arkest Hour are from Washington, D.C. They sound like they're from Gothenburg, Sweden. If their latest album, Undoing Ruin, were any more Swedish, they'd have to spell their name Dårkest Höur.
In recent years, countless American metal bands (Shadows Fall, Trivium, and Unearth, to name a few) have imitated the Gothenburg sound, a Swedish style of metal characterized by melodic riffs, thirds-based guitar harmonies, thrashy drums, and screamed vocals. Americans have added other influences, such as hardcore and emo, but they have cribbed so much that Swedish thrashers The Haunted have said that the Americans aren't doing anything new. The Haunted would know, as the group contains ex-members of At the Gates, one of Swedish metal's pioneering bands. Without At the Gates, there would be no Undoing Ruin.
To their credit, Darkest Hour were copying the Swedish long before everyone else. Their first full-length, 2000's The Mark of the Judas, had Swedish riffs all over it, and the band's sound hasn't changed much since. So Sedated, So Secure and Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation, slowed down and sped up things, respectively, but the essential ingredients remained the same: Swedish riffs, scathing vocals, and a raw edge and a lack of solos drawn from hardcore punk roots.
Undoing Ruin is easily Darkest Hour's best work to date. Earlier albums were often melodic yet somehow not catchy, but focused songwriting here makes the riffs memorably hooky. "With a Thousand Words to Say But One" mixes guitar tones and dramatic dynamics, while "Convalescence" and "Sound the Surrender" have epic, ringing melodies recalling Dark Tranquillity, another seminal Gothenburg band. "This Will Outlive Us" has balls-out thrash, complete with Slayer-style dive-bombing solos—more, please! (Except for some fleet-fingered runs, the solo-free ethic is basically intact) The band is tight, the album is smoothly sequenced, and there's not a duff song here.
Curiously, Devin Townsend's ultra-clean production removes the band's signature raw edge. Sonically and performance-wise, this album doesn't have the "teetering on the edge of meltdown" vibe that made its predecessor so fiery. In and of itself, this isn't a bad thing—the album is by far the band's best-sounding. The instruments are well-defined, the sound is huge, and the performances are flawless. But subtract the vocals and play the album to any metalhead: "Dude, this is Swedish."
Does it matter where a band is or isn't from? The Swedish themselves have accepted Darkest Hour. Ex-At the Gates singer Tomas Lindberg paved the way for Darkest Hour to become the first American band to release an album recorded at Studio Fredman, the locus of the Gothenburg sound. And by any standard, Undoing Ruin is a fine album. It's a fine metal album, and it's a fine Swedish metal album. Does anyone fault New York bands for making English post-punk albums?