Darkest Hour

The Eternal Return

Written by: AP on 05/08/2009 11:33:25

Some people thought Darkest Hour trod unfamiliar and dangerous ground with the nonetheless critically acclaimed "Deliver Us" two years ago, expanding their sound in a friendlier, more melodic direction which saw, among other things, John Henry's hopeless attempts at clean singing and a greater focus on celestial melodies. It was a fantastic album, but disappointing when placed next to its predecessor, one of the absolutely best American metal albums of this decade: "Undoing Ruin". Some of us hoped that the departure of lead guitarist Kris Norris, who seemed to be getting far too much leverage in the band's songwriting process, would right the wrongs and allow brainiac Mike Schleibaum to revert the band back to the good old days.

Why the press still refers to Darkest Hour as metalcore is beyond me, because were we to pinpoint the exact geographical location of the band's stylistic influences, we'd be dropping the pin on a certain Southwestern Swedish town. What's most interesting is that while most bands in the Gothenburg scene have gone exploring other territories of late, this American quintet retains a retrospective outlook and consequently "The Eternal Return" sounds more like the successor of the iconic "Slaughter of the Soul" than an apprentice of In Flames. This is most blatant in the dark, repressed melodies that are the driving force of the album, which carry neo-classical undertones and even delve into the diabolical nature of black metal riffery here and there. Listen in already on the monstrous opening track "Devolution of Flesh" (around 0:40 for example) to get an idea of the sort of guitar-playing we are talking about here. It's purposefully subdued and makes the songs sound malicious as fuck.

When guitarists Schleibaum and (the newest addition to the line-up) Mike "Lonestar" Carrigan do let rip though, the ominous atmosphere gives way to hypermelodic, neo-classically tinged solos the likes of which we have never before heard this band unleash. Seriously, fuck what Kris Norris could do. Just listen to that one-minute featurette of guitarmania starting at 1:50 in "The Tides" and feel the hair-raising similarity to Children of Bodom's debut album "Something Wild", not to mention to the symphonies of the legendary composers that influenced it. Oddly, with material like this Darkest Hour would make Mozart, Bach and Wagner proud, something I would never have thought to suggest with the band's earlier work. And even with these outbreaks of soaring beauty, the album never loses its focus, an intense discomfort as delivered by a hard-hitting thrash complexion most notable in the songs "Bitter" and "A Distorted Utopia", which nod at earlier classics like "District Divided" and naturally "The Sadist Nation", and bring back an instrumental urgency to complement John Henry's heavy lyricism centered around the apocalypse as brought forth by social injustices.

Unfortunately the album's grasps at perfection are hindered by the slightly weaker "No God" and "Blessed Infection" which feel like Darkest Hour on autopilot, and (again) by Ryan Parrish's anonymous drumming. It's not that it's unfitting, because the thumping rhythm plays well into the distressing atmosphere, but one would wish for more texture, more fills, something to accompany the mind-blowing instrumental prowess of the guitarists, instead of the neverending snap tapping and blast beats. Nonetheless, "The Eternal Return" proves once again why Darkest Hour are thought to be one of the flagships of contemporary American metal. It's beautiful without being overtly melodic, and manages to invoke a feeling of genuine discomfort in the listener through a dark, oppressive soundscape. And when those solos kick in, there's a guarantee of shivers down your spine.

Download: Devolution of Flesh, The Tides, Bitter, A Distorted Utopia

For the fans of: At The Gates, Bleeding Through (new), Dimension Zero, In Flames (old)

Listen: Myspace

Release date 22.06.2009


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