I subscribe to a school of thought that fans of metal or other loud rock music have two gateway moments in their lives. These are when one discovers a band, song, album, sound, or style that initially sparks their interest in heavy music. This first “gateway drug” is usually a more “mainstream” or “accessible” style than the most extreme subgenres of the music. Depending on the individual, the timing, and the source, it could be anything from the pop, glam, and hair metal of the 1980s, to the emo-influenced scream-core of today (bands like Bring Me The Horizon, Asking Alexandria, Bullet For My Valentine, etc.). My metal gateway drug was the nu-metal movement of the late 1990s. My taste in metal remained particularly tame by comparison, until I reached my second gateway moment as a college radio DJ and music director. It was then that I discovered Washington D.C.’s Darkest Hour, on their 2007 album Deliver Us. At the time, they were the heaviest thing I had ever heard, while still retaining melody, groove, and hook. I don’t think I knew it at the time, but this band was what I always thought an ideal metal band should sound like. From that point, my musical tastes expanded into much more extreme and underground forms. Ranging from thrash, to death metal, to black metal, to grindcore, to even progressive and stoner/sludge/doom metal. This, was my second gateway moment; the one that exposed me to more of what metal had to offer, and expanded my palate.
Forming in 1995, Darkest Hour is much more than another one of the simple “metalcore” band that so many would prefer to write them off as. In fact, they may have actually been one of the first. Beginning with their first two E.P.’s (1996’s The Misanthrope and 1999’s The Prophecy Fulfilled), Darkest Hour were one of the first groups to blend Swedish melodic death metal with east coast hardcore. It wasn’t until the success of 2003’s Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation and 2005’s Undoing Ruin during the boom of the “New Wave Of American Heavy Metal” did Darkest Hour begin to really get the attention that they deserved. Unfortunately, being overshadowed by larger bands such as Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, Trivium, and As I Lay Dying, coupled with being held back by commitments from their now previous label, Victory Records, Darkest Hour remained in the “underground” status of popularity and success. Still, despite label-hopping and lineup changes, the quintet persevered. Their love, passion, and dedication to music carried founding members Mike Schleibaum [guitars] and John Henry [vocals] through eight studio albums and countless international tours. Landing them in present day, with their ninth full-length studio album, Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora.
This latest record is the product of crowdfunding, thanks to a successful IndieGoGo campaign in early 2016. At this point, such a tactic for production, or really anything for just about any established band can be frowned upon as a way of, “bleeding fans dry,” rather than getting a label to do their job. For those outside of the music industry, it could be easy to assume that once you’re in a signed, established band, just about everything can be handed to you. However, when you realize how vast and wide said industry is, including to the farthest reaches of representation in an underground music scene, it becomes clear that this is not the case (as guitarist Mike Scheibaum has provided evidence in the past). Darkest Hour’s hardcore roots has led them to take their D.I.Y. approach in nearly everything they’ve done in order to both stay afloat and offer something to their fans. The fact that the band hasn’t done anything like this until well past their twentieth anniversary as a band really says something about not only their longevity, but also their integrity. And their fans paid close attention, contributing to the production and ultimately the completion of Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora, released on Southern Lord Music.
Darkest Hour’s musical career has been a combination of both consistency and experimentation. Their signature riffs and shredding on six string guitars and blinding gallops and fills on bare-bones drum kits have always been the backbone of their structure, along with John Henry’s metaphorical sociopolitical lyrics through a menacing snarl. The band has also always added something new to each album, no matter how subtle. Beginning with Undoing Ruin, Darkest Hour’s melody and occasional clean vocals drew ire and criticism from some fans. But while those fans may have walked away, they were replaced by others who were appreciative of Darkest Hour’s adoption of more melody and atmosphere, while still expanding their songwriting and structural composition. This melody reached an interesting, almost mainstream peak with their 2014 self-titled album, released on Sumerian Records. But with the spirit of both two decades of experience backing them, and the camaraderie of their fans culminating in the form of crowdfunding, it seems that Darkest Hour returned to their roots a bit with Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora, while still retaining the thirst for heavy innovation.
Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora opens with the pummeling, almost crossover-thrash/punk anthem “Knife In The Safe Room.” Complete with a whammy bar-full guitar solo and tasteful breakdown, Darkest Hour immediately shows that their current lineup is one of their strongest, while still sounding familiar to fans of the band’s earliest work. Former At All Cost guitarist Mike “Lonestar” Carrigan has been both an impressive and creative fit for the band since debuting on their 2009 album The Eternal Return. Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is the second Darkest Hour album for bassist Aaron Deal (formerly of doom metal act Salome), and drummer Travis Orbin (formerly of Periphery). It’s almost hard to believe that these same five musicians also produced the almost “easy-listening” by comparison album that precedes this one. Truly, this is a testament to the musicianship and writing style of all members both individually, functioning together as a unit.
Darkest Hour has never been a band to shy away from writing creative, individual songs which stand alone by themselves, without skimping on the heavy. And Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is no different. When you listen to this album, perhaps more than any other release from Darkest Hour, you can hear elements coming from so many other musical influences, both heavy and otherwise (but especially heavy). The songs that stand out the most may also be the darkest (no pun intended) for both the album, and the band as a whole. “The Flesh And The Flowers Of Death,” “Another Headless Ruler Of The Used,” and “Enter Oblivion” have tones reminiscent of both big death metal acts like Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation, as well as ominous atmosphere expected from black metal. Anything that could be considered “filler” go back to punk-influenced thrashers, such as “This Is The Truth,” “Those Who Survived,” “In the Name of Us All,” and “None of This Is The Truth.” “Timeless Numbers” sees Darkest Hour experimenting with technical, start-stop-start time signature changes. Album closer “Beneath It Sleeps” ends the experience on an epic, narrative note, and instrumental interlude “Widowed” provides a much-needed breather. But perhaps the most interesting track is “The Last Of The Monuments.” While still having an interesting narrative structure to it, the album’s only clean vocals (in low tone) play with a musical refrain of an almost soothing yet melancholy doom.
Look, I have been a die-hard Darkest Hour fan for at least the past decade. And when you’re as institutionalized into a band as I am with Darkest Hour, there’s pretty much nothing that they can do to upset you. Therefore, there is no way that I can end this review with out some sort of bias. However, I will say this much. As previously mentioned, Darkest Hour is one of the many bands that – I believe – is unfairly written off as a “metalcore” band by so many “DEATH TO FALSE METAL!” trve-kvlt-pvrists, and oblivious young scene kids alike. Every time I have tried to introduce this band to someone, their expectations are not met. But if there was ever a Darkest Hour album that I believe not only everyone should check out, but that nearly everyone would appreciate if not enjoy, it’s Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora. It gives both old and new fans alike something both familiar yet excitingly new and refreshing from Darkest Hour. And twenty years in, Darkest Hour is still offering something new that non-fans would best do themselves a favor by exposing themselves to.
Simply put, Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is the perfect Darkest Hour album. And what’s more, it could easily be a contender for metal album of the year. It is a masterpiece of what modern heavy music can be. But, then again, that’s just this one fanboy’s opinion.
Final Score: 5/5 (A+)
Recommended If You Like: At The Gates, Dead To Fall, Heaven Shall Burn, Unearth, Sylosis
Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is available now on Southern Lord Music.