Once again, Southern Lord throw a curveball.
Having been known, primarily, as a label specialising in doom, drone and the more experimental end of black metal, it’s move into crust punk territory was a surprise to some.
But by issuing records by bands like Heartless, Centuries, Dead in the Dirt as well as reissuing classics by Offenders, Bl’ast and Uniform Choice, there was no denying Anderson’s intentions were pure and about a love of the music.
So while some may find it odd that this new Darkest Hour album is coming out on Southern Lord, it’s worth bearing the above in mind. That and the fact that the LP edition of ‘The Mark of the Judas’ was released on Southern Lord in 2003.
Flat Out Riffing
Hailing from Washington D.C, Darkest Hour have been together in some shape or form for over 20 years.
Lumped with the “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” tag that only ever seemed to be used by Sam Dunn and Garry Sharpe-Young, they have been releasing the sort of record you’d expect from a mainstream/underground group (Gothenburg style melodic death metal with metalcore tinges).
And while that style has been done to death, the likes of ‘The Mark of the Judas’ and ‘So Sedated, So Secure’ still work. Nothing groundbreaking about them, just flat out riffing.
I was surprised to see that they’d been so prolific, with eight studio albums. 2014’s self titled record sounded like an attempt to go for the mainstream, with the use of clean vocals and a shinier, polished production.
And while it gained them their highest chart position on Billboard, it appears to have split the fan base.
So, with a crowd funded album recorded by Kurt Ballou (Converge), we can make an educated guess that this record will be a “back to basics” type.
One that usually gets made either when the band don’t have the safety net of a willing label to fund them (see ‘Enemy of the Music Business’ by Napalm Death or ‘Animositisomina’ by Ministry) or to unite the fan base again.
Opener ‘Knife in the Safe Room’ is a no frills, no fucking around hardcore track. The first minute is a tour de force, barely pausing for breath. Ripping solo as well. Best song on here.
‘This is the Truth’ is where the Gothenburg sound that defines the band really comes to the forefront. Although it’s a sound that has been watered down and done to death by countless acts, here it sounds potent, played with affection for the sound. Nice acoustic interlude in the background.
And, truthfully, that’s all you need to know about how the rest of the album sounds so there’s no need to go any further with descriptions, suffice to say that they have a tendency to blur into one.
Whether this is a sound that you’re interested in or not, there’s no denying that the playing and production are all on the money. Clean enough for modern mainstream metal fans, but with just a hint of dirt under the fingernails.
Song writing wise, Darkest Hour know what their fan base want and are happy enough to deliver (although a cynic would suggest that, with fans crowd funding the album, they would have no choice in the matter).
While they’re obviously not on a par with their first two records (which, if we’re being honest, aren’t the most groundbreaking records you’ll ever hear), the songs on here hold up as solid, if somewhat unspectacular, modern metal.
I’ve a feeling that this will be consumed by a younger audience who caught the band via their last LP, and serve as a gateway into the underground. Older heads will have heard it all before, but note the effort.
As well as this, tours with bands like Rotten Sound and Ringworm seem to have brought them to a newer audience unaware of their roots in hardcore punk, and the mileage from the Southern Lord logo might mean a few others checking them out.
In that sense, aligning themselves with the label might be the smartest move the band has made in a while.
Curveballs, don’t you just love ‘em?
2.5 / 5 - Christopher Owens ::: 06/03/17