When an upcoming album is labeled as "the best album of the decade" or "the best since Slaughter Of The Soul," it makes you think; is this just clever marketing, or is this the real deal? Just one listen to Darkest Hour's Undoing Ruin will leave you completely sure that the second is true. Once every few years, an album is released that is way ahead of everything else in the genre; that becomes an instant classic, and Undoing Ruin is that album. In 2003, the band traveled to Sweden to record Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation in the legendary Studio Fredman with producer Fredrick Nordström, an album that solidified their name in the ever-growing world of Gothenburg-style metal. For Undoing Ruin the band recorded in Vancouver with Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), a choice that couldn't have been more fitting for where the band is in 2005.
The first track, "With A Thousand Words To Say But One," kicks off and right away you notice that a lot has changed in the two years. Gone is the hardcore-tinged wall of metal brutality that Darkest Hour became known for, and in is a new, much more developed sound. It's clear that the songs are now more dynamic and evolved; they seem more structured and focused, and the two guitarists, Kris Norris and Mike Schleibaum, work in perfect tandem with each other and the rest of the band. Also in this first track it is easy to notice a degree of melody, as well as somewhat of a toned down approach at times, both changes that add new depth to a sound that most people didn't know could take such change.
The second track, "Convalescence," (which the band recently made a video for), continues along in the melodic vain, with vocalist John Henry adding in some spoken lyrics in the chorus. The song is somewhat reminiscent of older Dark Tranquility, and then it hits you like a wall of bricks: There are guitar solos on this album! And with that, Undoing Ruin is in full gear and ready to kick you down to the ground and not let you back up for a solid 40 minutes of blistering metal.
All this talk of melody and a toned down sound should not mislead you; this is still the Darkest Hour of old, heavy and fast as ever. "This Will Outlive Us" opens with a fast, shredding intro before moving into a full out thrash assault reminding us why we starting liking this band in the first place. "Sound The Surrender" brings the band back to its Gothenburg roots, bringing forth the clear influence of past bands such as At The Gates. The track is followed by a short, acoustic instrumental, "Pathos," which adds wonders to the overall flow and dynamic of the album. Norris shines on this track, with an acoustic riff accented perfectly (not overpowered at all) by the drumming.
In listening to Undoing Ruin this far, you really get the impression that this is the evolution of a band out of the whole metalcore thing, and into its own unique brand of metal. "District Divided" brings forth the only real hardcore-influenced sound on the album, due in large part to Henry's vocals. "Paradise" features again spoken lyrics in the chorus, a great addition to a great song. And with that brings the band's epic closer, the six-and-a-half minute "Tranquil." There couldn't be a more fitting way to end the album. It starts off somewhat slow, with huge attention to melody and song structure. But soon enough it picks up, and crushes you like the Darkest Hour of old.
I only have good things to say about Undoing Ruin. John Henry has a great metal scream, and one that he can vary to fit beautifully in all settings, showing huge growth as a vocalist. The guitar-work is excellent, featuring intricately woven melodies between the Norris/Schleibaum tandem, as well as many memorable riffs and solos. And you can't forget about the drumming. You are constantly bombarded by the double bass and powerful blast beats of Ryan Parrish, who, along with Paul Burnette, account for one tight rhythm section.
The production on this album is outstanding, easily one of Townsend's best works. It is blantantly clear that this is no ordinary metal release; this is something special. This is the type of album that bands will draw influence from, and in ten years people will be talking about the huge impact Undoing Ruin has had on the evolution of metal music. Not owning this album will put you behind the metal eight ball for years to come. The best since Slaughter Of The Soul? This is one reviewer who definitely agrees. We might as well jump straight to 2006, cause we've got our album of the year right here. Congratulations Darkest Hour.
[originally written for TheHardcoreReport]