Released: 2014, Sumerian Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The eighth album from D.C.'s Darkest Hour offers a fairly radical sonic shift that unfortunately smacks a bit of desperation. After nearly 20 years of cranking out serviceable, and often sensational, melodic death metal/thrashcore to a modest following, the band take a rather jarring mainstream turn here.
With their third label in as many releases, and a new rhythm section of bassist Aaron Deal and drummer Travis Orbin in tow, Darkest Hour apparently decided to go all in when it came to change, thus their self-titled latest effort makes for a Reroute To Remain type of transition, though it is somewhat better executed, with more oomph left intact. The tempos are slower, the songs more structured and concentrated, and melody and clean vocals are given far more prominence – all seemingly aimed at shifting more units.
And, as it turned out, it became the band's highest-charting album – albeit it barely, topping 2009's far more aggressive The Eternal Return by 10 spots. Yet it still barely cracked the Billboard Top 100, coming in at 94, so if the idea was to “sell out,” Darkest Hour still have a ways to go. And let's hope they don't take it any further than this.
Where tracks like “The Great Oppressor” or “Infinite Eyes” offer a solid, satisfying mix of catchiness and crunch, and “Lost For Life” is a straight-up rager, lighter fare like “The Misery We Make,” “Anti-Axis” or “Futurist” sound contrived and obvious with their soaring clean choruses and hard rock-style construction. Frontman John Henry has one of the more effective scream-and-sing voices in the business, when used in moderation, as he has done on earlier albums. Here, the balance tips too far on the singing side of the equation and saps the raw power he usually brings to the table.
Even when the bracing two-minute “Rapture In Exile” roils with the Darkest Hour hardcore/metal moxie of old, clean verses intrude to temper it. Ditto the venomous “Beneath The Blackening Sky,” though here it's in the choruses. The ethereal “By The Starlight” and the fittingly titled “Departure” go in the other direction, with power ballady acoustic guitars, strings and female vocals set against moments of bombast. More effective is the genuinely epic, often turbulent “Hypatia Rising.”
Darkest Hour, the album, is hardly a disaster. It is, however, a disappointment because it is out of character – i.e. commercially minded - enough so as to bring the band's motives into question. And after 20 years, it's probably too late to be grabbing at straws like this.