I will be the first to admit that I’ve always had a slightly difficult relationship with death metal. The genre, while certainly being my gateway into extreme metal as a whole, has always presented me with a unique challenge with finding bands I like. On one level I love all of the cliches: the wild solos, the cheesy lyrics, the completely unnecessary technicality followed by the occasional chug line. On another, however, there is nothing I despise more than those death metal bands that seem to get a pass for “worshipping” the classics and leaving too heavily into tropes. And, at least for me, it seems death metal more so than any other genre is packed full of bands who really love to worship tropes.
For a while, this is fine. After all, At The Gates simply can’t put out sixteen albums a year and sometimes you just need to scratch that itch in a slightly different way. However, as all things do, this incessant mimicry grows tiring after a while. It loses its devoted-fan charm to an overwhelming sense of laziness, draining the music of any actual enjoyment. This becomes an issue as I, as most people do, continue to crave those sweet, sweet Gothenburg-esque riffs, but simply do not want to sit through yet another band who heard Slaughter of the Soul and then bought an HM2 pedal. However, searching for bands who break the mold, especially in such a worship-heavy genre, is never easy. That’s why, some odd 20 years later, it is not only refreshing but invigorating to hear Darkest Hour still chugging along with their Gothenburg worship.
However, to simply sum Darkest Hour up to yet another ATG-core band would not only be insulting, but wildly inaccurate as well. The band has been different ever since their inception, as they started much more closely in line with the hardcore-metal crossover of their heyday in the mid-90’s. Eventually this would change, of course. The band began to overlay their blistering metallic-hardcore with melo-death riffs galore, showing that they were not only impassioned Integrity fans, but At The Gates fans as well. The hardcore always lingered though, driving their sound to blistering speeds and intensities that other bands simply could not keep up with. At the time it was remarkable in its own right, the perfect marriage between death metal and hardcore, but soon it led to just as many bands trying to rip them off as closely as many before them had tried to rip off In Flames.
This, as it always does, left Darkest Hour in a slightly awkward position. They now had one of two choices: to either call it quits and let younger bands carry their flame, or continue to push their boundaries, expanding upon the sound that initially found them such widespread success. Luckily for the listener, Darkest Hour chose the latter, returning now with Godless Prophets & The Mindless Flora, an album just as invigorating and full of energy as the albums that initially made their career.
Immediately, the album chooses to pummel the listener, bringing them in with the breakneck pace and aggressive breakdowns of opener “Knife In the Safe Room”. The song (as all great death metal influenced songs should) opens with a monster riff, tearing apart the premise that Darkest Hour could ever possibly mellow with age. For the entirety of its run time it refuses to let up, pushing the boundaries as it tears through all the classic tick marks for a Darkest Hour song. Aggressive riffing over break neck drumming? Check. Sweet ass breakdown to keep the hardcore kids happy? Check. One SUPER FUCKING SWEET guitar solo? Big fat ol’ check for that one. The beauty of this song is not isolated in the fact that it, in and of itself, is an incredible song; the beauty of this track is that it perfectly opens the albums, setting the tone for the next 40-something minutes of music as it continually punishes the listener in the best way possible. It, as all good opening tracks should be, is a mission statement for the album, a high point from the get-go that paints a clear picture of the trajectory to follow.
And boy does Godless Prophets & The Mindless Flora ever follow. “This is the Truth” rocks back and forth between pummeling grav blasts and melodic riff sections that will make your jaw drop. This is before Darkest Hour switches it up on the listener once again of course, opting for a more down-tempo (and sure to be camo mosh short favorite) track “Timeless Numbers”. The rest of the album continues on a similar path as it swings between intense melody and brutality, carefully balancing the two on a razor’s edge.
However, this is not to say that the album ever falls into a rut of feeling repetitive but rather that it does what most great death metal records do best. It takes the underlying concepts, all the classic themes and tropes that everyone falls in love with on their first few spins of a Death or Carcass record, and plays them up to their maximum potential. They are there in abundance, but done in such a way that is so uniquely “Darkest Hour” that it’s hard to hold it against the band for pandering so willingly to the death metal fan base. To sum it all up simply and as sweetly as possible: Darkest Hour is back and kicking more than ever before, and boy does it ever feel good to have them again.
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Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora will be available on March 10th. In the meantime, you can head on over here to pre-order it.