October 10, 2007

CD Review: Darkest Hour - Deliver Us

Darkest Hour's fourth album on the Victory Records label marks my introduction to the melodic metalcore outfit. In the ever deepening waters of metalcore, Deliver Us attempts to push Darkest Hour ahead of the pack. While the album is definitely catchy and addictive, there is a scent of familiarity throughout the whole. Just when you think they are going to step up and deliver something really worth grabbing onto, that hit of the familiar rears its ugly head and brings you crashing down to Earth. The end result is an album that is easy to get into and rock out to, but you will be hard pressed to think of them as the next big thing. Or maybe I've just listened to bands in the wrong order, don't think that thought hasn't crossed my mind.

It is weird when you listen to a band that reminds you of another act you like, then find out they both started around the same time. What would have happened if you had discovered them in the opposite order? It is definitely an interesting question. It crossed my mind a couple of times as I listened to Deliver Us, and I do not yet have an answer.

The album starts off promisingly with a somber acoustic opening to "Doomsayer (The Beginning of the End)." It effectively sets you up for the explosion of distorted guitars, driving drums, and raw vocals. It truly is an explosive opening with a blast of speed, double bass, and some nice lead melodies. This leads directly into "Sanctuary" which is a bit weaker than the opener, but keeps the momentum moving forward into "Demon(s)" which is one of the stronger songs.

Throughout the album there is a nice balance between raw aggression and melody. Tracks such as "An Ethereal Drain," "A Paradox of Flies," "Tunguska," and "Fire in the Skies" all highlight both the bands strengths and weaknesses while remaining at the top of the song pool.

I guess I should get the negative out of the way first. The biggest problem is that familiarity that rears its ugly head across many of the songs. The first couple of passes I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I knew it reminded me of another band. Then it hit me. When John Henry steps out from behind the raw throated vocals, which are his bread and butter through much of Deliver Us, he sounds suspiciously like Brian Fair of Shadows Fall. Not exactly alike, mind you, but there is a definite similarity. Likewise, these parts of the songs have a Shadows Fall-like feel, which is not a bad thing. Funny to find out that both bands were starting up around the same time. Perhaps this marked the changing point when metalcore began to develop. Whatever the case, I had a hard time shaking that feeling through those clean singing portions.

As for the good parts? Well first up is Devin Townsend's production. The Canadian madman of metal and mastermind of Strapping Young Lad is also an accomplished producer. He has turned in a fine job here, giving the album a nice veneer while allowing the raw energy to come through. He worked similar magic with the recent Gwar release: Beyond Hell. I know, this is a bit more of a technical point than a performance one, but good production allows good performances to shine through. For example check out the original release and the remastered release of Megadeth's debut Killing is My Business, an album I didn't like until I heard the remaster.

The performances are also very impressive throughout. The rhythms are heavy, rough, and dig themselves into your skull with the help of the drums. Ryan Parrish does some nice work behind the kit, keeping things from sounding repetitive and adding some strong double bass work. Kris Norris really impressed me with his solos, while not the best I have heard, his sweeping is just absolutely gorgeous to listen to, particularly the solo on "Fire in the Skies" at around the 1:40 mark. Then John Henry's voice is good, he has a distinctive growl that works really well with the raw guitars.

Bottomline. This is one fine album. It may suffer a bit in my mind over the Shadows Fall comparison, but that does not diminish the effectiveness of the album as a whole. There is a lot of infectious raw energy. I can imagine the high energy live show they must put on. Deliver Us is a one of the better heavy albums that has come to my attention of late. Time will tell if they stand up and deliver on the promise made here.



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