Released: 2005, Victory Records
Reviewer: Gabriel C. Zolman
Let’s get something straight here: Darkest Hour are a Metal band. They have a number of Hardcore roots—they are from DC, afterall—but it’s really all irrelevant at the end of the day. This band could tour with Entombed or Dark Tranquillity as easily as something more traditionally “HC” like Throwdown or Walls Of Jericho. They have been a consistently underrated—and consistently good—crossover act since the early to mid-nineties. Their lyrics are intelligent; their delivery is passionate. Their songs are well written, and their albums are well constructed. They have yet to release a stinker in the bunch, and this record is no exception.
Last time out, the band went to their spiritual home—Gothenburg, Sweden—to record, no doubt to one-up all the “fake Swedes” masquerading in the American Metalcore. Strangely enough, the end result was arguably their least Swedish-sounding record yet. This time, with Devin Townsend at the helm, we expected yet another jump away from the Euro melodies and structures that once characterized their sound…perhaps a move into Meshuggah or Misery Signals territory, which is a sound that Mr. Townsend is no stranger to. Once again, we have been thrown off track, as this is their most straight-forwardly “European”-sounding record ever.
Any one of these songs could have come from a Euro-Metal heavyweight. This is not an exaggeration. This is the ideal melding of American and Swedish methodologies, perhaps in the history of extreme metal. This is no hyperbole: Darkest Hour have nailed it, and driven those nails in hard. There are even guitar solos. No shit—guitar solos! Hardcore-phobic Death Metal aficionados wary of the Victory imprint needn’t worry their close-minded heads about this one: this is Metal, and it is vicious, tough, and vitriolic. Tell me that “Sound The Surrender,” “Convalescence,” or “These Fevered Times” could not have come from any of the pioneers of the field? You cannot.
Darkest Hour have released a “career record,” and it is strikingly better than anything released by actual Swedes in years. Fans of progressive, forward-thinking Gothenburg Metal, who hate the direction bands like In Flames, Soilwork, and Arch Enemy have taken in recent years will embrace this. Tracks like “Pathos” hearken back to the sort of apocalyptic acoustic interludes that At The Gates once were famous for. Sure, tracks like “With A Thousand Words…” and “Low” might have the sheen of New School; but the roots are clearly visible.
Guitar-wise, Mike is at the top of his game here: his blatant love of classic riffage abounds, and insulates the band from the potential missteps many such artists (Bleeding Through, et al) drown in. Vocalist John is also at full potential. Mind you, this potential is limited—poetic though he be, the little bastard just can’t hold a tune. But he can scream, howl, screech and growl with the best of them (this is best evident on “District Divided,” a true shining moment for the guy). This time out, he has varied his approach a bit, going for a combination of roars and gruff shrieks that call to mind 80’s thrashers like Exodus, Heathen, and Cerebral Fix. It’s a much more classical approach, and it works just fine. “Paradise” is positively epic.
In a surprise move, Devin Townsend has chosen not to reinvent this band, but rather reunite them with their origins. It was a wise move, and it works on several levels. This could have been a Black Sun or WAR Music release. Fans of At The Gates, Eucharist, The Duskfall, Darkane, and so forth will adore this; fans of DC Hardcore will…well, they’ll just have to expand their horizons, won’t they?