Formed way back in 1995, it’s hard to believe that Washington D.C.’s Darkest Hour have been on the metal scene for more than 20 years.
As with any band worth its salt, they’ve been developing their sound from album to album, but the band’s latest release, Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora takes a bit of a sidestep from an otherwise linear progression, and there are a couple of good reasons behind it.
First is that the record saw Darkest Hour move away from Sumerian Records, the label that put out their previous, self-titled album and take a more DIY direction by choosing to crowdfund the new LP instead. The second reason is the producer they chose to work with once that target was reached, Kurt Ballou. For those familiar with hardcore and metal, Ballou doesn’t need an introduction, guitarist for Converge by day and producer by night (and probably day as well), his portfolio includes records by Modern Life is War, Rise and Fall, Trap Them and Nails.
As soon as the album’s first track, ‘Knife in The Safe Room’, bursts out of your speakers the change in Darkest Hour’s sound is obvious, and so is their choice of producer. Where the records leading up to Godless Prophets seemed to be gathering a little polish with each release, the new album opener is raw, visceral and unrestricted. This is a quality that’s felt throughout the album, with vocalist John Henry putting his all into each track, from aggressive growls to almost In Flames-esque melodic shouts. Things do ease up from time to time, and this might actually be one of Darkest Hour’s most diverse albums, with moments of melodic death metal, technical discordant sections and even Spanish guitar all appearing.
Far from being an attempt to throw everything at the studio wall and see what sticks, each song and section feels connected, thanks to strong performances by guitarists Michael Carrigan and Mike Schleibaum, bassist Aaron Deal and a guest appearance by former Darkest Hour guitarist Kris Norris. This is obvious throughout, but the album’s penultimate song, ‘In The Name of Us All’, really has everything, pummelling riffs, harmonised solos and brute force from beginning to end. Given that the vocals are on point and the guitar work is solid, you might think that the drums will be the weak link. To say that Travis Orbin’s drumming on Godless Prophets provides a solid basis for the tracks would be a huge disservice, and (in my opinion) his playing stands above the already high standard set by the band on this record. It’s not just the production either, sure the drums sound great, but every fill, beat and sledgehammer blow is spot on.
So, after all that, is this a perfect metal/hardcore/metalcore/whatever album? Not quite.
Well played? Yep. Well produced? Clearly. Good dynamics and variation? That’s a bingo. So what’s missing?
In amongst what’s already a great album there are some moments of ‘fuck it, let’s go for it’ invention, tones and approaches not normally explored by Darkest Hour, and every time you hear them you want more, only for them to scamper off. Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is a great album, and shows Darkest Hour at their best, leaving the question, how much better could they be if they just tipped over that experimental precipice?