The art district in downtown Pomona, CA, was an odd mishmash of people on November 27th. At the Glasshouse kids were packed outside to see Darkest Hour, Periphery, and Veil of Maya. A few buildings over at the Fox Theater the crowd was a little bit more extreme as they funneled into the rebuilt art-deco theater to see Dimmu Borgir and Enslaved. And smack dab in the middle of all of this, in a parking lot across the street from the Glasshouse, there was a small crafts fair and low-rider show set with their own band playing 70’s funk hits. This is what I had to make my way through on my way to Darkest Hour’s tour bus to interview their drummer Ryan Parrish. Among other things, we discussed Darkest Hour’s upcoming album The Human Romance, their 15th anniversary as a band, and what the future holds for the long running metal act.
Adam Thomas: With The Eternal Return you fulfilled your contract with Victory Records and now you’ve signed to E1 which used to be Koch…
Ryan Parrish: Yes.
AT: How does it feel to have a new home after spending almost a decade on the same label?
RP: Amazing. It’s an incredible change for us. We’ve been looking forward to the end of the Victory contract for a while so getting on a new label is the like best thing we could do. They’re really great to us.
AT: Has it opened up any new opportunities for the band, like new things you’ve always wanted to do?
RP: Oh yeah. Just having a sense of having someone behind us now, to support something. They’re willing to help, they love our ideas, and we love what they have to offer. We love working together. It’s a good feeling. It’s been a while since we’ve had a label like this that cares about us so much.
AT: Your first album for E1 is going to be The Human Romance which comes out in February of next year…
AT: What was the thought process going into writing and recording that?
RP: I think after doing The Eternal Return you could tell that we were just very angry at that time and kind of like strayed away from the more melodic stuff. I mean it’s still melodic but but more aggressive and more thrash but on this new one we just decided that we were gonna do.. we were gonna incorporate all that elements of Darkest Hour that are good, that we think are awesome, like the melody and melodicness, and I think that this record is a balance of what it is we’re about. It’s thrashy, it’s melodic. It’s got some real moments on it. I think it’s really cool.
AT: I noticed The Eternal Return was sort of a culmination of the heavier elements of Darkest Hour. So you had that catharsis of The Sadist Nation mixed with that really technical element of Deliver Us.
RP: Yeah, and that’s still present on this new album but there’s more hints of Undoing Ruin/Deliver Us style stuff happening, with a mix of that. It’s a good balance. I think we got it right.
AT: So it’s like Darkest Hour at equilibrium.
RP: Yes, exactly.
AT: For the last decade you’ve had this relentless touring schedule and yet you still mange to drop a full length every two years like clockwork.
RP: I think when we put out an album we like to tour on it as much as possible and that takes us about a year or so to get back in the studio. It’s been yeah, every two years ha ha.
AT: How is it that you’re able to keep that pace? Because some bands just go out in like a blaze of glory after two albums but you guys consistently…
RP: We know what we like to do and everyone is on pretty much the same page. Every time we tour, that two years doesn’t feel like two years to us. It goes by rather quickly and since that we’re so busy… that schedule seems to take us on that trip all the time. We just love making albums, love making music, that’s why we started doing this in the first place. We love it.
AT: So this is your 15th anniversary tour and you’ve been a part of the band since when was it, 1999? When you look back in preparation for a tour like this… A friend of mine said a few days ago that you played “An Epitaph” at his date… do you ever rediscover songs when you go back and listen to your old stuff?
RP: Oh yeah! This whole… getting this setlist was one of the most difficult things we’ve done as a band. We sat around and hashed out which ones we thought were important, it’s a really nice set, like two from every record..
AT: Nice. I saw Suffocation do something like that a while back…
RP: Sweet. I would love to see that.
[Marc Okubo from Veil of Maya]: It’s a baker’s dozen.
RP: Haha yeah. It’s the longest set we’ve ever played as a band as well.
AT: Very nice. I also hear you’re bringing back “Veritas”? The last time I saw you do that you’re were touring with Himsa.
RP: Yeah, with the Acacia Strain? We decided on this tour that we were gonna celebrate what we think are the important songs from the Darkest Hour catalog, ya know? So that song for us was a no brainer. To prepare for that song live is just crazy…
AT: I remember you had the stands with the acoustics set up…
RP: With the cymbal stands and they’re clamped on, yeah, it’s crazy.
AT: Being an American heavy music mainstay for so long now and being popular since I guess So Sedated, So Secure is it weird when some of the bands you tour with consider you as these elder statesmen of the scene? Like do you ever tour with a younger act and get told “you guys got me into heavy music”?
RP: That definitely takes you off. It makes you take a step back from it. We have been doing this for a long time and we don’t have any notions to stop so… It is weird to think that is has been going on for so long that people do say things like that it makes you think, man, we are old but at the same time we also strive to stay relevant and stay fresh and that’s important to. If we didn’t try to do that then I dunno.
AT: One of the things I noticed with The Eternal Return that for the longest time if you read comparisons or tried to describe the sound of Darkest Hour it would be the Swedish elements, and with The Eternal Return… I guess actually starting with Deliver Us, you started incorporating these more “American” aspects so it’s not necessarily… It’s still that Darkest Hour sound now it just feels like it’s grown up to be a little more “stateside”.
RP: Well, we all grew up listening to the Swedish style metal bands, and that element is still there but as we grow as a band, like we’ve had 15 years to perfect the recipe you kinda start to throw in new elements and things like that. The Darkest Hour sound, like you said, is still there we’ve just added more of our influences as we go. It’s crazy. We were just all about the Swedish style melodic death metal you know what I mean? But we can’t help that we’re not from Sweden so… and a lot of kids grew up… a lot of guys in the band grew up with hardcore backgrounds so… The music starts to respond to what we’re doing so it’s a little bit of everything.
AT: Yeah, its a nice amalgamation. Speaking of those older bands, with At the Gates coming back and doing their thing, and Carcass touring again… Even older American acts like Cynic and Atheist coming out with new albums… The interest in metal right now is huge.
RP: It’s peaking for sure.
AT: Where do you see the metal scene growing and continuing into this decade?
RP: That’s a good question. I have no idea. I’ll tell ya, for as long as I’ve been doing this I’ve seen the metal scene go through dips and dives. I never know where it’s headed next, and right now I think there’s a huge bust of really technical, like Meshuggah sounding metal.
AT: For sure, yeah. Just look at who you’re touring with, Periphery.
RP: And Veil of Maya. It’s all the crazy time signatures. That stuff is really, really hot right now. But metal as a whole has always gone through changes. Some phases last longer than others, but I’ll tell ya, like Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, and stuff like that, and even I’ll throw in our stuff in Darkest Hour to, just the way we write songs, has a longevity to it. For proof we’ve been around for 15 years. Definitely songwriting for us is not as complicated. Like I can’t imagine what it’s like to write a Periphery song. I have no idea. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Metal, I don’t know where it’s headed, but I think we’ll see what happens. I’ve seen it do so many things.
AT: Speaking of songwriting, I’ve noticed that your albums work really well as a whole. With the state of the music industry and with digital sales as a whole, do you think that that ruins the experience when your music is listened to on like a song by song basis and not in context of an album as a whole?
RP: We never even think about that. It never crosses our minds. It’s weird to just let a person hear one song because if you listen to the rest of the album then hopefully you’ll get it, so I dunno, so yeah I guess it kind of does but we don’t think about that. We just try to write good albums.
AT: Music videos have been around for 30 years now and every one always hears that one song anyways so I get what you’re saying.
RP: Haha and we’ve done that one song too, but when we go into the studio we just get really focused on an idea.
AT: I’ve noticed that. Especially with Undoing Ruin, and how with “Low”, the acoustic tracks and “District Divided” as the centerpiece, kinda, it has this nice ebb and flow to it. It makes it very cohesive. I think without having that context some of the songs might lose some of their power.
RP: So like they don’t have the bookends? I get what you’re saying. Plus with the way we mapped that album out with the intro and the outro it bleeds in to each other, making it seamless. We just hope that that one song makes you go out and hear the rest of it.
AT: Over your career you’ve had the chance to work with some rather legendary names in heavy music production like Fredrik Nordstrom [Studio Fredman] and Devin Townsend and I read The Human Romance was with Peter Wichers. Is there anything special that you’ve taken away from these opportunities?
RP: Yes, absolutely. Every time we go into the studio we walk out with a whole new perspective on what to do next time. Like with The Eternal Return we were kind of like… um… our brains were exploding and that shit was like done. We wrote a fuck-ton of songs, we got in the studio and we hammered them out and then like that was it. It was there. It just came out so fast. But with this new one, we took a lot more time with songwriting and structures and Peter [Wichers] just took the wheel, man. He’s such a great guitar player [Soilwork] and such a great producer and he would roll with us. It was such a great experience. Devin [Townsend] taught us secrets in just making guitars sound cool and Fredrik showed us ways to make things heavier and sound just like sick. We’ve always walked away with some kind of new aspect.
AT: That’s one of the things I liked about Devin’s production. You had that one track on Deliver Us, that instrumental piece, I can’t remember the name where in the liner notes you stated that no synths were used in the recording of the song.
RP: Yeah! It’s all guitar sounds. That song was fun to create. I think it’s called “Light at the Edge of the World”.
AT: Your first few albums had like no shred, but you’ve really brought that out in your more current stuff. Like the solo in “The Tides” or a half a dozen or so moments on Deliver Us. On your new album did you have the urge to like come out and continue to be more technical?
RP: You know, that’s like, we were just talking about this. When we went into to this record, for us, we were like this record needs to have some pretty insane solos on this thing because people want to hear that shit, we like doing it, and we can do it pretty well, so that was the mindset going in, but Peter was like “Dude, you’ve done that, you’ve done that crazy stuff,” and while I’m not gonna say there aren’t moments like that because there are, now the solos and technical parts are more soulful, more tasteful. They kind of sing to you a little more than just noodle town. Peter kind of guided that ship a little bit but we’ve had that idea for a while. We’ve done the crazy, intense, we can’t play live stuff so he was like “Why don’t you have something that speaks to the listener, that can still blow their mind, but just without a thousand notes per minute.” That kind of spoke to us a little bit. The solos on this album are choice. Very soulful. They really speak. I dunno. They sing. It’s nice.
AT: Along the lines of something different, you just released a solo ambient collection under the name Years. How did you get the ideas for that? How did that come about?
RP: Yeah it’s two discs. I’ve been making weird music for a long time. Some of the ideas on that are over four years old. It’s sort of a softer side of things. I like to describe it as soundtrack-ish.
AT: I was listening to it earlier and it’s like every song you can envision a moment and use it as a soundscape.
RP: Yeah pretty much. With every song I envision something which is why its like… so layered.
AT: Also Mike [Schleibaum] does scoring for documentaries?
RP: Yeah, yes he does. He does some stuff for Story House I think they’re called. He does soundtracks to different shows and such.
AT: I’ve got one more. For being in a band for so long and seeing how the music industry itself ebbs and flows and with how the economy is now, what is the best way for bands to not end up being just a flash in the pan or a the story of the week on some website?
RP: With the internet culture that’s a lot of band’s biggest problem, not just being a flash in the pan. A here today, gone tomorrow kind of thing. But for what we did and what we do, we just tour our asses off. The more we come around the more we can’t be ignored. Eventually people will either like it or not, but the more you come around the more people have the opportunity to hear your music, to see what you’re all about, and to meet you. That’s also like another big thing, just talking to people. That’s huge. That leaves a lot of impact, just your personality can decide on whether someone is gonna like your band or not. The internet doesn’t have that same personable approach. I’d say tour, play shows, get out there, talk to people. We’ll go there if you can get us there. It’s been a hell of a ride.