?we expected someone kinda crazy, or ultra-serious, but he wasn?t at all. He was fun! He really wanted to make our record good. He?s just like a normal person.
It?s great that you can own up to being a fanboy. I wish more bands could! So, in keeping with that, I?m going to give you a chance to name-drop some of the other cool folks you hung out with. Who rocked?
Wait, now?you?re going to print that you asked me to namedrop them, right? I don?t want to sound like a 12-year-old. (Begins to get all giddy?) Well, obviously all the dudes on the record (Tomas Lindberg, Peter Tagtgren, etc.)?we went to an Arch Enemy show and met all those dudes?uh, Dream Evil?the dude from Hammerfall. That studio we recorded at?there are two rooms, and Dimension Zero were recording their new album (This Is Hell) at the exact same time that we were! So those guys were all hanging out with us. And the fellow from Soilwork?Speed Strid?he was in there recording something, also? (EDIT: This turned out to be the Disarmonia Mundi record).
That brings me to my next question, actually. You see, I pay close attention to your lyrics, and there is a song on the So Sedated?So Secure album?
You?re talking about ?The Hollow,? aren?t you?
Correct. ?The Hollow,? which contains the line ?Follow the hollow? repeatedly? And of course, Soilwork had somewhat of a hit later that year with a song of their own called ?Follow The Hollow?? It?s an interesting coincidence, don?t you think?
Yeah, we were first?but I can assure you that Soilwork did not hear our record, and try to copy us. But that type of shit happens all the time. It was funny when we heard it, and we thought, ?Oh fuck! People are going to think we ripped them off!? I love the Soilwork guys, though. They?re awesome. But we weren?t Soilwork fans when we wrote that?their records were still sort of hard to get, and they had yet to hear us. It?s just one of those things.
Since we?re on the topic of lyrics, can you tell me about the song ?No Closer Than A Stranger?? The lyrics on that song are particularly impressive.
John, our vocalist, wrote that one. It?s about how he dated this girl for awhile whose father was just crazy for religion, like a cult. The title itself was taken from a line in a Pantera song. But as for the lyrics, when John says ?I?ll call no one a father who?s no closer than a stranger,? he?s talking about a priest. But that?s how John felt about this guy, who was just this crazy fanatic. He was always pushing Christianity on John, to the point where it was just absurd. And this guy didn?t even know John! He was definitely not any closer than a stranger.
This is interesting, because a lot of bands within your subgenre, such as As I Lay Dying, Dead To Fall, Beauty To Ashes, etc., they come from that Christian metal subculture; and it seems like some fans could easily misinterpret many of the lyrics on your Mark Of The Judas album as being in that vein?
Well, I wrote all the lyrics on The Mark Of The Judas. And I definitely don?t like Christianity. I don?t like Christian music. But I will say that those guys in As I Lay Dying seem real about what they believe, and I respect that. I mean, we did a tour with Zao?who are the ultimate in Christian metal?and we did a tour with UnderOath. I have to admit?and we always go into it with the idea that we are just going to hate these guys?all the (Christian) bands we have toured with, even Norma Jean, they?re always like the nicest guys.
So, what is Darkest Hour?s darkest hour?
Actually, there have been two: Either when we got arrested in Oklahoma, or when we were robbed of $12,000 in Canada. Oklahoma?s fucked. Don?t go there.
In closing, can you give us one last Swedish death metal anecdote? What?s Tompa?s favorite beer? That?ll make the At The Gates fans chuckle?
Hmm?I?d say Pabst Blue Ribbon.
You?re kidding? The Godfather of Gothenburg drinks PBR?
Absolutely. And a lot of other things! It?s not as bad as I?m making it sound, but the man can drink.
Well, in exchange for that juicy bit of fluff, I?ll give you some good news: It was announced on the AP Wire just two hours ago that Creed broke up. Do you feel better?
Hell yeah! Awesome! That?s the best news I?ve heard all day. That definitely makes my day! Thanks.
Your welcome. Any last words?
Thanks for giving Darkest Hour the space. I dig this interview! I?ll see you all soon!