I often wonder why bands ape a particular sound to death, but pass over another. Is Iron Maiden truly more worthy than Judas Priest? Why does Dark Tranquillity never get the same love as In Flames and At the Gates? What makes Bathory a hot ticket but not Type O Negative? Final Hour, as you may suspect, evoked this line of questioning with their take on melodeath’s tried and true tropes. Their influences are exactly the ones you would expect, and their music works inside the box, loves the box, would never ever leave the box. Unfortunately, the plainness of Final Hour‘s self-titled debut reflects that unimaginative mimickry to the nth degree.
Opener “Soulless Wanderer” is the box. Thick Scandinavian melodies and grooves built out of a prerequisite mix of speed and skill; scalding vocals pissed off about something, backing cleans whinging about something else; cohesion stretched into boredom by overlong songwriting; the opener is as blasé as it gets. As ever, the riffs are not the issue, drawing from middle-tier stocks of In Flames, Lamb of God, and At the Gates. The band seems content to let the melodeath formula work its magic, and to a point, it does. Unfortunately, the Danes color it in with whiny, limp-wristed Trivium cleans that wouldn’t make the cut on an actual Trivium record (at least not a good one) and is more ill-advised than riding a unicycle for the first time after downing a fifth of Glengoolie Blue. Totally-not-chosen-by-a-song-title-generator ventures like “Never Bow Down,” “On the Line,” and “Line Crossing” set expectations incredibly low and still come up short. The last features the album’s slam dunk low moment, an utterly punchless breakdown opened by a center-stage shout of “breaaakdown” that leaves me shaking my head and laughing every time. The result avoids any real meat or experimentation, playing it safe with a base sound that has been done one hundred times before.
Final Hour is the same old dreck that leaves a reviewer hoping for some sort of catastrophic fuck-up so there’s an easily definable flaw to focus on. Instead, it sits in that tepid middle ground that gets reviewed twenty times a year and forgotten a week later. Is it bad? What do you define as bad? A lack of originality? Oh yeah, it’s definitely bad. Pure riff quality? No, not on its face. “Dark Spirit,” “Once You’ve Spilled,” “Mirror Image” all bring the goods. Even the weaker tracks on the album often unearth a head-bobbing riff to hang in the window. But the writing grows stale quickly and thirteen songs over an hour are far too long for such one-dimensional fare. The production and tones of Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Blind Guardian) are unsurprisingly solid, but the mixing and mastering of Anthony Kalabretta (Protest the Hero) leaves much to be desired. He unceremoniously murders Rasmus Christensen’s bass and reduces Martin Haumann’s drums to vague shimmering vibrations whenever the double kicks start.
Strip away the bullshit and Final Hour could certainly be a strong record. Jacob Jensen and Jesper Gravholt’s riffs mesh metalcore squeals and pinches with Soilworkian melody to take you on a ride on the well-crafted “Dark Spirit.” There are even moments where Final Hour‘s formula seems to come together, almost in spite of itself. “The Ravens” riffs as hard as any song on the record, and even Jensen’s cleans kind of work (despite sounding like they belong on the Madden ’09 soundtrack).
Final Hour clearly know the genre. Their successes and failures alike craft a foundation ripe for development. The issue is their unwillingness to push the genre’s boundaries, at least not in directions worth going. The basic melodeath playbook carries the music as far as it can, but the Danes do nothing with it. They will need to be more than inoffensive and average if they want to make a mark. Exploring life outside the box is scary and difficult and not for everyone, I know, but it wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 128-187 kbps mp3
Label: Wargear Records
Releases Worldwide: February 23rd, 2018