Darkest Hour, the self titled album by the band, has been one of the most difficult albums to digest that I have ever listened to. The band has gone through a lot of changes over the years, and each shift in sound, small or large, has been relatively easy to just go along with. Even the loss of Kris Norris could be moved passed. In the end Darkest Hour still sounded like Darkest hour. Now, on album number eight, with only two original band members remaining and a shiny new record deal with Sumerian Records, the band have decided that it's time to try something new.
My first listen told me that I should rip this album to shreds, to rant and rave about the death of the band that I once had so much respect for and about how they sold their souls to Sumerian, becoming just another lackluster band on the roster, not worthy of my time. Change is hard to digest, but sometimes it's worth giving a real shot, and thankfully some patience and time gave me a very different view of this release.
The album opens with okay but overall uninteresting Wasteland. While not a bad track by any means it fails to show off anything but John Henry's vocal ability. The following two tracks are a little less one dimensional but still don't grab your attention in a way you would want or expect this band's music to. From that point the album becomes more interesting, not always succeeding in what it attempts but giving a solid try nonetheless.
The odd thing about this release is that it features some of the best material the individual members have created in a long time, if not ever. John Henry has never been as good as he is here. His voice packs more punch than it ever has. More range, more feeling, more fullness, he sounds absolutely fantastic here for the most part. This is the first album that he has truly used cleans for, not the half spoken half growled cleans of the past, but true full blown singing. Mike and Mike do a fantastic job on the guitar work. These are without a doubt the best riffs leads and solos that the two have created together, not quite reaching the greatness of the Norris era but hitting a high point nonetheless. Travis Orbin, taking over for Ryan Parrish, is superb on the drums. Fills aplenty and some seriously aggressive and expressive playing give listeners the best drum performance that the band has had in years. There isn't a whole lot to say about the new bass player, Aaron Deal. You hear some bass here and there but you know how it goes, it's hard to pick out enough to really spend any time talking about it.
The reason everything in the last paragraph is odd is because this is without a doubt the most inconsistent, and quite possibly the worst album the band has ever put out. I'll spare you my detailing of every flaw, for there are many. As I mentioned before, the first three songs are underwhelming. The rest of the album is hit and miss. Many songs are fantastic right up to the moment that they become mediocre, or vise versa. There is greatness in damn near every track, but there are more flaws or aspects of the songs that simply don't click than there have ever been in the past. Johns cleans are actually very nice when they work, but when they don't, they really just don't. It doesn't really matter what song you listen to, aside from one or two tracks, you will hear SOMETHING that takes you out of the experience and hurts the listen for you. A riff that becomes stale, a vocal line that doesn't quite hit the mark, a chorus that ruins the flow of the song, even a lyric in some cases, and by the end it has all taken it's toll. This is also by far the most generic the band has ever been, many songs feature very simple and done-to-death song structures.
Fans of the band, and the genre in general, should give the album an open minded listen. If you can get past the flaws there is some really cool stuff in here that deserves to be heard. It's not as simple as a band "selling out." There's more to this release than I was originally willing to acknowledge. It may be more watered down and generic than anything else they have ever done, but all isn't lost just yet. Darkest Hour is still in there.