Originally written by Tim Pigeon
With Darkest Hour’s new release, Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation, I hope that the whole “are they metal or hardcore?” debate can finally be put to rest. One listen through assures the listener that this band is squarely in the melodic death category, whether they or their fans want to believe it. Listen to the licks of opener “Sadist Nation,” or the marathon instrumental “Aquetis Vertunis” that closes out the album. These guys are more Dimension Zero than Hatebreed or Bane. Hell, it was even recorded at Studio Fredman, in no other town but Gothenburg.
Now, since that’s cleared up, Darkest Hour is an American 5-piece with three albums under their belts now. The twin guitars of Kris Norris and Mike Schleibaum bring a serious dose of Swedish melody and speed to the table. The band is plenty tight, but the vocals of John Henry ruin it for me. Sounding messy, indiscernible, and overly intense, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine someone vomiting next to the mic. It’s a damn shame, because they ought to be at the forefront of the American melodic death scene, but I feel that these painful vocals hold them back. Just get a little deeper (or even higher), but more clear. I even think Anders Friden would sound fine over their music, and he leaves quite a lot to be desired. Sure I may be going on and on about it, but it’s the same problem that bugged me on So Sedated, So Secure (the prior album), and this band could be a colossus otherwise.
Production-wise, it’s loud, but not very crisp. Certainly not the best album Fredrik Nordstrom has ever produced, but good enough. “Sadist Nation” starts off this extravaganza with a Swedish bang, sounding more like the intense side of Gothenburg (Dimension Zero, At the Gates), than the In Flames/Soilwork side. A mid-paced chorus and crushing ending keep the song varied enough so that it doesn’t blast you into a daze. “The Misinformation Age” is a great song with a groovy, nearly-sing-along chorus, if I could tell what the hell he’s saying. There’s also a solo that, strangely enough, sounds like a heavier rendition of the one in Evergrey’s Recreation Day. “7 Day Lie” is chock-full of memorable riffs and hooks played the way In Flames needs to remember how to do. Pretty much every song has some sick riffs somewhere, but it’s a bit pointless to hit on every song and use the same old, tired comparisons.
The last song I want to touch on is the ending instrumental. It’s an ambitious effort at 13 minutes that pretty much touches on everything from harmonized riffs to acoustics to piano to a killer solo. With just some minor tweaking it could be a momentous affair, like condensing the first few minutes and moving the solo at 10:02 back two minutes to kick in right as the piano piece is ending.
Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation is a solid release that deserves a fair listen. If you can stand the vocals, then this album ought to find a place in many a metalhead’s rotation. If these guys continue to improve as they did from the previous album to this one, then Darkest Hour could be a real titan in the near future.