Dark Rites – The Dark Hymns Review

I’m what you’d call an ardent defender of the death metal faith. But amidst my desire for music heavier than a neutron star, I’m also a sucker for melody – a firm believer in the power of a solid hook and even a mighty chorus or two. Enter The Dark Hymns, the third album from Dark Rites, a self-described “unrelenting” melodic death metal band “with an old school vibe.” With members hailing from the U.S. and U.K., my interest was piqued. Would I be treated to a vile concoction of Floridian filth with a touch of British grind? Would this album fulfill my incessant need for death metal brutality without skimping on the memorable melodies?

Sadly, no. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t positive and downright enjoyable parts of The Dark Hymns. Right away, the band dispenses with the ubiquitous instrumental intro, opting instead to kick down your door, make an inappropriate gesture at your grandmother while blasting you into the next room with a cacophonous buzzsaw riff. While often overused and misused, it still makes my Entombed-worshiping heart flutter with delight when that Swedish Standby hits in just the right way, as it does on opener “Divine Duplicity.” The riffs are solid, the barking vocals serviceable, the song memorable. Second track “Goliath the Coward,” now officially in the running for my favorite song title of the year, builds on the previous, adding in slow, almost soulful guitar work that you might not expect amidst the blast beat barrage. Indeed, these brief moments of inspiration pop up throughout The Dark Hymns.

Unfortunately, a handful of momentary surprises do not a great album make. The problems with The Dark Hymns make themselves known early on. The majority of the songs, while not objectively bad, feel like they progress less according to an overall narrative and more based on a steady decline of ideas, steam, and ambition. Track after track, interesting interludes and unexpected guitar moments are quickly discarded in favor of more generic riffs and forgettable melodies. Beginning with “In Stasis” and continuing through “The Devils Heroes,” my mind began to wander and I found myself restarting songs and checking the clock. These issues are not new to the genre, but because Dark Rites are clearly capable of a few sparks of innovation, to quote your mom, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” The second, and perhaps most jarring issue, is the disjointed nosedive the album takes into early 2000s American Metalcore at times. Beginning on “Moira” and popping up again on “Shadow God” and “The Great Halcyon Wars”, the early Lamb of God breakdowns feel sorely out of place. Granted, this gripe is far more personal, but I found myself suffering from the burn of false advertising after each foray into Shadows Fall territory.

Additional issues with the production plague the album, and make even some of the stronger tracks suffer. Cuts like “Goliath the Coward,” “The Devils Heroes” and especially “The Great Halcyon Wars” end so abruptly that I wondered if the files had been damaged (they hadn’t). And while I credit vocalist Kole “Blooded” Cook for pulling double duty by providing both low barks and high-pitched shrieks (same goes to Wojtek Widuch, who puts in a solid performance on bass and guitar), the screeches in question are so loud in the mix that I found myself struggling to return to the flow of the songs.

I went into this review hoping for a solid platter of melodeath with flourishes of innovation and enough variety to warrant return listens. Instead, the latest album from Dark Rites, bogged down as it is with forgettable writing, repetitive riffs, head-scratching musical choices and a few glaring production issues, didn’t meet those relatively standard expectations. However, the minor glimpses of inventiveness peppered throughout provides some hope that the Dark Rites fellas have what it takes to improve. As the album description reads, The Dark Hymns “is nearly monochromatic in its continuous rage.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Brutal Records
Websites: darkrites1.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/darkritesband
Releases Worldwide: September 11th, 2020

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