If there was ever a band that by all accounts should have broken big when the New Wave of American Heavy Metal took over nu-metal’s spot in terms of popularity and Ozzfest playtimes, Washington, D.C.’s Darkest Hour would be that band. While they were among the first to adopt the now-tired At the Gates playbook, they at least retained the heaviness of their region’s influential hardcore scene, resulting in amazing albums like 2003’s Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation and 2005’s Undoing Ruin. Sadly, line-up and label changes, maddeningly inconsistent songwriting, and a desire to break big by altering their sound significantly hurt them more than it helped. So with all that, I approached their ninth album, the wordy Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora, with major trepidation and low expectations. Have they learned from their mistakes, are they still viable, and above all, is this any good?
The answers are yes, yes, and you betcha, in that order. After the attempt at cracking the big time with their tepid 2014 self-titled album, Darkest Hour went back to doing what they do best, which is seething hardcore with incredible melodies. One listen to the chorus of “This Is the Truth,” with an addictive guitar melody by Mike “Lonestar” Carrigan that pays a nod to “Convalescence” off of Undoing Ruin, and I was grinning ear to ear. Fellow guitarist Mike Schleibaum stepped up as well, throwing riff after heaving riff while tightening the flow between them. And I’ve never heard vocalist John Henry sound this pissed off ever. His delivery remains scalding and visceral, and thankfully he kept his one weakness, his singing, to the barest of minimums, only making an appearance during one portion of “The Last of the Monuments.”
As for the heft, Godless Prophets rivals Hidden Hands in terms of hook-filled savagery. The breakdown during “Those Who Survived” showcases Travis Orbin’s impeccable sense of build, groove, and cymbal work. His ridiculous fills that open up “This Is the Truth” spike the intensity further. But more importantly, the songwriting has gotten tighter. In short, all of the songs serve a purpose. The beautiful instrumental “Widowed” acts as a much-needed breather among the heaviness and shredding. And speaking of shredding, those fucking solos! Carrigan and Schleibaum throw down hard during “Another Headless Ruler of the Used” and “The Last of the Monuments,” proving to be two of metal’s underrated lead guitarists. Speaking of underrated guitarists, former DH shredder Kris Norris contributes an amazing lead on album closer “Beneath It Sleeps,” capping off an incredible 45-minute journey.
This isn’t to say that Godless Prophets is perfect, however. The Kurt Ballou production, though heavy during breakdowns and bright during the solos, leaves little wiggle room for the bass. Save for “Beneath It Sleeps” and “Those Who Survived,” I couldn’t make out much of what Aaron Deal was doing. Which is a shame, as the dude can fucking play. Also, I would shuffle the track listing a bit. Opener “Knife in the Safe Room,” while savage and unrelenting, would’ve been a stronger follow-up to “Widowed” later on in the album. “Enter Oblivion,” the actual follow-up to “Widowed,” slows down the momentum tremendously. But this it nitpicking of an otherwise tremendous about-face that I have a hard time putting down long enough to complain or even write about.
In short, Darkest Hour are playing up to their strengths, reminding everyone why they were one of the few bands on Victory’s 2000s-era roster that weren’t a total laughing stock. If, like me, you loved their early albums, but felt like the band had lost their way, let me reassure you that they’ve made huge amends here. Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora is the best comeback album I’ve heard in recent years, and also has become my favorite Darkest Hour album to date. This is the sound of a band killing it.