For Fans Of
As we barrel ceaselessly onward through 2017, it’s shaping up to be a stand-out year for metal and heavy music in general.
U.S. thrashers Darkest Hour are no strangers to this ever-changing musical landscape, having been at the forefront of the ‘New Wave of American Heavy Metal’ (or ‘NWOAHM’ if you desperately require pointless acronyms) since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Alongside contemporaries and tour mates like Michigan bruisers The Black Dahlia Murder, they helped to popularise and progress the melodic death metal sound on U.S. soil, after it had swept through Europe thanks to influential acts like At The Gates, Soilwork, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames.
Yet reading the press material that accompanies their latest album, ‘Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora,’ one gets the sense that things haven’t always been so lucky for the Washington, D.C. group: “Since their inception 21 years ago, Darkest Hour has released 8 studio full lengths (via 11 different record labels), appeared in major motion pictures and US television shows, video games, and have toured the world extensively covering 6 of the 7 continents.” While their list of accomplishments are undeniable, their back catalogue and label relationships have certainly hit some rough spots along the way, with continuing relevance amongst long-time fans proving to be somewhat tumultuous. As a once pioneering metal outfit, Darkest Hour have struggled to maintain and eclipse the watershed efforts of their landmark triumvirate, established by 2003’s ‘Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation,’ 2005’s magnificent ‘Undoing Ruin,’ and 2007’s ‘Deliver Us’.
Fortunately then, this is where ‘Godless Prophets…’ comes in.
After the lacklustre efforts of 2011’s ‘The Human Romance’ and the sonic left-turns of their 2014 self-titled album, Darkest Hour have finally come full circle, with a stripped-back album that’s darker, hungrier and more intense than anything they’ve released in many years. On the opening salvo of ‘Knife In The Safe Room’ and ‘This Is The Truth’, the group sounds positively youthful, reinvigorated with a sense of fury, purpose and righteous anger. Drummer Travis Orbin is totally unhinged on the kit, while guitarists Mike Schleibaum and Michael ‘Lonestar’ Carrigan unfurl crushing rhythms, moments of thrash glory and razor-sharp leads. Vocalist John Henry (arguably the most distinct component of the Darkest Hour sound) champs at the bit, spitting venom with his mid-range yell and high pitch shriek, gnashing violently at anyone or anything within reach. Lyrically, Henry builds a withering, philosophical theme over the course of the record on the nature of power, deceit and manipulation, culminating in the proclamation that “Nihilistic innocence is gone,” and “This is the truth: we’re all being used.”
Elsewhere on Darkest Hour’s ninth album, vibrant, progressive flourishes blossom up against the more fast-paced, thrashier moments. ‘Timeless Numbers’ blasts into the speakers like a Gojira-tinged freak-out, with lumbering grooves, back-breaking bursts of double kick and a guest solo from Sevendust’s John Connolly. Longer tracks on ‘Godless Prophets…’ find Darkest Hour working their collective songwriting muscles, with creative compositions, rich harmonies and towering crescendos, such as the blissfully melodic finale of ‘The Last of the Monuments,’ the beautiful instrumental ‘Widowed, ’and closer ‘Beneath It Sleeps,’ one of three tracks co-written with former guitarist Kris Norris, who drops in for a blistering solo effort.
In terms of production, the duo of Kurt Ballou (engineer, producer and mixer) and Alan Douches (mastering) are a definitive home-run for Darkest Hour, proving why the pair have essentially set the gold-standard for metal production over the last two decades, and ultimately begs the question of why the band waited this long for eventual collaboration. ‘Godless Prophets…’ possesses the perfect amount of grit and clarity for a band like Darkest Hour, channelling the raw power and energy for their high-tempo, aggressive sections, while also adding depth and precision to the deft and musically intricate moments on the record. The only minor gripe with ‘Godless Prophets…’ is in the track sequencing, as Side B comes off as far more interesting and sonically diverse than Side A, which unfortunately tends to bleed together—with the exception of obvious, stand-out singles like ‘Knife In The Safe Room’ and ‘Timeless Numbers’.
If there’s an ethos that unites established, heavy bands in the mid-2010’s, especially those in the twilight years of their second decade or beyond, it’s returning to their roots. This approach has already proven successful for groups like Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage and Zao – who have all released their best material in many years – and it’s certainly worked a charm for Darkest Hour. As Schleibaum mentioned in a recent article for Noisey, “If you’re a Darkest Hour fan we know you are going to love this album as it is distinctly Darkest Hour. If you’re undecided, well please, by all means, hit play and crank it up, this is our gift to you, a soundtrack for survival in this modern age.”
‘Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora’ is one of the strongest and most consistent albums of their entire career. And while it might not match the replay-factor or epic scope of classics like ‘Undoing Ruin,’ it’s by far the best Darkest Hour album in at least a decade, and one that confidently solidifies their place as one of the heavyweights of the genre.
- Knife In The Safe Room
- This Is The Truth
- Timeless Numbers
- None of this is the Truth
- The Flesh & The Flowers Of Death
- Those Who Survived
- Another Headless Ruler of the Used
- Enter Oblivion
- The Last of the Monuments
- In the Name of Us All
- Beneath it Sleeps
‘Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora’ is available from March 10th through Southern Lord Records, and you can get the record here.