Darkest Hour

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Sometimes cited as potential '90s precursors for the next decade's melodic metal explosion (which they themselves would survive long enough to capitalize on), Washington D.C.'s Darkest Hour have two of their early EPs unearthed for re-release via 2006's Archives, which ironically goes a long way towards disproving the validity of any such connection. Starting with the second EP, 1999's six-song The Prophecy Fulfilled, which comes up first and is dominated by songs ("Reflections of Ruin," "This Side of the Nightmare," etc.) imbued with an uncompromisingly ruthless death metal-like ferocity, or, during slower passages, reminiscent of the possibly even harsher Southern sludge metal style (see the highly effective malevolence of "This Curse"). When these finally make way for appositively melodic explorations, it's in the shape of complete songs like the acoustic guitar piece, "Broken Wings (Part I)," and the synth and piano instrumental "Coda XIII" -- not radical combinations of both extremes as would define the metal movement years later. By comparison, the six songs from 1996's The Misanthrope are at times even more violent (see the rabid delivery of "Crossroads" and "Faith Like Suicide," with its quasi-black metal blastbeat barrage); at others less so (both "Vise" and "Looking Forward (To the End)" slow down long enough to lock into solid grooves), but likewise contain only tenuous ties to future metal developments. So why should they bother with forced connections and exaggerated claims like these? What matters, and what this release successfully confirms, is that even Darkest Hour's earliest material (rounded out by additional slabs of semi-sludge metal, like the title cut and "Keepsake," plus three alternate versions of Prophecy Fulfilled tunes) showed great imagination and variety; and it's that -- not their timely leap onto the melodic metal bandwagon -- which has fueled their continued relevance and popularity in underground metal circles.

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