Whether influenced by the growing perceived need to categorize and clump similar styles and scenes together, the predominance of young urban intellectual sources like Pitchfork Media and PopMatters, or a foundation as innocent as press kit insistence on including an RIYL, Internet-based music reviews have become a dumping ground for name-dropping. Well, the elders that paved the way for Punknews never abided by the status quo, so neither will I. Yeah that’s right, fuck name-dropping, I’m going against the grain. Or more realistically, I don’t know, nor do I care who Darkest Hour compares to. The latter of such proclamation should testify on the behalf of Darkest Hour’s Deliver Us, a metal tour de force that has won over this young punk’s heart.
Originally, it was Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation that first reached out to me, drawing me in with an unbridled yet literate release of outrage, reminiscent of `80s hardcore-to-thrash provocateurs with the urgency of a post-9/11 sense of civil rights deprivation and ongoing war. Two-and-a-half minutes of each song was total bliss. But the songs were sooo long, more than half of them topping out at over five minutes. Undoing Ruin saw a slight trimming down to at least a punk rocker’s tolerance, while Deliver Us meets in the middle with a few five-minute standards, but more than enough blistering fast, brutal, and (relatively) short anthems to please the proud and sundry few.
The elegance and expertise of many “extreme” forms of music is often overlooked when confronted with the intentionally repulsive delivery of the final product, a deliciously shrewd “fuck you” to the critics and laymen cast off by their own unwillingness to acclimatize, and in exchange maintaining a smaller but infinitely more devoted coalition. In such an instance, the music of a band like Darkest Hour has to be dissected to be fully analyzed and appreciated (if warranted).
Arguably, the most easily recognizable talent in a Darkest Hour song is the drumming, since it generally precedes any guitar showmanship and is distinctive and intricate enough to stand out. Whether in songs built on rhythms of rolling double-bass terror as in “A Paradox of Flies,” traditional metal tempos of “Tunguska,” unrepressed hardcore thrashings of “Sanctuary,” or any of several tracks that showcase varying rhythms and complex combinations like the album’s single “Demon(s),” drummer Ryan Parrish demonstrates a comprehensive mastery of his instrument.
In spite of this, the breathtaking guitarwork on Deliver Us may be the most stirring validation of truly how good Darkest Hour is. Hypertechnical solos highlight almost each track on the album, and range from towering arena rockage like “Tunguska,” aimless and haphazard slicing in “Full Imperial Collapse” and even finger-tapping Nintendo-ish solos as in “Doomsayer (The Beginning of the End).” The skill is further proven in a willingness to both incorporate unexpectedly mellow moments like the acoustic intro to “Doomsayer” and furnish relatively minimalist riffs when appropriate like the balls-to-the-wall carnage of “Stand and Receive Your Judgment.”
In an interview last fall, Darkest Hour’s founder and guitarist Mike Schleibaum discussed the changing nature of the band’s once overtly political lyrics to more abstract ideas: "We never set out to be a solely political band so [singer] John [Henry] writes songs about what moves him. Sometimes it's politics and sometimes it's personal shit, you just never know." The varying degrees of substance are certainly evident in Deliver Us, ranging from stylistic and abstract musings like “An Ethereal Drain” to more direct lashings in songs like “Stand and Receive Your Judgment”: "Stomp the fire out, tuck your tail and run / Don’t move an inch, you war pig fuck / You just stand right there and receive your judgement / And even as I waste these words / On you and your mock reality / You’ll still go down in history / See: Stupid spoiled little shit nearly wiped us out / And by the time that you realize the damage you’ve done / You’ll be long fucking gone, you coward, you puppet." While I do prefer the abundance of such upfront dissent like “Stand and Receive Your Judgment” and Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation, songs like “Full Imperial Collapse,” which gives a nod to the band’s hardcore upbringings, show that a tactful combination of a more artful style with traditional discord is possible: "When we wake up from our induced slumber / They can try, but they can’t conquer us all / Compelling evidence out in the open / There’s not even anybody to hide it from / What it looks like on the outside constantly reflects / How we perceive it and it’s not always what you think / Knee deep in the belly of the beast offering us / Another cut-rate version of your dream come true."
I could go out on a limb and call this “the metal album of the year,” but that might be short-sighted given that I will probably only listen to a handful of metal releases in the next five months. The praise bestowed upon Deliver Us isn’t defensible because it’s coming from a seasoned metal connoisseur, but rather because it’s coming from an outsider with few previous attachments to the genre. Deliver Us has the versatility to meet the demands of critics, with enough skill and precision to wow any listener into becoming a Darkest Hour fan. I'll give it an 8.7/10. Oh wait, we don't play that game? Then let's round up for Darkest Hour progressing to their musical best without letting go of the energy, dissent, and fire that brought them to the front of the pack over 10 years ago.