Review: Darkest Hour - Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora
Back when the New Wave of American Heavy Metal was in full swing, Darkest Hour were responsible for melodeath darkhorses like Hidden Hands of A Sadist Nation, Undoing Ruin, and Deliver Us, where vocalist John Henry’s hardcore bark and the occasional breakdown was enough to get them lumped into the metalcore pack. After Deliver Us, Darkest Hour lost guitarist Kris Norris, a major blow for the band and the albums that followed, as The Eternal Return, The Human Romance, and especially the Sumerian Records-released Darkest Hour suffer from a combination of overreach and desperation: Eternal Return goes darker and heavier, but winds up contrived; Human Romance opts for an uninspired thrash approach; and the self-titled is a uncomfortably poppy affair that registers as their least interesting to date.
I didn’t listen to the latter two records at their time of release, figuring the band was past their prime. Even the art for these releases agreed, becoming steadily less engaging after John Baizley’s gorgeous work on Deliver Us, but while compiling Metal Lifestyle’s “Most Anticipated” article for March, I stumbled across the art for Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora, which marks a gritter, modern take on the verdant aesthetics of Deliver Us. Turns out that’s a pretty accurate assessment of where Darkest Hour stands on their ninth album, which is produced by none other than Converge’s Kurt Ballou. Still impressed with the work he did on Every Time I Die’s teeth-gnashingly great From Parts Unknown, I dove into Godless Prophets... with no small measure of enthusiasm despite the fact that I hadn’t given Darkest Hour a thought in nearly a decade.
The risk paid off. With Kris Norris back in the fold, a fact I was unaware of until later, Darkest Hour’s core team is back with a vengeance. John Henry has consistently delivered over the course of the band’s career, but years of touring and recording have thickened, abraded, and ultimately strengthened his voice. The improvement is comparable to Dan Weyandt’s (Zao) from Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest to The Well-Intentioned Virus. Just flip between “Convalescence” from Undoing Ruin and “Timeless Numbers” for proof. He’s operating on a completely different level. The same can be said of the guitarwork, which dunks their signature Swedish melodies in a vat of dirty American thrash to awesome effect. “Knife in the Safe Room,” “Another Headless Ruler of the Used,” and the ballistic “In the Name of Us All” are exemplary of the change, dishing out some of the tastiest riffs in the band’s entire catalogue. Back on Deliver Us, Devin Townsend encouraged the band to widen their aural palette with clean riffs and vocals on songs like “Demon(s)” and “An Ethereal Drain.” While successful, they don’t always play to the band’s strengths. They keep the lesson of texture on “The Last of the Monuments” and “The Flesh & The Flowers of Death” but take a more even-handed approach to mixing the melodic with the brutal, leading to some of their most controlled and elegant songwriting in years. I remember when the epic tone of “Tunguska” and “Deliver Us” was a rarity for Darkest Hour, but it’s the norm on Godless Prophets... when the sneering, cutthroat heaviness of “This Is the Truth” and “Those Who Survived” isn’t.
There’s no clear highlight on Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora, which is really the highest compliment I can pay the record. Each track contributes an equally multifaceted, equally satisfying configuration of Darkest Hour’s reupped sound, free of the strained accessibility of the last record or the tryhard abrasiveness of the two before that. Originally intended as a self-funded, self-released project before an IndieGoGo campaign unexpectedly gave them the opportunity to record at Ballou’s GodCity Studio, it’s clear that the only thing Darkest Hour set out to do with this record was to write to the best of their current abilities and faithfully represent their legacy. They’ve done it, and if Darkest Hour dropped off your radar, it’s time to put them back on it. Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is their best work to date.