Review Summary: Darkest Hour start off their long career with a strong debut album2 of 2 thought this review was well writtenDarkest Hour was:
John Henry - Vocals
Fred Ziomek - Guitars
Mike Schleibaum - Guitars
Billups Allen - Bass
Ryan Parrish - Drums
Darkest Hour is one of the most consistent yet underrated metalcore/melodic death metal bands playing today. Despite having been together as a band for 14 years and releasing their debut album, The Mark of the Judas
, around nine years ago, Darkest Hour seem to have a relatively small fan base when comparing to similar acts. Which is perhaps a good thing, since Darkest Hour has been known to release albums of the same, consistently high quality throughout their career, without ever (obviously) trying to sell their sound or please any other hardcore kids than themselves. So, how does The Mark of the Judas
hold up against their qualitative discography? Let’s investigate a bit closer:
Guitarists Fred Ziomek and Mike Schleibaum do a good job at creating a consistently aggressive mood throughout the album, instantly displayed in opening track For the Soul of the Savior
. Though playing harmonic minor melodies in drop c tuning, they manage to make the guitar work stand out above your average chugging metalcore band by using an extra dose aggressiveness and speed, never allowing the music to bog down or get stuck, but constantly adding momentum to the songs and making them move forward. To achieve this, they use a mix of melodious guitar work reminiscent of melodic death metal, with perhaps a tad too much tremolo picking, a few power chords, and a great use of rhythm to separate the riffs from each other and make them memorable, without ever falling back on basic chugging. Also, some thrash influences can be found in the relentless intensity of the songs and the generally rigid tempos throughout.
Though the guitar work could be seen as slightly repetitive in a few parts, one must not forget that there is more to a band than its guitars, and this is where vocalist John Henry comes into play. His raw and aggressive, phlegm filled yell together with some well written lyrics create vocal hooks aplenty, that together with the musical work of the band create several intense moments that easily stick in your head, but without ever making the music offensively trying to fight its way in there like so many of those oh-let’s-try-to-be-as-irritatingly-catchy-as-we-can bands do.
Together with John’s vocals, Ryan Parrish’s drumming is the true highlight of this album, and it contains some of my favourite work by him. While, especially on later albums, Ryan has had a tendency to fall back on double bass and blast beats a little to often, here the patterns both varied and pleasing, and together with plenty of different fills it adds up to some really solid drumming. And not only is the drumming solid, it is well integrated with the guitar work as well. From the bouncy rhythms of Eclipse
to the various fills in A Blessing In Tragedy
, the drumming does more than serving as a mere rhythmic backbone, but both matches and even adds to the already intense guitar work and to the catchiness of the songs themselves.
As for the bass… wait, there is a bassist on this album? Gee, I could never tell. As if wanting to balance out Ryan and John, bassist Billups Allen is almost anti standout. If it weren’t for a few bass twangs and a few audible passages managing to fight their way out of the mix every once in a while (only to quickly slip back and completely drown in it again), I would’ve considered the credits listing a bassist pure hoax.
Another problem with the album are the vocals. Though they are fantastic at sounding pissed off and fitting with the music, John Henry possesses little to no range and uses the same yell throughout, which can get grating in the less interesting songs, especially towards the end of the album. The same can be said about the guitar work. Though solid, there is a general lack of contrast between tracks that together with the gritty production make the album feel a bit repetitive in places. People who often listen to metalcore may also find that the album sounds generic and “Wait-haven’t-I-heard-this-before?”. This is unfortunately due to imitators within the genre. Riffs found in For the Soul of the Savior
and A Blessing in Tragedy
, to mention a few tracks, have recognizable younger brothers and sisters in songs by bands such as As I Lay Dying and Atreyu.
In conclusion, The Mark of the Judas
is a generally solid, thrash influenced metalcore album, albeit suffering from being a bit outdated (which, really, isn’t that surprising in an oversaturated genre full of imitators). Despite that, and some general repetitiveness and lack of contrast between tracks, I do recommend this release to anyone who is a fan of Darkest Hour, melodic death metal, thrash, or well, metal in general. Catchiness may be a subjective thing, but I find it hard to believe that there are many people who won’t be gripped by the fast and sometimes incredibly catchy guitar work and drumming coupled with John Henry’s aggressive, pissed off vocal performance. So, this is good, you ask? Yes! It’s great, and I wouldn’t even hesitate to say that it is excellent if it weren’t for the fact that you gotta be a bit objective with these review things. The Mark of the Judas
definitely holds its own place in Darkest Hour’s discography.
Recommended, with a strong 3,5/5
For The Soul of The Savior
The Mark Of The Judas