For years, I thought something was wrong with me when I got in the mood for some simple, catchy rock/groove. I mean, there is something wrong with me when I get the urge to listen to Volbeat over Mercyful Fate. But, sometimes, one needs a palette cleansing. And that’s exactly why I feel no guilt when listening to bands like Darkhaus, Ghoultown, A Life Divided, and Diablo Blvd. Week after week of listening to constant doom, black, heavy, thrash (and everything between) can make your brain mush. Not to mention, trying to find the words for the couple selected by week for review, while meeting writing deadlines for a textbook, teaching classes, etc. So, detoxing is necessary. But, why a band like Diablo Blvd, you might be asking? Maybe it was the innocent life I grew up in. Or the simple heavy rock bands force-fed to me by my friends (they called it “metal”) that carved out this empty abyss in my soul. A sad, sad abyss that desires non-metal bands, like DB. As it turns out—after picking up Diablo Blvd‘s newest album—the hole has been neglected far too long.1 In a little over a week, I’ve listened to Zero Hour over thirty times. It ain’t no AotY but it’s safe to say my hole has been plugged.2
But, I can’t say I enjoy everything Diablo Blvd has released. Though debut record, The Greater God, had a decent amount of Southern Corrosion of Conformity tinges (hence the band name), rocking Volbeat elements, and 90’s-era Metallica sappiness, it’s kind of scattered. An ailment their third album (Follow the Deadlights) also suffers from. The latter, however, really suffers from trying to do too much on a simple, straight-edge rock recipe created by their sophomore release, Builders of Empires. Builders is a by-the-numbers, Life of Agony-esque disc, but the hooks and memorability are there. It’s a rocking record meant for the road and so is Zero Hour. It appears these Belgian rockers have finally come to grips with their radio-friendly sound. And the result can only be described as Builders of Empires, Part II.
Not only that, but Nuclear Blast’s little “heavy metal,” comedian-fronted boy band gets Zero Hour off to a good start with “Animal” and “Sing from the Gallows.” This one-two punch delivers upbeat groove and spoons out roof-sticking choruses. The former is simple yet effective, with stop-start riffs to get your head a-bobbin’. The latter is a climaxing number that uses reverberating melodies and clean guitar licks to set it up. Perhaps the two best tracks on the album, “Animal” and “Gallows” prove that simple is better and that hard rock doesn’t need to meander to create something memorable.
Now, let’s fast-forward to the other side of the disc, where the band attacks from the opposite end of the spectrum. “00:00,” “Demonize,” and “The Future Will Do What It’s Told,” specifically, lean upon melody and atmosphere, rather than the upbeat-ness of the opening duo. The two-and-a-half-minute Vol 3: (The Subliminal Verses)-like instrumental “00:00” splits the album in two and sets the tone for the more-melodic back-half of the album. After “Like Rats,” the seven-minute “Demonize” progresses through opening effects and slow-paced chugging before unleashing it’s hooking pre-chorus/chorus. Three-quarters of the way in, the song stops—beginning a tension-building ascension into a climactic, headbanging riff. Like its predecessor, “The Future Will Do What It’s Told” delivers loads of melody and a chunky mid-song transition, but drapes its structure in the industrial/techno-y elements of A Life Divided/wannabe-Type O Negative. An effect that actually makes “The Future Will Do What It’s Told” a stronger piece than “Demonize.”
The closer has the same passion as “The Future Will Do What It’s Told,” but that Death Magnetic-like main riff makes me cringe. Which is a shame considering that powerful chorus. “Life Amounts to Nothing” has a similar Metallica-y approach, but its direction and upbeat tempo make it far less awkward. Although “Demonize” is a good track from beginning to end, its “demon eyes” lyrics are a bit cheesy. But “God in the Machine” takes the cake for cheesiest/sappiest of them all. “You Are All You Love” and “The Song Is Over” have some adventurous drumming, and the latter has a chorus that reminds me of Obsolete-era Fear Factory, but these are nothing more than simple, solid outings.
In the ned, Zero Hour is a fun little record with captivating artwork. Diablo Blvd have delivered an album as satisfying as Empires and accepted the proverb that describes their existence: rocking, grooving non-metal metal is best kept simple.