Some metal bands barely last 10 years, much less 15 years. If a band does get to the decade-and-a-half mark, they’re usually sputtering out or are teetering on their last, diseased and ready-to-give out legs. Rare is the case where an aggressive band mutates, growing stronger, more unstoppable and more menacing with every passing riff, scream and album. Darkest Hour are such a case.
The Human Romance is the Washington, DC-based band’s seventh album and first for new label eOne. It presents Darkest Hour at their best: fangs bared and ready to pounce through the vehicle that blends thrashy melodic metal with something unworldly.
With their long tenure on Victory Records in the rear view, Darkest Hour are primed to reinvent themselves. “The band is a more grown up version of what it was,” guitarist Mike Schleibaum says. “It’s hard to pinpoint what ‘grown up’ means exactly, but we know what the difference is.” The fans will know it when they hear it, too. “Growing up” does not mean “watered down” or “toned down” or a “lesser” version of what they once were; it means that they’ve taken 15 years of experience in the studio, on the road and in the music business and distilled it into a fearsome monolith known as The Human Romance.
It’s an album that should top “Top 10” lists among metal critics and magazine editors when all is said and done.
But it wasn’t an easy road to hoe and this type of career (and personal) clarity did not come easy for Darkest Hour. In fact, the members could have easily thrown their hands in the air and called it a day and no one in the metal community, least of all their throng of diehard fans, would have blamed them for packing it in. There would have been no shame in choosing that option, as Darkest Hour have wrapped around the country dozens upon dozens of times, including a stint on Ozzfest.
But Darkest Hour didn’t give up or give in.
“When you are 30 and broke, still chasing the dream and the artistic endeavor of being in a heavy metal band, you get to the point where you think, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but everyone in the band is addicted. There is no hope. We love it regardless of the misery that comes with being in a band. We are five dudes that are addicted to the misery of band life that we will continue to do it over and over,” the guitarist said.
Even the cover of The Human Romance partially illustrates Darkest Hour’s commitment to making this music at all costs, even when shit gets hard, or as Schleibaum puts it, “miserable.” The art features two embracing skeletons that were fossilized together. “To me, it is a metaphor for life and the addiction of doing music no matter how hard it is. We love it and can never let it go.” Schleibaum said.
That type of unquenchable passion and iron-willed dedication went into the making of The Human Romance. This is Darkest Hour, Version 2.0, which is certainly an upgrade on many levels. “We were able to step back and take something established and re-polish it in a way where we could present it as something new,” Schleibaum explained. “It still got the classic vibe, but the music is a little bit more easily digestible, I mean, it’s not like John [Henry] is singing all the time. The music is a bit more ethereal yet still aggressive as hell.
In their past, Darkest Hour have retreated to such far away locales as Sweden and Vancouver to record. For The Human Romance, the quintet set off to North Carolina to work with Soilwork’s Peter Wichers recording at the Echo Mountain complex in Asheville and Old Towne Recording Studio’s in Winson-Salem. The result is thrashy, American metal with roots in punk rock and hardcore, which is part and parcel of the Darkest Hour sound. Only now, it’s fresher and rejuvenated and the band isn’t tethered to the tyranny of one specific sound or style; Darkest Hour make metal, by their own rules and standards. “Thrash metal has distinct things that make it thrash,” Schleibaum said. “But we bring in some deeper emotional stuff into the thrash sound, and we take both Swedish metal and American metal influence. Sometimes it even sounds like explosions in the sky. There is some melancholy, but it’s bigger.”
Schleibaum isn’t hesitant to admit that Darkest Hour needed to evolve in order to survive at this point, chalking it up to a decade-plus of wear and tear on their bodies and minds on the road. “When you are in your ’30s, making a metal record, you think about it differently than when you are a kid. Youthful metal has energy, but there is a great thing about marinating in it and working on a sound and working towards something new.”
The Human Romance writing sessions played out like most previous Darkest Hour records, in democratic fashion, starting with guitar riffs that lead to other riffs and evolve once all the band members connect in a room. The album doesn’t end with a long, involved song, which has become a Darkest Hour tradition. Yet, while the song, “Beyond the Life You Know,” is not as long previous closers, but it’s just as expansive and worth sticking around for. “Our last song is always, in my opinion, one of the best ones,” Schleibaum said. “This record, honestly I love them all.”
There is also a 10-minute instrumental song, “Terra Solaris,” which is an endeavor the band has not undertaken since “Veritas, Aequitas,” which appears on 2003’s Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation. Overall, though, the album has varied tempos, which Schleibaum says makes The Human Romance “more emotional in general.”
The Human Romance, is anything but self-serving; Darkest Hour have pushed their sound to new limits for the fans who have stuck by them for nearly two decades. Our last record was for us, whereas this record is for everyone else and that in turn makes it even more special to us.”
Darkest Hour rose from the ashes of the ’90s convergence of metal and hardcore and while most of the bands are dinosaurs or are dead and gone, Darkest Hour haven’t yet touched the core of their potential, despite their impressive resume. They’ve done a lot but still have more to do to fulfill their addiction to the music and their commitment to their fans and themselves. Sounds like a beautiful, complicated romance.
RINGWORM, the reigning kings of destructive hardcore metal, have brought forth yet another testament to their sheer brutality: The Venomous Grand Design. Ever since their emergence from the Cleveland metal scene, RINGWORM has garnered the immediate attention of hardcore metal fans, leading them to spots on tour with bands such as Blood For Blood, Hatebreed, and Terror. RINGWORM displays an awesome ferocity in the power of their instruments, and vocalist the Human Furnace uses his voice as a tool to extract the diabolical nature of anyone who hears it.
RINGWORM was spawned in 1991 from the metal scene in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1993, the band released The Promise on Incision Records, finding their place amongst other hardcore metal heavyweights such as Terror and Earth Crisis. However, despite this early success, RINGWORM decided to pursue personal ventures, the Human Furnace concentrated his focus on tattooing and his artwork, while other members joined up with hardcore legends Integrity. Nearly 10 years later, 2001 saw RINGWORM emerge from their dark place in the shadows with their critically acclaimed Victory Record’s debut: Birth Is Pain. Extensive touring followed, although this was interrupted by personal ventures, as the Human Furnace owns a chain of tattoo shops, and guitarist Frankie “3 Gun” Novinec was touring with fellow hardcore deity, Terror. However, 4 years later, Justice Replaced By Revenge was released. Following their extensive touring in support of their latest album, RINGWORM made record time recording their latest offering: The Venomous Grand Design. In 2013, RINGWORM signed to Relapse Records and plan to release a new album the same year.
Destined to be a mainstay in every hardcore metal fan’s headphones, RINGWORM’s The Venomous Grand Design summons forth a new frenetic rage, breathing life into the rage within human kind that has gone unanswered for so long. RINGWORM shows any newcomers to the genre exactly what hardcore metal is supposed to be.
ROTTEN SOUND are celebrating their 20th anniversary of Grindcore and chaos during the whole year of 2013. This crushing party begins with the release of the “Species at War” EP in January. Afterwards the wrecking will continue with many tours and festival performances all around the globe. 2013 promises to become the most intense year in the two decades of ROTTEN SOUND’s existence: “Our plans are huge and we are aware that some events may not happen, but we are working very hard to bring our music to the ears of as many people as possible”, states frontman Keijo Niinimaa, after returning from the honourable position of lead guest singer at the “NASUM Farewell Tour” in 2012. “We will visit some new places, while continuing to bomb those we have been playing in since the very beginning of the band. We are also determined to arrange one hell of a party before the end of 2013 to celebrate our 20 years of existence.”
ROTTEN SOUND’s opening assault “Species at War” contains 6 brand new tracks, which are attached to each other in order to create one insane ride through aggression and despair with a few heavier passages sprinkled in. Where “Cursed” (2011) went through the curses of humanity, “Species at War” deals with the evil consequences of wars caused by religions and cultures. “We felt that ‘Cursed’ needed a closing chapter both musically and lyrically”, continues Niinimaa. “Therefore we decided to take everything a step further in terms of chaos and heaviness. All lyrics were written during a weekend last summer and I ended up recording them the very next week, when everything was still fresh in my mind. That paid off, because it feels as if this whole release is lyrically just one epic song.
Musically ROTTEN SOUND mercilessly attack, delivering the sonic equivalent of an apocalyptic battlefield with their seventh EP “Species at War”. True to the tradition of classic Grindcore, this stunning inferno is presented in 8:05 minutes. Yet the Finns make every second count. This brutal mind-blowing onslaught of downtuned guitar and bass smashes all resistance. A fierce barrage from the drums pushes relentlessly forward and the vocal growls roll like thunder over the shell shocked ground. Then again ROTTEN SOUND deliver more than just a musical illustration of the horrors of war. A dark but warm streak runs though their Grindcore onslaught enhanced by Death Metal precision, which expresses such unexpected emotions like melancholy, longing and passion. This might serve to explain together with their outstanding technical abilities, why a band with such extreme intensity hits the charts in their native Finland with each release since the mid-2000s.
ROTTEN SOUND were formed on one insane night of July 1993, during the aftermath of a VOMITURITION studio session. The band recorded a bunch of EP’s and splits before they released their first two full-lengths, “Under Pressure” (1997) and “Drain” (1998). After the “Still Psycho” MCD (2000), which was also their first proper release in North America, the Finns started to tour more actively. This took the band to a higher level and when “Murderworks” was released in 2005, media and public recognized and praised the massive new force in Scandinavian Grind. Following this success, ROTTEN SOUND’s sound evolved on “Exit” (2005), the “Consume to Contaminate” MCD (2006) and the “Cycles” album (2008), which added more heavy parts and some of the forgotten Crust elements from their early years. Their latest full-length “Cursed” shook the world on impact in 2011.
Playing live has always been a high priority for ROTTEN SOUND and their journeys led them to share stages with CARCASS, EXHUMED, VICTIMS, DISFEAR, PHOBIA, MISERY INDEX, NASUM, PIG DESTROYER, NAPALM DEATH, DOOM and many other leading bands of the extreme music scene, which they shaped in union with the Finns. Now 2013 will be more than just another year for shaking the foundations of live venues and assaulting people with deadly Grindcore. ROTTEN SOUND are also planning to re-enter the studio in order to record their next album straight after the extensive touring is done. Yet first it’s time to get on the road and to have the final anniversary party heralded by “Species at War”. “Keep your eyes peeled, follow the news and join the Grindcore party in a city near to you!”, finishes Niinimaa. War is here!
RIVERS OF NIHIL
RIVERS OF NIHIL began their musical journey in 2009, and recorded their first EP, “Hierarchy“, with Carson Slovak. Six years and multiple tours later, the band returned to Slovak and Atrium Audio in Pennsylvania, after having recorded their previous effort “The Conscious Seed of Light” in 2012 with Erik Rutan at Mana Studios in Florida. Since the release of that album and signing with Metal Blade Records, RIVERS OF NIHIL found themselves quickly climbing the global metal ranks on the strength of overwhelmingly positive reviews and tours with Death (DTA Tours), Obituary, Whitechapel, Dying Fetus, Black Crown Initiate, plus an appearance at the storied New England Metal and Hardcore Festival.
During the album campaign, the band was joined by new drummer Alan Balamut and guitarist Jon Topore. Balamut and Topore join guitarist Brody Uttley, bassist Adam Biggs, and vocalist Jake Dieffenbach to form the up-and-coming force of modern death metal that is RIVERS OF NIHIL.
Topping their full-length debut is no elementary task; Terrorizer Magazine declared that RIVERS OF NIHIL “manage to do something unashamedly modern, and yet make death metal sound twisted and malevolent,” whileHeavyBlogisHeavy.com simple noted that it was “Definitely one of the best debuts to come out this year.“
Guitarist Brody Uttley cites recent personal hardships as a major factor in the creative process for “Monarchy“. Uttley divulges that “I lost a few close friends. The loss of these people had a profound influence on the creation of the music for this record. I was having strong feelings of rage, sadness, hope, and frustration as a result. The songs turned out heavier, darker, sadder, and more frightening than I had ever hoped that they would.” The mood of this album, and the song sequence, reflect these emotions. “Monarchy” begins with the most heavy and darkest tracks, and continues to develop more progressive leanings until the end when Uttley says “the emotional tension completely falls apart.“
The seasonal concept that began with spring on “The Conscious Seed of Light” continues, of course, with “Monarchy“, as it welcomes the oppressive heat of summer. The story takes place millions of years after the events in “The Conscious Seed of Light“. Adam Biggs, who also serves as the band’s primary lyricist, explains: “The Earth has been transformed into a vast desert wasteland, where after aeons of lifelessness, new beings begin to take shape and begin their journey as shepherds of the planet. But after a while, a class system forms from a sun-worshiping religious dictatorship, and these beings start to lose their way. Only the guidance of an ancient earthly force can help them save themselves as well the planet.“