Review Summary: For better or worse, Darkest Hour goes the more traditional metalcore route on their eight LP.
There are few bands that are worthy of more admiration in the modern metal scene than Darkest Hour. They have endured countless member changes over the years and have never really enjoyed a vast amount of success yet have been the epitome of consistency over their nearly 20-year career. The band's eight LP, Darkest Hour, is yet another winner for these hardened metal veterans.
This record marks a new chapter for Darkest Hour, as they undergo their most drastic (and pretty much only) sound change of their career thus far. The prominent melodic death metal influence that has driven this band since their inception is scaled back in favor of a more traditional metalcore sound. While it doesn't affect the actual musical compilations too much outside of a few breakdowns that wouldn't typically be there, the vocals are noticeably different as John Henry heavily uses traditional clean singing for the first time in the band's history. Henry has used clean vocals in the past, but the ones on this record are a lot more alternative-based than the gritty cleans he used sporadically on Deliver Us and The Human Romance. The enhanced focus on clean vocals will undoubtedly alienate some longtime fans of the band, but I found it to be a nice change of pace for them. The use of clean vocals allow Darkest Hour to explore new territory as a band and write some of the catchiest metalcore songs I've heard in ages. The hooks on "Anti-Axis", " and "Futurist" have been embedded in my head since I first spun this record and demonstrate just how gifted of a singer Henry is. It's honestly a bit shocking Henry didn't start singing like this earlier given how good he is at. The new side of Darkest Hour's sound culminates on the beautiful "By the Starlight"; which features a lengthy acoustic intro with Henry and female indie artist Draemings exchanging vocal lines before seamlessly transitioning into a more traditional Darkest Hour track around the halfway point. Henry's vocals are especially fantastic here as they hold up well and perfectly complement the haunting vocals of indie artist Daremings. "By the Starlight" was a huge musical gamble for Darkest Hour to take and it pays off big time as it hammers home the point that they can have success out of their melo-death comfort zone.
While this record is certainly more accessible than their earlier work, Darkest Hour still devotes ample time to decimating the listener. Aside from "The Misery We Make" and "Departure", there are traces of the old Darkest Hour in every single song on this album, which makes this transition in sound not nearly as jarring as it could've been. The first two tracks "Wasteland and "Rapture in Exile" are whirlwind, thrashy tracks with violent double bass, blistering guitar solos and plenty of Henry's powerful screams that start the album off with a ton of momentum. The album takes a bit of break in the middle of the album with a plethora of mid-paced tracks before closing out the record with the chaotic "Lost for Life" and "The Goddess Figure" and the sprawling epic "Hypatia Rising". Even the more straightforward, melodic songs like the aforementioned "Anti-Axis" and "Futurist" have a distinct edge to them thanks to the punch of the instrumentation. The presence of a more "generic" formula doesn't do anything to deter the sheer amount of talent Darkest Hour has as a band. Henry is still one of the best vocalists in the genre, guitarist Mike "Lonestar" Carrigan still knows how to write plenty of hard-hitting riffs and new drummer Travis Orbin brings an explosive presence and level of precision behind the kit that they never had in the past. No matter how melodic things get on this record, Darkest Hour frequently reminds the listener that making straight-up heavy music is still their top priority as a band.
I highly commend Darkest Hour for making this record. It takes a lot of balls to go out and make an album that deters from your signature sound after all these years in the business. While it may not be a masterpiece like Undoing Ruin and Deliver Us, this record proves that Darkest Hour can make great music while not strictly adhering to the melodic death metal sound that has defined them as a band up to this point of their career. Darkest Hour may have branched out into something different musically, but they still have the same amount of passion, finesse and songwriting ability that they did when they started out 19 years ago.