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Monday, February 21, 2011

Album Review: Darkest Hour - The Human Romance

Seven albums deep into pouring molten metal into their vast cauldron of churning thrash and splintered 'core, Washington DC's Darkest Hour have arguably been getting more emotionally adventurous with every passing moment of their 15-year existence. The Human Romance, as the title of their latest album hints at, is undoubtedly their most melodic work to date. It's riddled with cascading solos, interwoven top-end arpeggios and curios like the instrumental 'Terra Solaris' and the soft-hard-soft anthem 'Love As A Weapon' (an attempt to slipstream Killswitch Engage, maybe?) - quite a departure from those abhorrently bleak moments that littered Deliver Us and The Eternal Return then. Guitarist Mike Schliebaum explains - "We were able to take something established and re-polish it in a way where we could present it as something new. It's still got the classic vibe, but the music is a little bit more easily digestible, I mean, it's not like John [Henry, vocalist] is singing all the time. The music is a bit more ethereal yet still aggressive as hell."

Recorded with Soilwork's Peter Wichers at the Echo Mountain complex and Old Towne Recording Studios in North Carolina the band have played around with numerous tempos, the music pinging from raging blast-beats to slothful semi-breakdowns and cutely inserted mid-song gaps. 'Purgatory', for instance, is a bull in a china shop. Loaded with snorting death vocal and pile-driving double-kick it lurches from pillar to post, spinning itself dizzy in repeated wild breaks, before curling a hoof to paw the ground and charging to a close.

The Human Romance is also riddled with moments of genius - the dive-bombing strings on 'Severed Into Separates', the swaggering riff that licks the spine of 'Savor The Kill', the "aaah"-ing build that lurks within 'Man & Swine' and the lightspeeding double-kick of 'Violent By Nature'. Despite all this, there are times when they belly-flop headfirst into that horrific pile of dirgeful hair bands that we seem to be inundated with these days. 'Wound' is one of those tracks where nothing marries up; Henry's scarred vocal suddenly seems completely out of place as the guitarists throw out whining riffs that would slot neatly into a Lostprophets or Bullet For My Valentine track. 'Terra Solaris', likewise, just doesn't emotionally connect at any point throughout it's torturous ten-minute run - on an album still loaded with enough gobbing punk attitude to fill a swimming pool, it's the equivalent of finding a kitten in a moshpit.

Repeated plays reveal the biggest disappointment to be Henry's refusal to open up his mono-pitched vocal range. If the band continue to soften the inner steel that has always marked them out, something will eventually have to give with that. When it does, this awesomely talented band will finally be able to come out of the closet and reveal their true colours. It will undoubtedly be a stunning sight, but that moniker will definitely have to go. Lightest Hour, anyone?

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/jan11reviews/cdreviews-dh.htm
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