Metal is getting to be popular again. Its popularity has fluctuated at times, dipping in and out of the pop culture eye, but usually staying under the radar. With the resurgence of thrash/melodic death metal/"hardcore" hybrids popping up everywhere, there is a sense of excitement (or dread) about new metal releases. So many bands seem to be trying to "one-up" each other, as well as themselves, with each new album released.
That being said, Victory Records spent either a great deal of money or time (or both!) to hype Darkest Hour's fourth studio album, Undoing Ruin. Claiming that the album was better than Slayer and would be the best metal album of the century certainly set everyone's standards quite high.
The opening track of this thrash-death-core-influenced opus, "With a Thousand Words to Say but One," begins with some epic harmonizing guitar swells and feedback. The guitar and drums come in with that dual-harmonizing riffage we've all come to love from the Darkest Hour boys. Over the staccato riffs come John Henry's rough screams and growls, as the double bass kicks in for the "bridge." The leads over this song are clever, not entirely new, but they sound good. The best part of this song, however, is the clean break in the middle. Taking the opening riff, stripping it of distortion, and expanding on the note variations is a smart and beautiful choice for the song. Moments like this solidify the fact that Darkest Hour tried quite hard to write the best album they possibly could.
"Convalescence" follows and the song is terrible. Terrible. One of the worst Darkest Hour songs to date; it's got some horrific attempt from Henry to "sing" and has static and boring riffage. Shame on you, Kris Norris and Mike Scleibaum! Harmonizing, muted tremolos over double bass have been done so many times! It sounds far too much like all the metalcore bands invading the scene. You can do better!
And that they do. With the next song, "This Will Outlive Us," Darkest Hour channel the almighty metal gods Slayer for an all-out thrash attack with a fantastic chorus, right before the "breakdown" at the end. The song is meaty, brutal, technical, catchy, and combines all the wonderful elements of metal into one massive guitarmageddon. Lyrically, it's one of the few songs that stands out on Undoing Ruin. During the final chorus, Henry pines, "My hell is a blank piece of paper staring back at me. My hell is wasted potential haunting me." Fucking awesome! The breakdown, a slow, almost sludgy exercise in drumming technique and power chords, is not clich' and fits the song quite well.
"Sound The Surrender" contains perhaps the band's most technical guitar work. Utilizing the trademark melodic death metal style (single note riffs with alternate, lower-string muting in between each note, all harmonized), the song's midsection will blow any guitar fan away. Sweeps. I am a sucker for guitar sweeps and there are so many. What's even more impressive is that the Darkest Hour boys wrote these parts and played them (instead of having guest musicians). A massive song and one of my favorites.
On either end of "Low" are, "Pathos" and "Ethos," instrumental tracks that lead into and out of the song respectively. Some very impressive use of acoustic guitars, clean riffs, and some very fast, higher-end harmonizing on "Ethos." The song "Low" itself is unimpressive. There's far too much metalcore crunch to the song and too many of the riffs sound recycled from past albums and At the Gates.
This time channeling Megadeth, "District Dividing" is a frantic, thrashy song that uses almost entirely power chords; its structure and progression is simple, but it's brutal, heavy, and one fantastic piece of metal orchestration. Sometimes, just playing fast and loud is the best. Save for a small, double bass break with dual riffs, this song never lets up and is a great addition to Darkest Hours repertoire.
"These Fevered Times" returns back to the melodic death stylings of previous efforts: fast, technical, and full of harmonizing. I really enjoy the chorus, but, once again, it's the midsection that blows my mind. Full of some crazy hammer-ons and pull-offs by Norris and Schleibaum, complete with a tiny sweep at the end of each riff, it also has a double-tracked solo. Oh, you sure know how to make my heart leap. A fun song, but, aside from the guitar work, nothing terribly amazing.
"Paradise" bores the hell out of me.
The album closer, "Tranquil," is anything but that. Much like "With a Thousand Words to Say but One," it aims at being as epic as possible. Opening with a bit of feedback from the previous song, it leaps immediately into a fast, single-note progression, and then straight to a heavy, double-bass filled verse, with a fantastic guitar riff in the background.
The chorus starts off with a slower, harmonized section, the jumps into a gang-vocal chorus with a great lead over the main guitar section. Back to another verse with the opening riff double-tracked with its corresponding harmonization. The middle break contains some interesting tapping, a wicked solo, then leads out with some more double-tracked guitar taps. It sounds amazing, I guarantee that. The song ends slowly, dragged out, and it's a great end to this CD.
The structure on some of these songs isn't varied enough, but what Darkest does do, they do well. As I've said, there is some fantastic guitar work throughout the album, great drumming, a non-existent bass player, and an okay vocalist. Lyrically, the album is decent and I wasn't ever annoyed by anything I managed to pick out.
This album is not better than Slayer, or any of the other bands I name-dropped above. Best this year? A close running, but ultimately I think there are and will be better albums this year. However, I did enjoy this album a lot. It's fun to listen to and I'm anxious to see if they can pull the new material off live. Once more, it's obvious that these guys made a conscious effort to write better songs. If you're a fan of metal, it's certainly a decent album, but more of a transition from the more brutal Darkest Hour material of past albums. Whatever they have up their sleeves the next time around should be amazing.
8.0 / 10
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