Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour

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Darkest Hour fans are a devoted, long-suffering lot. Since the band's inception in 1999, the Washington, D.C. unit has undergone numerous personnel changes, each one shifting its root sound -- death metal that firmly embraced hardcore, but remained committed to both. Until now, that is. On their self-titled debut for Sumerian, Darkest Hour enlisted producer Taylor Larson (best known for his success in working with Periphery) to help them craft a more expansive sound. With new bassist Aaron Deal replacing Paul Burnette, what transpires here isn't so much an evolution as a transformation. While things aren't so different musically on the chugging opening crush of "Wasteland" -- John Henry's still a beast as a frontman -- the clean refrains and completely retro guitar solos are a tad eyebrow-raising. "The Misery We Make," with its meld of clean and growled vocals and a near pop-metal hook, is startling. The guitar attack from Mike Schleibaum and Michael Carrigan is the only thing that anchors it in heaviness. Things get even stranger on "Futurist," "By the Starlight" (which features acoustic guitars, syncopated drums, and an ethereal melody that frames a duet between Henry and self-described "haze pop" singer, videographer, and performer DRÆMINGS), and "The Goddess Figure." On these cuts, intricate melodies are adorned with layers of clean vocal harmonies balanced by screaming, deft, brutal guitar work and Travis Orbin's roiling, syncopated drums (though their sound is compressed, they ride near the top of the mix). There are a few thrashers -- in particular "Rapture in Exile," "The Great Oppressor," and "Beneath the Blackening Sky" -- that offer in varying degrees the kind of mayhem and brutality that established Darkest Hour. But even these elements are much more polished in terms of production and dynamics. It is natural, even necessary, for a band to experiment with new textures and forms as it evolves musically. Given this recording, it feels apparent that Darkest Hour have been immeasurably influenced -- nay altered -- by both pop and prog metal. In what seems like a blatant attempt to gain a new (more mainstream?) audience, the question of whether the one they built over the last 15 years will remain faithful is as yet unanswered.

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